The DaimlerChrysler group sold more cars than Ford in the US last month as its new Mercedes-Benz models helped lift the German brand to its best-ever January there.

Reviewing the numerous reports from the last day or so, it seems the overall picture of what domestic and foreign brands achieved what results blurs depending on whether you count all the brands such as Mercedes, Chrysler and Jeep in under 'DaimlerChrysler' and Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover - and even tiny Aston Martin - in under 'Ford'.

"Though some reporting agencies (like Ward's) will say Ford was third, that involves adding Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo to Ford while excluding Mercedes from DaimlerChrysler," independent number-cruncher Bill Cawthon told just-auto on Friday.

"In fact, whether you compare Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep sales to those of Ford's domestic brands, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, or compare the totals including the international brands, Chrysler comes out ahead."

According to Bloomberg News, DaimlerChrysler sales of its Mercedes-Benz cars and sport-utility vehicles jumped 37% to 17,069 units, and the automaker's total sales rose 3.2% to take it into third slot last month, while Ford slid to fourth place.

"Mercedes is benefiting from new products,'' Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with market forecaster Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, told the business news agency, adding: "Luxury car consumers demand the latest. There's only so long you can show up at the country club with the old model. And Mercedes is on top of the list.''

Bloomberg said Mercedes-Benz gains helped European brands grab more US market share in January, 7.4% compared with 6.8% a year earlier, as General Motors and Ford gave up share by paring low-profit deliveries to rental-car companies.

Ford said in a statement it cut January rental sales by 65% while sales in total were off 20% as the restructuring company - which just posted a record annual loss and is shedding around 45,000 US employees - put profit recovery ahead of volume.

Sales by DaimlerChrysler and the other 14 European brands sold in the US rose 4.2% to 80,426 vehicles, Bloomberg News added, citing Autodata. Ford sales fell 19%, and GM posted a 17% drop, the report added.

While news agencies and analysts all interpret their data slightly differently, WardsAuto.com, which just-auto normally cites as the statistics oracle, calculated that Detroit's Big Three sold 562,271 light vehicles last month, down 13.5% year on year.

GM volume of 244,717 was off 16.5%, Ford was down 20% to 161,246 units and only Chrysler Group posted an increase, a tiny 0.5%, to 156,308, according to Ward's numbers.

The bigger picture didn't bode well for Detroit, either: according to Ward's, Toyota (175,850, up 9.5%) was second only to GM in January and was followed by Ford, Chrysler, Honda (100,790, up 2.4%) and Nissan (up 8.9% to 82,663).

Mercedes' 36.8% sales rise to 17,071 was the most spectacular rise of the four major European brands contesting the US market. Porsche, temporarily short of the Cayenne SUV due to a model changeover, posted volume off 7.7% to 2,984 and BMW, surprisingly, was off 1.8% to 21,811.

Sales of BMW-brand vehicles were about flat, while the Mini experienced a 30% drop to 2,050 units, the US unit told Bloomberg News.

Also according to Bloomberg, Audi's US unit said sales increased 5.2% in January to a record 6,399 vehicles due to strong demand for its newly-launched Q7 SUV which accounted for more than a quarter of the total.

Ward's said January US car sales fell 9% in total to 508,011 with imports up 15.1% to 160,291 units and the domestics off 17% to 347,720.

However, and probably reflecting the increasing number of competitive Japanese models like Toyota's new 'genuine full size' Texas-built Tundra pickup truck line, sales of import branded 'light trucks' (this sector includes pickups, SUVs, minivans and even Chrysler's PT Cruiser) rose 15.4% to 104,415 while the domestics lost 3.5% to 473,847.

As ever (or so it seems), the mostly locally-made Toyota Camry was top-selling car (28,660 units), ahead of the Honda Accord (25,714), and Toyota's Corolla/Matrix line (25,519). The top-selling domestic car was GM's Chevrolet Impala (25,275).

Top 'trucks' were, as usual, the Ford F-series (44,919), Chevy Silverado (38,393), and Dodge Ram (24,379), followed by Chrysler's Caravan minivan line (18,593) and the now-built-right-here-in-North-America Honda CRV SUV (14,390), according to WardsAuto.com.

Graeme Roberts

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