U.S. November Auto Sales Show Plenty of Zip

U.S. auto sales for November
U.S. auto sales for November

It's traditionally one of the slowest months of the year for vehicle sales, but most automakers reported higher U.S. sales in November compared to a year ago, despite continued consumer caution about the slow economic recovery.

Among domestic automakers, Ford Motor (F), General Motors (GM) and Chrysler Group all reported sales gains, with Ford besting its rivals with an overall 24% rise. Still, GM sold more cars, trucks and SUVs overall. For the month, the resurgent Detroit automaker sold 168,739 units, up 11% from a year ago. Sales of core Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models rose 21%, GM said.

Ford rang up sales of 147,338 vehicles, while smaller Chrysler sold 74,152 units, a 17% increase over dismal November 2009 levels. As in the case of GM, Ford said sales were boosted by broad demand for a range of vehicle types -- cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles, which include a growing number of so-called crossover vehicles.

Jeep Leads the Way for Chrysler

Chrysler said November marked the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker, along with GM, was the recipient of a government-sponsored bailout last year that has helped the company regain footing in the competitive U.S. auto market.

As in previous months, Chrysler said it sales were helped in large measure by strong demand for the newly redesigned 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, sales of which rose more than 250% compared to a year ago. The company, now run by Italy's Fiat, is also introducing 11 new or significantly revised Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram models in the fourth quarter, helping to boost consumer interest in the brands.

"We are pleased with the sales momentum that has been building this year, and elated now that we are showing off the vehicles that we've been talking about," said Fred Diaz, president and CEO of Chrysler's Ram truck brand, in a statement.

Toyota Is Still the Laggard

Most foreign automakers also reported sales gains, with the exception of Toyota Motor (TM), which continues to be bedeviled by its recall woes. The world's largest automaker said sales in the U.S. slipped 7.3% in November, compared to a year ago. Sales of popular Camry and Corolla sedans were down as much as 29%, while those of the Prius, Toyota's third-most-popular model in the U.S., inched up by just 2%.

For the month, Toyota sold 129,317 Toyota and Lexus models, marking the eighth-straight month that U.S. rival Ford has outsold the Japanese carmaker. One bright spot for Toyota was light-truck sales, which rose 13.2%, even as those at its luxury Lexus unit fell 5.5%. In addition to its ongoing safety and quality problems, Toyota is also battling numerous lawsuits related to its recall earlier this year of some 8 million vehicles in the U.S. to prevent unintended acceleration in a broad range of models.

On the other hand, Japan's No. 3 automaker, Nissan Motors (NSANY), said sales of its Nissan and Infiniti models rose nearly 27% for the month. Overall, Nissan said, it sold 71,366 units, up from 56,288 a year ago. Top sellers included the Nissan Rogue compact SUV and several Infiniti models, such as the all-new QX luxury SUV, sales of which rose nearly 170%, Nissan said.

Koreans Keep Gaining

Honda, the U.S.'s sixth-largest supplier of vehicles, said sales in November gained 16% on improved demand for its popular Accord, CR-V and Civic models. For the month, Honda sold 89,617 cars and light trucks, including those at its Acura luxury-car unit, which recorded a 17% sales rise for the month.

Niche Japanese automaker Subaru reported its best sales ever for November, selling 22% more cars and SUVs than last year, it said. Among its five U.S. models, Subaru said sales of the Forester and Impreza improved the most, gaining as much as 33%. Mazda Motor said its November sales rose more modestly -- 7.4% -- to 15,304.

South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors continued to make inroads into the U.S. market last month, with Hyundai reporting a sales surge of 45% compared to November a year ago, setting an all-time record for the month. The company credited strong demand for its revised Sonata sedan and Tucson small SUV models for much of the gain.

A Strong Showing for German Carmakers

Kia, which is 35%-owned by Hyundai, also reported record sales for November, selling 26,601 units, a 48% increase from a year ago. Sales were led by the newly revised, U.S.-built Sorento SUV, which recorded sales of more than 9,600 units, Kia said.

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Among German automakers, Volkswagen reported its U.S. sales rose 24.2% on strong demand for its new Jetta compact sedan, which recorded a 40% sales rise. The company's Touareg and Tiguan SUVs as well as its Golf compact hatchback model were also popular. Mercedes-Benz reported its sales rose 13.3%, as it sold more than 19,000 vehicles, while those at BMW climbed 27% to nearly 23,000, on strong demand for all-wheel-drive vehicles.

In their efforts to get customers into showrooms last month, automakers spent 9.4% less on incentives compared to November 2009, to an average $2,470 for each vehicle sold, according to Edmunds.com. GM spent 23% less, the best improvement, the auto-pricing guide said.