Ford soars, Toyota slips: Who'd've thunk it?

February's U.S. sales results are full of surprises. Who'd've thunk …

… That recall-plagued Toyota only lost 9 percent?

… That Chrysler lined up with the winners?

… That hot-hot Hyundai had the fifth-best percentage gain of the Big Seven?

… That a Detroit 3 company would win in a runaway?

Of course, sales race results make more sense when you know who's using the whip and who isn't.

Take Ford. Sales jumped 43 percent last month. That's even more impressive considering Ford is putting a touch less cash on the hoods of its vehicles this year. says Ford's average incentive was $3,300 last month. That's up $270 or so from January as the automaker tries to lure Toyota buyers, but it's down four Jacksons from a year earlier. Ford spent the least among the Detroit 3.

It is a testament to Toyota and its dealers to only lose 9 percent of volume in February. But incentive spending rose more than a quarter since January, to $1,833 per unit.

Chrysler managed to at last escape the negative year-over-year comparison. Now: plus 399 units from a dreadful, awful, nearly fatal February 2009 ain't much, but it's not a loss. And Chrysler did it while whacking $2,220 off its incentives. That's more impressive than its not-loss.

It's not clear how many disaffected Toyota buyers General Motors had in its modest 12 percent gain. But the extra $549 on spiffs since January meant the General was earnest. And it puts GM back in front of the Detroit 3 giveaway contest.

Finally, anyone who has followed Hyundai-Kia's ascendency the past couple of years is likely to be unimpressed with a mere 10 percent month. But the Korean automaker spent less than half as much on incentives last month as a year ago: to $1,676 from $3,367.

Suddenly, Toyota is offering bigger incentives than Hyundai.