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Truck and sport utility vehicle sales took the biggest tumble as auto sales dropped precipitously in February for most automakers, including Nashville-based Nissan North America Inc., whose overall sales were off 2.9 percent.

General Motors Corp., the nation's largest auto manufacturer, reported a drop of 13 percent compared with the same month last year, with trucks and SUVs off 20 percent. But sales of some of the company's popular new cars jumped dramatically.

Ford Motor Co. sales were down 6.7 percent, Chrysler's dropped 14 percent, and Toyota's fell 3 percent.

Honda, though, reported a 0.7 percent increase, and Volkswagen of America said its sales climbed 1.2 percent.

While car sales did fall in February, the decline was not nearly as dramatic as it was for trucks and SUVs, a trend that has been building as gasoline prices have continued to climb.

Automakers also blamed the tight credit markets for poor sales performance, saying it's more difficult for potential buyers — particularly credit-challenged customers — to obtain loans for new cars. Many of those customers are opting for used cars instead.

Bright spots for GM were new models of cars and crossover utility vehicles. Sales of the redesigned 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, for instance, were up 62 percent over last February's total for the previous-generation Malibu.

Overall Chevrolet car sales were up 3 percent for the month, while Cadillac sales were up 24 percent. That was attributed in large part to the redesigned Cadillac CTS sedan, whose sales gained 71 percent over last February.

"Our new launch vehicles, including the award-winning Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS, had a sensational month, as did the Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Aura and the Pontiac G6," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president for North America.

"Most importantly, despite tough market conditions, we anticipate our total retail vehicle sales share to have remained flat for the first two months of the year compared to 2007. We are encouraged by our performance in the key passenger-car categories, and while the overall market for trucks is challenging, we anticipate holding our share for full-size pickups and utilities."

There was continuing evidence that GM's newest crossovers were gaining in popularity, as well. Sales of those vehicles — the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook — totaled more than 11,000 in February; that was an increase of 39 percent for the Acadia and 15 percent for the Outlook over last year; sales of the new Enclave totaled 3,800 for the month.

That's good news for GM as it readies its Spring Hill plant to produce the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse, which will be the fourth vehicle in this family of large crossovers built on the automaker's Lambda vehicle architecture. Crossovers overall are doing well as sales of traditional truck-based SUVs continue to fall.

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