DETROIT – Toyota’s pain is its rivals’ gain.

All major automakers but Toyota reported higher U.S. sales in February, and most took customers from their powerful Japanese competitor, which has been struggling with a series of massive safety recalls.

Toyota Motor Corp. said its U.S. sales fell 9 percent last month, while Ford, GM, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai all reported double-digit growth compared with February 2009, at the depth of the recession. The gains may have been even higher without the blizzards that paralyzed the East Coast.

Other winners included Kia Motors Corp. and Subaru. Even struggling Chrysler Group LLC saw improvement. Toyota, by contrast, suspended sales of eight popular models in late January. And it spent last week answering questions from Congress about its safety record.

“We feel we’re getting our fair share of the Toyota business,” said Susan Docherty, vice president of marketing at GM, whose sales rose nearly 12 percent.

February was the first full month since Toyota’s Jan. 26 decision to halt sales of some of its vehicles in the U.S. because of safety concerns. Those vehicles went on sale again as dealers repaired them, but Toyota’s image suffered from the recall of millions of vehicles and congressional hearings on its safety record. The Japanese automaker jacked up incentive spending to lure buyers.

Ford Motor Co. posted a 43 percent jump in February U.S. sales and outsold General Motors Co. for the first time in nearly a dozen years as it grabbed customers from struggling Toyota. Ford sold 334 more cars than GM in the U.S. for the first time since August 1998, when GM was in the midst of a strike.

Most big automakers reported that sales to rental car companies and other fleet buyers also were strong as companies began buying again after cutbacks last year. Fleet sales generally mean lower profits to automakers than retail sales to individuals.

Hyundai Motor Co. said its sales rose 11 percent, driven by sales of the new Tucson small SUV, which more than doubled. The company’s redesigned Sonata midsize car saw sales rise 58 percent.

South Korea’s Kia saw U.S. sales rise 9 percent on brisk demand for its Sorento and Soul, a boxy vehicle aimed at city dwellers. Japan’s Honda Motor Co. said sales rose 13 percent, lifted by its top-selling Accord sedan, while Nissan Motor Co. sales surged 29 percent as Versa subcompact sales doubled. Subaru reported a 38 percent jump.

Subaru’s sales were led by the Outback wagon and Legacy sedan, both of which were redesigned for the 2010 model year.


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