Car sales strong in November

Buyers flocked to dealerships as automakers offered end-of-year discounts and other incentives.

By Kim Peterson Dec 1, 2011 1:44PM
Image: Couple shopping for a new car © Tetra Images/Getty ImagesUpdated 4:35 p.m. ET

Buyers snapped up cars in November, making the month one of the most successful for auto sales since the Cash for Clunkers days of 2009.

Strong demand helped push the seasonally adjusted annual rate for light vehicles to 13.7 million, according to industry tracking firm Autodata. That's higher than the 13.3 million seen for October and the 12.3 million a year earlier.

Total industry unit deliveries rose 2.6% from October and 13.9% from a year earlier. The month again showed that auto sales are a bedrock in an otherwise tumultuous consumer economy.

Experts said automakers rolled out the deals last month, offering end-of-year discounts and other incentives for buyers looking for new cars before the holidays. At the same time, lenders appeared to loosen up requirements a bit.

Another reason for the increased buying is that many cars on the road are getting old. The average age of a vehicle in the U.S. is 10.6 years -- a record, according to The Associated Press.

General Motors (GM) said auto sales rose 6.9% in November from a year earlier to 180,402 units. But that gain missed analyst expectations for a 7.4% rise, Bloomberg reports. Retail deliveries rose 15% to account for 77% of GM's sales, offsetting a 14% decline in fleet sales.

"We are seeing a broad spectrum of customers return to the market," said Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales. "Truck sales showed a very solid increase, as we expected, but the momentum building behind our most fuel-efficient vehicles was even stronger."

Indeed, sales of GM's small and compact cars saw a 54% increase, while truck sales rose 25%. Shares of GM initially rose Thursday before closing down 1.6% to $20.96.

Chrysler appeared to have the strongest momentum of any automaker. Riding high demand for Jeeps and Dodge Ram pickups, the company said its sales increased by 45% in November to 107,172. That handily beat the 37% increase expected by analysts.

The Jeep brand alone saw a 50% sales gain, and deliveries of the 200 sedan surpassed 8,000.

"Chrysler's new product lineup introduced this year has done phenomenally well," an analyst for TrueCar.com told Bloomberg. "The 200 and the entire Jeep lineup are some of the best retail successes this year by any domestic automaker."

Ford (F) said total sales rose 13% to 166,865. Several of its brands saw double-digit retail sales gains, including the Fiesta, Fusion, Escape, Explorer and F-Series trucks. With gasoline prices continuing to rise over past year, shoppers are valuing fuel economy no matter what size or kind of vehicle they buy, vice president Ken Czubay said.

Ford's stock price closed flat Thursday at $10.59.

Even Toyota (TM) reported a sales increase -- a welcome change after months of supply and inventory problems caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year. The automaker said its U.S. sales for November rose 2.4% to 137,960.

Toyota attributed some of the sales gains to new products, including the Camry Hybrid and the Prius v. "In addition to the four new models we have already introduced this year, we'll benefit from the biggest influx of new and updated products in our history during 2012," said Toyota Division group vice president Bob Carter.

Toyota's ADR shares dropped less than 1% to close at $65.72.

Honda (HMC) was one of the few automakers to report a drop in U.S. sales in November, saying it saw a 10% decrease to 83,925 vehicles. The company said it continued to see an impact from recent flooding in Thailand.

Honda said the Pilot saw sales jump 33%, but the Civic, CR-V and Accord all reported respective drops of 0.7%, 14% and 18%. Honda's ADR shares dropped less than 1% to close at $31.59.

Nissan beat analyst estimates with sales that rose 19% to 85,182 -- a record November in the U.S. Analysts were looking for just a 12% gain. Sales of the Altima surpassed 20,600 to hit a November record, as did the Rogue crossover with sales of 10,845 units.

Volkswagen said its U.S. sales rose 41% in November to 28,412.

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