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SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Recalls and chilly weather slowed down the auto sales recovery this month, but given the current climate, TrueCar.com called February's projected growth "encouraging."

Specifically, TrueCar expects U.S. light-vehicle sales (including fleet) will reach 752,688 units by the end of the month. This would mark an improvement of more than 9 percent from February 2009 (on an unadjusted basis) and a month-over-month gain close to 8 percent.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate is projected at 10.04 million units for February.

"The Toyota recall paired with bad weather across the country suppressed sales in February," stated Jesse Toprak, TrueCar.com vice president of industry trends and insight.

"To see a 9-percent boost over last year is still encouraging for the industry, especially considering the circumstances," he added. "This relative growth indicates that the fundamentals that fuel car buying are slowly continuing to improve."

Looking at the impact of Toyota's recall, TrueCar's projections reflect what has been popularly forecasted during the last month: That Toyota would lose ground in market share, not only to its chief rivals but to "less heralded" brands, as well.

More specifically, looking at the top 10 sales by brand, TrueCar projects the Toyota brand will drop to fourth in monthly sales for February. Ford, Chevrolet and Honda are expected to beat out Toyota this month.

"We anticipate Toyota offering generous consumer incentives with hopes of bringing buyers back to their showrooms in the coming weeks," Toprak noted.

"Consumers now have more choices than ever and the quality gap that once existed between the different automakers no longer exists, making price the most important factor in purchasing a vehicle for the majority of consumers," he added.

The complete top 10 for individual brand projections is as follows:

1. Ford: 114,773

2. Chevrolet: 109,846

3. Honda: 74,516

4. Toyota: 66,481

5. Nissan: 59,399

6. Dodge: 37,148

7. Hyundai: 36,182

8. Kia: 26,489

9. GMC: 22,164

10. Volkswagen: 18,942

TrueCar attributed the high ranking of Ford and Chevrolet to the brands' heavy fleet and rental sales (30 percent or greater).

Breaking down the expected sales of the top seven manufacturers, Ford is projected to show the greatest year-over-year growth (up 35 percent) with sales of 129,326.

Nissan is also projected to show strong gains from 2009 (up 23 percent) as TrueCar expects the automaker to move 66,523 units.

General Motors will likely sell 152,797 units, a 21-percent upswing, while Hyundai/Kia's February sales are predicted at 62,671 (up 19 percent).

Honda also is predicted to gain some ground, with expected sales of 82,981, which would be 16 percent ahead of February 2009.

Chrysler and Toyota, however, are expected to drop considerably from a year ago.

Toyota's sales forecast is at 80,543 units, down 27 percent year-over-year. Chrysler is predicted to sell 67,415 units, a 20-percent softening.

As far as market share among the top seven manufacturers, Toyota's share is likely to drop from 15.9 percent in February 2009 to 10.7 percent.

GM is expected to command the most market share (20.3 percent), followed by Ford (17.2 percent).

Overall, the Big 3 is predicted to have a market share of 46.4 percent, with Japanese OEMs commanding 36.1 percent. South Korean brands are forecasted at 8.3 percent and European automakers are expected to represent 9.2 percent of the market.