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
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%).
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.
CHRYSLER GROUP +45%
Chrysler, which has been doing well all year, further powered up in November, posting the biggest percent increase of any major automaker.
The 200 was again the most popular Chrysler model, as its sales exceeded the old Sebring’s by a factor of six. After a drop last month, sales of the new 300 took off (+215%). So it hardly mattered that the Town & Country stagnated (-2%).
The Grand Caravan is treading water but it just managed to remain Dodge’s bestselling model, in the face of a surging Avenger (+102%) and Charger (+160%). The addition of the Durango, which is now outselling both the Journey and the sinking Nitro, also gave the brand a big push.
The big Ram pickup enjoyed another big month, enough to put it in the number seven spot among all nameplates.
Compass sales had all but stopped last November, so its performance this year looks magnificent; in reality, it did well, but it was just ahead of the Patriot (which is up by half). In fact, all Jeeps are up. The smallest percentage gain (+23%) was posted by the Grand Cherokee, mostly because it was doing quite well a year ago.
Sales of the Fiat 500 slipped further in November.
HYUNDAI – KIA +29%
It was another banner month for Hyundai-Kia, with both brands claiming a best-ever November.
The Elantra (+44%), Tucson (+35%), and Sonata (+12%) led the charge for Hyundai. The Veloster added 2700 units. The only discordant notes were sounded by the Genesis (-10%) and the Santa Fe (-12%).
The Optima has gone from hot to hotter (selling at six times its year-ago pace); the new Rio also more than doubled. Next was the Sportage (+74%). The Forte, however, continues to slide (-22%).
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +19%
Nissan enjoyed a second strong month in a row, with an assist from Infiniti this time. The highlight was having the Altima again in the Top Five nameplates, and behind only the Camry among passenger cars.
Nissan’s success went beyond the Altima (which topped 20,000 units) to encompass every Nissan nameplate save three: the Juke (-26%), the 370Z (-44%), the Cube (-80%). The biggest percent increases (+38%) were seen in the Versa, which has a redesigned sedan model, and the Frontier, which has no significant changes.
Infiniti was able to turn things around in November, thanks to the G (+12%), the FX (+25%), and the QX56 (+9%). The M slipped (-17%) and the EX is really struggling (-47%).
AMERICAN HONDA -6%
After almost pulling off its first post-tsunami sales increase last month, Honda did worse in November, with its inventory woes compounded by flooding in Thailand. Honda was the only major automaker to suffer a decline in November, and that caused it to drop behind both Hyundai-Kia and Nissan.
The Accord fell (-19%), putting it behind the Fusion, Altima, and Camry. The Civic was about flat, but the Insight and the CR-Z plummeted (-51% and 70%, respectively). Trucks did better than cars for Honda, but it was all due to the Pilot (+38%), as the CR-V slipped (-10%).
The TSX (+4%) was Acura’s only car to increase sales, and it wasn’t much of an increase. The RDX (+12%) was in a similar spot among the SUVs. Sales of the RL (-73%) were predictably terrible — only 45 cars — but, hey, that’s twice as many as last month.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +29%
The new Passat is roaring along, although it’s still only half the volume of the brand-leading Jetta. The New Beetle is doing three times the business of the previous model. Even the not-so-new Rabbit/GTI is doing well (+36%), as is the Eos (+53%). The Routan (-35%) and CC (-35%) are the biggest drag on results.
Although Audi’s year-over-year increase looks quite small, the brand is claiming best-ever sales for November. Credit the new A6 (+70%) and the addition of the A7, with minor — very minor — help from the A8, the TT, and the Q5. The Q7 (-40%) and the A3 (-38%) suffered the largest drops.
Mercedes-Benz had a very big month in November. The addition of the coupe continues to do good things for the C-class (which doubled), and the new CLS is running at three times the previous car’s volume. The rest of the action mostly came from the SUVs — the M-class (+38%), the GL (+54%), and the GLK (+55%).
What the heck happened at Smart? Out of nowhere, sales suddenly doubled. The total was only 414 units, but still.
Maybach once again sold 4 cars. That’s 4 sales Daimler-Benz is in danger of losing, now that it has acknowledged plans to drop the brand.
BMW GROUP +15%
Little changed at BMW. The 5-series (-29%) and the 3-series (-15%) have slowed, but not as much as the 1-series (-35%). The new X3 and the X5 continue to do well, as does the new 6-series, now available as a coupe and a convertible; and the 7-series saw a pop (+53%).
With the standard Mini now beating its year-ago numbers (+20%) the added volume of the Countryman is pushing the brand well ahead.
For the fourth month in a row, Rolls-Royce sold exactly 30 cars, versus 43 last year.
Mazda experienced another strong upsurge in November. Once again, the Mazda2 did well (+73%), as did the Mazda6 (+54%), and so did the CX-9 (+39%). The Mazda5 swung into the plus column (+15%), as did the Mazda3 (+6%). Of the continuing models, only the Miata declined (-9%).
SUBARU OF AMERICA -15%
Subaru continues to suffer fallout from the disaster in Japan, and might actually end up down for the year, which would be a reversal of its recent fortune. Nearly all Subarus were down; the Impreza was down the most (-59%), but that model is about to be replaced with a new version. Only the long-suffering Tribeca, managed a modest increase.
This month, the XC70 (+36%) joined the C30 (+43%) is helping the powerhouse S60 deliver a positive month for Volvo, despite declines in all other models.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +17%
Jaguar was back on the downswing in November; only the XK (+14%) did better, aided by the new XKR-S.
Land Rover +31%
Land Rover was up by almost a third. The lion’s share of the credit goes to the addition of the Evoque, although the other Range Rover models also chipped in: Range Rover (+9%), and Range Rover Sport (+37%).
With the Eclipse, Lancer, and Outlander all dropping, Mitsubishi’s only positive news was the addition of the Outlander Sport, which has now become its biggest-selling model. Oh, and the i has just arrived, but not in sufficient quantity to make an impact.
The Boxster was down (-57%) but the Cayman was up (+28%). The 911 (-17%) and the Panamera (-17%) were also down, but the Cayenne was up (+9%).
The Grand Vitara (+22%) and the Equator pickup (+35%) increased, but it wasn’t enough to offset declines for the SX4 (-27%) and the Kizashi (-42%).
Once again, none of Saab’s three models were able to sell 200 units.