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The Hottest Car Brands? You Might Be Surprised

It's been a good year for most automakers, with sales up about 8% so far and most car companies reporting handsome profits. Ford (F) recently announced third-quarter earnings that exceeded estimates, while raising its outlook for full-year results. General Motors (GM), Chrysler and many foreign automakers are bullish, too.

A booming market for cars isn't necessarily great news for consumers, however, since rising demand tends to push prices up. Car buyers, on average, have paid $31,623 for a vehicle so far this year, according to car-research site KBB.com. That's a 1.1% rise from last year. But the prices of many models have increased by more, with about a dozen nameplates rising by more than inflation, which is around 2%.

Brands that are able to raise prices more than average are usually doing well, since buyers will only pay asking price - or more, in some cases - for the hottest, trendiest cars. Brands with the weakest models, by contrast, usually have to discount the most. For buyers, however, targeting a hot brand often means writing a bigger check every month, while purchasing a sales laggard can  generate big savings.

Dodge, $27,399, down $1,154 (4%). This overlooked division of Chrysler will soon get a new Avenger sedan and Durango SUV to accompany the retooled Dart compact that came out last year. Which means some terrific deals are available at the Dodge dealership

Jeep, $32,755, up $1,545 (5%). The revival of this storied brand - which is owned by Chrysler and suffered neglect as the automaker sank toward its 2009 bankruptcy filing - is about halfway complete, thanks to an impressive redesign of the Grand Cherokee, which hit showrooms last year and has continued to be a strong seller in 2013. Next, Jeep needs the forthcoming Cherokee (a separate model, without the Grand) to be a hit.

Ram, $39,844, up $1,833 (4.8%). There's just one product in this Chrysler division - the Ram pickup, which auto critics named North American Truck of the Year for 2013. That always helps sales, but so did Chrysler's timing - the new Ram debuted just as the housing market was picking up and contractors had money to spend on new vehicles