Car sales sparkle as holiday shopping gets rolling
November sales, 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.
The New York Times and The Associated Press
DETROIT — 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. That’s almost back to pre-recession levels and far above the recent low of 10.4 million in 2009.
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.
New-vehicle sales in November rose across the board for Detroit’s three automakers. General Motors, the largest U.S. carmaker, 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.
The numbers gave further evidence that the small SUV is replacing the car as the vehicle of choice for families and aging baby boomers. Erich Merkle, Ford’s top sales analyst, said the small SUVs gained 2 percentage points of market share in November compared with last year, while small and midsize cars lost two points combined.
Compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now make up 15.5 percent of U.S. sales. Through November, Americans bought just over 1.8 million of them, a 21 percent increase from a year ago.
“The compact SUVs are the perfect functional family vehicle of today,” said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar.com. “They provide a lot of car for your money, better gas mileage than larger SUVS. They actually are fashionable nowadays.”
Also popular in November were Black Friday deals, traditionally a mainstay for chain stores and technology retailers.
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.”
GM said it had across-the-board demand for cars, crossovers and pickups.
“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.
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.
The Cherokee’s success followed months of delays as engineers tinkered with its transmission. It also endured months of criticism from Jeep enthusiasts.
The Cherokee’s sculpted look wasn’t traditional enough for Jeep purists. But Schuster says the styling appears to have paid off. “I think maybe the purists are losing out to the masses here, at least initially,” he said. “There’s plenty about the vehicle that appeals to a general consumer.”
Toyota’s sales improved on new models and heavy incentives. The all-new Corolla compact car and redesigned RAV4 crossover helped the automaker keep its sales strong, while aggressive incentives on the Camry sedan have helped Toyota in the tight midsize sedan market.
Volkswagen, which has struggled in recent months, again lagged its competitors, with sales falling 16 percent because of a lack of new models, analysts said.
“The German automaker is in a far better place in the U.S. than it was five years ago, hitting 400,000 sales again this year, but the 2018 goal to double that number remains highly questionable,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com.
Toyota said more than 25 percent of its sales came over the holiday weekend. General Motors said Black Friday is “obviously becoming a bigger go-to-market strategy in automotive, a little more consistent with other industries.”
Dealers said November sales started slowly, but rose after Thanksgiving.
“Black Friday did give us a lift,” said Bill Perkins, president of two Chevrolet dealerships in the Detroit suburbs of Taylor and Eastpointe, Mich.
Americans’ willingness to spend on big-ticket items such as automobiles, even with the deals, could indicate that conditions are improving for consumers.
Industry analysts said small car sales slowed because gas prices fell during November, while midsize car sales also slowed as buyers defected to the small SUVs. Automakers also are starting to offer more deals on small cars and especially midsize cars.
“If deals are to be had, that’s the segment to look at,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of auto sales forecasting for LMC Automotive. “There are some models that are starting to age.”
Heated competition in the midsize car segment helped to bring the average automobile sales price down in November for the first time in three years, according to TrueCar.
The average last month was $30,634, just under 1 percent lower than a year ago. Incentives such as rebates and low-interest loans rose 0.7 percent to an average of $2,507 per car.
The strong November points to continued growth in December and into next year, said Schuster. He expects 2013 to end with sales of around 15.6 million, rising 3 percent to 16.1 million next year. That’s almost back to pre-recession levels and far above the recent low of 10.4 million in 2009.