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Incentives help lift automakers’ sales

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DETROIT » The U.S. auto sales recovery picked up steam last month with all major car companies reporting double-digit gains.

General Motors Co. led the way with a whopping 49 percent U.S. sales jump compared with February of last year, followed closely by Toyota Motor Corp. with a 42 percent gain.

The companies said yesterday that consumers snapped up both cars and trucks, buoyed by a gradually improving economy, and the U.S. automakers pointed to strong sales of new models. But the sales gains, especially for GM, were juiced by sweeter financing and lease deals. While analysts weren’t ready to declare a price war — and GM denied starting one — they noted an increase in the deals customers were offered.

The auto industry website TrueCar.com estimated that automakers raised incentives 5 percent from January to February to an average of $2,708 per vehicle. Chrysler, Ford, Nissan and Toyota all sweetened deals by more than 6 percent for the month, the site said.

And the industry’s enthusiasm for a fast start to 2011 is tempered somewhat by a rapid increase in gas prices, due to both increased demand and a jump in oil prices amid unrest in the Middle East.

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