GM sales up as Ford, Toyota, Nissan fall in January

General Motors gm and Mazda were the only mainstream automakers to report improved sales last month — a brutal January that saw perennial sales champs skidding along with the perennially troubled.

Big gains from newly launched Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan and Cadillac CTS sport sedan, plus strong small-car sales in the face of high fuel prices and growing truck sales, all helped power GM 2.8% ahead of year-ago sales, according to industry tracker Autodata.

GM's gain beat analysts' expectation of a 2% drop in sales, according to Himanshu Patel at JP Morgan. He said retail sales to individual buyers were up 11% — important because sales to individuals are more profitable than sales to fleet buyers such as rental car companies.

Mazda, an affiliate of Ford Motor F, benefitted from sales of its CX-9 crossover SUV and new interest in the Mazda6 sedan.

Autodata computed the annualized selling rate last month as a weak 15.2 million, well down from an annual rate of nearly 16.7 million in January 2007.

Among premium brands, Mercedes-Benz was up 7% and Volvo, owned by Ford, was up 2.8%. Audi eked out a 0.3% increase.

Biggest drops were 23% at Mitsubishi and 22.6% at Hyundai. Both literally had trouble selling anything last month, Autodata numbers show. At Mitsubishi, seven of eight currently produced models did worse than a year ago. At Hyundai, seven of nine were down.

Despite strong sales of its fuel-saving gasoline-electric hybrids and small cars, Toyota tm sales (including its Lexus luxury brand) were off 2.3%. Still, it held 16.5% of the market, up from 16.1% last year and enough to keep it in the No. 2 spot, behind GM and ahead of Ford Motor and Chrysler.

At Ford, vehicle sales fell 3.9% even when compared with a weak performance a year ago. The company said it sold 159,355 light vehicles as it continued a strategy to wean itself from low-profit rental car and other fleet sales.

Ford's car sales dropped 10.3%, but its truck sales were nearly flat, slipping 0.7%.

Nissan tm sales dipped 7.3%. At Nissan, the company reported selling 76,605 vehicles. Car sales dropped 6.9% while truck sales fell 7.9%, the company said.

Contributing: Associated Press