German automaker Daimler (NASDAQOTH:DDAIF) reported on Feb. 2 that its net income rose 18% in the fourth quarter on strong global sales of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles.

But profit was down significantly at Daimler's heavy-truck and commercial-van units, and the company's forecast for 2017 was subdued.

Daimler earnings: The raw numbers

All financial numbers are shown in billions of euros. As of Feb. 2, 1 euro = about $1.08.

MetricQ4 2016Q4 2015 Year-Over-Year Change
Revenue 41.00 40.43 1%
EBIT 3.46 2.90 19%
Adjusted EBIT 3.58 3.48 3%
Adjusted EBIT margin 8.7% 8.6% 0.1 ppt
Net profit 2.21 1.87 18%

Data source: Daimler AG. "Adjusted EBIT" excludes the impact of special items.

The chart below shows the number of vehicles sold in each of Daimler's industrial divisions.

Business unitQ4 2016Q4 2015Year-Over-Year Change
Mercedes-Benz Cars 589,119 532,686 11%
Daimler Trucks 104,019 136,445 (24)%
Mercedes-Benz Vans 97,628 99,869 (2)%
Daimler Buses 8,265 7,625 8%
Total Daimler Group 799,031 776,625 3%

Data source: Daimler AG.

Mercedes-Benz Cars

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Cars unit builds and sells Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles (cars and SUVs) in markets around the world. Its earnings before interest and tax, excluding special items ("adjusted EBIT") at Mercedes-Benz was 2.63 billion euros ($2.84 billion) in the quarter, up 22% from a year ago.

A red 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43.

Sharply styled new models and highly profitable versions like this AMG E43 have helped boost Mercedes-Benz Cars' profits and margins. Image source: Daimler AG.

A series of dramatically styled and upgraded new models including a revamped midsize E-Class line have helped boost margins and draw buyers away from rival luxury-car brands. Sales of premium high-performance AMG models have also been rising, CEO Dieter Zetsche said, again helping to boost the unit's margins.

Mercedes-Benz Cars' adjusted EBIT margin rose to 11% in the quarter, up from 9.6% a year ago.

Daimler Trucks

Daimler Trucks builds and sells medium and heavy trucks under several brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Western Star, and Freightliner. Its fourth-quarter adjusted EBIT of 365 million euros ($394 million) was down 47% from the year-ago period. Results were hurt by a big drop in sales in Latin America, mainly due to the recession in Brazil, and intensifying competition in Europe.

Daimler Trucks' adjusted EBIT margin fell to 4.3% from 6.8% a year ago.

Mercedes-Benz Vans

As its names suggests, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vans unit builds and sells vans, mostly to commercial customers around the world. Its fourth-quarter adjusted EBIT of 185 million euros ($200 million) was down 38% from a year ago, but that doesn't tell the full story. CFO Bobo Uebber said 2016 was the unit's best-ever year for sales and EBIT. Its fourth-quarter results reflected the effects of ramped-up investments in new products and technologies.

Mercedes-Benz Vans' fourth-quarter adjusted EBIT margin fell to 5.3% from 8.5% a year ago.

Daimler Buses

Daimler Buses's brands include Mercedes-Benz Buses and Coaches, Setra, and Thomas Built (a leading brand of school buses). The unit's fourth-quarter adjusted EBIT totaled 78 million euros ($84.2 million), up nearly fourfold from the 20 million euros it earned a year ago. Good results in Europe more than offset declines in recession-hit Brazil and Argentina. 

Daimler Buses' adjusted EBIT margin in the fourth quarter was 6.1%, up from just 1.7% a year ago.

Daimler Financial Services

Daimler's in-house financing arm earned adjusted EBIT of 390 million euros ($421 million), up 1% from the year-ago period. Its return on equity was 15.2% in the fourth quarter, down from 16% in the year-ago period.

Looking ahead: A cautious outlook for 2017

For 2017, Daimler expects "slightly higher" sales for its Mercedes-Benz Cars and Vans units, a flat year-over-year result for heavy trucks, and "significantly higher" sales of buses, Zetsche said.

The group's EBIT is expected to "increase slightly" as significant profit gains for Mercedes-Benz Cars will be partially offset by year-over-year drops in EBIT from the heavy truck and van units, he said -- as well as by continued heavy investments in advanced technologies such as autonomous driving and electric propulsion.

John Rosevear has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.