We’ve been building up to this for the past couple months. New-car sales have been strengthening through the fall, and it now appears that automakers will end the year on a high note. Certainly that was the case in November, with industry sales running 14% ahead of last year (nearly double the increase we saw in October). That made for an annualized sales rate of 13.6 million, which is a high for the year. Anyone who has been near a TV this past month knows that automakers got a jump on the typical year-end sales frenzy with a nonstop ad blitz. The sell-a-thon has made for bigger incentives than last month, and yet analysts claim, paradoxically, that transaction prices are still strong. An aging national fleet and pent-up demand created by several slow sales years is considered to be the underlying factor driving these larger volumes. If that’s the case, then the auto industry won’t just enjoy a strong finish to 2011, but could be poised for good 2012 as well.
SALES RESULTS FOR NOVEMBER 2011, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS NOVEMBER 2010
GENERAL MOTORS +7% (continuing nameplates only)
The results at GM lagged the industry overall. Chevrolet and GMC were in positive territory, but Buick and Cadillac again declined.
Trucks accounted for all the increase at Chevrolet. The Silverado (+34%), Suburban (+23%), and Tahoe (+33%) all enjoyed big gains, but the formerly hot Equinox was flat. On the car side, the Cruze (+64%) and the Camaro (+23%) were the two sources of good news, while the aging Impala (-26%) and the Malibu (-12%) declined. The new Sonic has yet to reach dealers.
The picture at Buick was nearly the same as October. The volume-selling LaCrosse and Enclave were basically static. Next, running at about half their totals, is the Regal (+7%), while the departing Lucerne (-56%) is fading out. Things should begin to look different next month, when the new Verano is available in quantity.
Cadillac is suffering somewhat with the demise of the DTS (-81%). The CTS and the Escalades were essentially flat, while the SRX (+16%) is still in growth mode.
Like its Chevrolet counterpart, the Terrain finally cooled (-4%), and the Acadia continued to fall (-12%). GMC’s gainers mirrored those at Chevrolet: big pickups (Sierra +22%) and big SUVs (Yukon +29%, Yukon XL +13%).
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +18% (Ford and Lincoln)
Car sales were static but trucks and utilities easily powered Ford ahead in November. Lincoln, however, continues to be a drag.
Sales at Ford would have been better, were it not for the fading Crown Victoria, and minor drops for the new Focus, the Flex, and the Mustang. The Explorer is selling at three times its previous rate, and Ford is doing a great job blowing out the Escape during its run-out model year (it was the bestselling SUV last month). The franchise F-series did well and, strangely, so did the Ranger (+86%).
The MKX (+5%) was the only Lincoln to do better than last year, but that couldn’t overcome drops in demand for the MKZ (-19%), the MKS (-8%), the MKT (-45%), and the end of Town Car production.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +7%
The sales increase that Toyota boss Bob Carter predicted for October finally arrived in November. It was the first month in which Toyota beat its year-ago results, since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Both Toyota and Lexus division were up; only Scion did not participate in the turnaround.
The new Camry (+13%) bounced back into positive territory -- and the number one spot -- but the bigger news was in smaller cars. The Prius shot up 49%, putting it close to the Corolla/Matrix in total sales; the Yaris increased the most on a percentage basis (+160%). Thing were still gloomy on the truck side, where the Highlander, the RAV4, and the Tundra all dropped.
Lexus division’s reversal in November was even more dramatic than Toyota’s. Small gains for big-volume players like the RX (+5%), the ES (+16%), and the IS (+5%) all were important, but the addition of the CT was the biggest factor. Things were no better, however, for the HS (-74%); and the LS (-25%), the GX (-22%), and the GS (-58%) all declined.
Once again, the tC (-3%) was the best of the lot for Scion. The new iQ has yet to arrive.