A fortunate few in lackluster February auto sales

Perhaps you couldn't tell with all the snow on the ground, but some people were out buying new cars and trucks last month, albeit more slowly than many hoped.

Overall, February auto sales were lackluster, but strong sales of certain vehicles at Jeep, Nissan and Subaru were proof that some models will sell even in bad weather.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Source: Jeep

Jeep and the Grand Cherokee

Jeep's new Grand Cherokee is racking up some grand numbers. Sales were up 34 percent last month year over year, and they have risen 21 percent so far in 2014.

Two things are making the Grand Cherokee a hot model.

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First, the redesigned SUV is a huge improvement over the previous model, which was tired looking and struggled to compete in the category. Since the new version rolled out in October, Jeep has delivered a model that is winning over SUV buyers.

Second, demand for SUVs continues to grow, fueled in large part by moderate gas prices. Don't be surprised if Grand Cherokee sales surge this spring when the weather warms up and traffic to showrooms increases.

Leaf makes it 12 months in a row

For the 12th straight month, Nissan boosted sales of the all-electric Leaf. February sales were up 118 percent from February of last year. So far this year, sales of the electric car have more than doubled, thanks to a one-two punch that makes it far more attractive now than a year ago.

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Toyota sales fall 4.3 percent in February
Toyota sales fall 4.3 percent in February

In January 2013, Nissan cut the Leaf's price by $6,400. Meanwhile, it enhanced marketing of the Leaf, putting it on the shopping list of those looking for a small "green" car. The value of that marketing cannot be overstated.

Look at the Chevy Volt, which has not gotten much advertising support from General Motors. Although GM is often quick to point out it's not fair to compare the Volt and Leaf—one is an extended-range electric car, while the other is all-electric, and they sell at different price points—Volt sales are down 23 percent this year.

Subaru's Forester quietly racking up sales

The all-new Subaru Forester shows that a redesigned crossover utility vehicle has a strong chance of connecting with buyers. It also doesn't hurt that the CUV was the only such model to earn a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It's always a struggle to determine exactly how much a strong performance in the crash tests helps spur sales, but it's clear Subaru is getting more attention following solid reports from the IIHS, and most recently by Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book.

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Forester sales jumped 95 percent last month compared with February 2013, and they're up 78 percent so far in 2014.

Subaru is a conservative automaker, so it will be interesting to see how much it pushes marketing of the Forester this spring.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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