A survey published by Power Information Network (an affiliate of J.D. Power) last week showed that, in the month of March, not a single U.S. car manufacturer produced a vehicle among the survey's "Top 10 Hottest Models." This survey ran down the sales figures on which makes and models lasted the shortest time on the sales lot before being snapped up by U.S. consumers.

Of the top 10 vehicles, six were manufactured by either Toyota (NYSE:TM) or its Lexus luxury division; another four were borne of Honda (NYSE:HMC) or its luxury division (Acura); and one came from BMW. (And yes, that does make 11 cars. There was a three-way tie for the last two places.)

When you see results like these, you might wonder whether there is an investment play or two to be found. So let us take a look at the major auto makers and their valuations, from most to least expensive, on a forward price-to-earnings basis:

  • Toyota has a forward P/E of 13.7
  • DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX) is second-most expensive, at 11.5
  • Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY) scores a 10.9
  • Honda follows with a 9.9
  • Ford (NYSE:F) is next at 8.5, and
  • General Motors (NYSE:GM) is cheapest, at 6.7.

The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that Toyota produces America's most popular cars and is accordingly priced at a premium to its competitors. (Yawn. No surprise there.)

But consider the strong valuation given to DaimlerChrysler. Its shares command a 16% premium to those of Honda -- which nearly tied for first place on the Power Information list -- yet DaimlerChrysler itself did not place on the list at all. Moreover, DaimlerChrysler has a negative return-on-equity (ROE) ratio and is unprofitable, whereas two cheaper Japanese companies, Nissan and Honda, both have ROEs in the double digits and strong single-digit profit margins. When you see data like this, you have to wonder whether the German car maker is a bit overvalued.

Finally, take a look at General Motors. Fairly or not, the company gets a pretty bad rap for producing (and then recalling) low-quality autos. Yet it is still the world's largest auto maker, is the cheapest of the six companies we're looking at, has a return on equity rivaling its Japanese competitors', and pays a 4.3% dividend, which is just a hair less than DaimlerChrysler's. Perhaps we have a value play here?

Fool contributor Rich Smith is not a certified "car guy." Before he bought his truck last year, he consulted the experts on The Motley Fool's Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board. You can find him most days hanging out there -- near, but not talking with, the cool kids -- just listening and nodding a lot.