Out of a lull, automakers post strong sales in November

New York TimesDecember 3, 2013 

Sales over the Thanksgiving weekend may have been a disappointment for the nation’s retailers, but they were a boon for the automakers, lifting their U.S. sales for November to the best rate since before the recession.

Automakers predicted a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.3 million vehicles sold, the highest since May 2007.

For the year, the industry is expected to sell 15.6 million new vehicles.

The November figures, coming after a two-month lull in September and October, were being closely watched by analysts as an indication of the recovery’s staying power.

“A lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Mark Wakefield, director in the automotive practice at the global consulting firm AlixPartners. “People are still feeling like we’re recovering, especially since we have support from interest rates.”

New-vehicle sales in November rose across the board for Detroit’s three automakers. General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, reported that sales surged 14 percent for its best November sales since 2007.

Ford’s overall sales increased 7 percent. The company said its November passenger car sales, helped by gains in its Fiesta subcompact and Fusion sedan, were its best since 2002.

Sales gains for Chrysler, which introduced its new Jeep Cherokee in October, were the best of the Detroit automakers, up 16 percent for Chrysler’s 44th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth and its best November sales in six years. Sales for the automaker’s Jeep brand rose 30 percent, for the strongest November on record.

Toyota’s sales climbed 10 percent because of a boost over the Black Friday weekend, said Bill Fay, Toyota’s division group vice president and general manager.

“Industry sales in November picked up after Thanksgiving, contributing to the best sales pace of the year,” Fay said in a statement. “Showroom traffic surged over the holiday weekend for Toyota, indicating good momentum we expect to continue through the end of the year and into 2014.”

Sales without more incentives

Transaction prices rose while incentives remained flat, indicating consumers’ willingness to spend.

“This is not a purely incentive-fueled industry right now,” Mark Reuss, GM’s North America president, said in a conference call.

GM said it had across-the-board demand for cars, crossovers and pickups. The Chevrolet Cruze compact, Equinox crossover and Volt plug-in hybrid had their best November sales ever.

“We feel good about the direction of the economy and our own momentum,” Kurt McNeil, vice president of GM’s U.S. sales operations, said in a statement. “The economy is creating jobs and household wealth. Energy costs are dropping, and credit is available and affordable. All of this bodes well for future growth.”

November sales of the automaker’s Chevrolet brand rose 13 percent on the strength of the Malibu sedan, which surged 41 percent, and the Volt. Buick brand sales were also up 13 percent, putting the brand on track for its best year since 2005 and 19th month of consecutive year-over-year retail sales growth.

GM’s GMC sales grew 20 percent, and Cadillac’s were up 11 percent for the month.

November’s sales performance showed resilience, said Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst.

The automaker’s Fusion and Fiesta set November records, with the Fusion climbing 51 percent and the Fiesta 26 percent. The F-Series pickup truck topped 60,000 sales for the seventh straight month.

“November was fairly typical, producing a strong sales lift around the Thanksgiving holiday,” Merkle said.

Ford’s transaction prices improved nearly 2 percent in November, despite an increasingly competitive market, “indicating that consumers are willing to pay top dollar for Ford’s current batch of vehicles,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Chrysler said its Jeep brand was helped by its all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle, which recorded a strong first full month of sales, as well as the Wrangler and Patriot, which posted November sales records. Sales of the Jeep Compass rose 31 percent.

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