U.S. auto sales, behind strong results at , and , rose 1.4 percent in November in what turned out to be a solid month that exceeded most forecasts and was driven by light-truck demand and fatter deals.
It is only the second month this year that light-vehicle sales rose year over year. Light truck volume jumped 7.4 percent while car deliveries remained weak, falling 8.8 percent.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized sales rate came in at 17.55 million, well above the 17.3 million forecast and the third-highest pace of the year — behind 18 million-plus levels in September and October. In November 2016, the SAAR came in at 17.7 million.
“We won’t see a fourth quarter better than last year’s, but we can see positive momentum heading into 2018,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive.
The U.S. new-vehicle market, after seven straight annual gains capped by a record 2016, is off 1.4 percent through November, mostly on sharply lower car and fleet business. But volume is still on track to top 17 million units for a third straight year.
“U.S. economic growth has stepped up and we expect the momentum will carry over to 2018,” GM Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. “Employment continues to grow at a solid pace, wage growth will accelerate and consumer confidence just hit a 17-year high, so industry sales should remain strong.”
At Nissan Motor Co., sales jumped 18 percent behind a 19 percent increase at the Nissan brand and 7.5 percent gain at , with combined light truck deliveries rising 29 percent at both brands.
The Nissan brand posted record November sales of 122,959, driven by record November demand for two crossovers — the Rogue and . Combined car sales at Nissan and Infiniti rose 5.2 percent.
Honda’s U.S. volume rose 8.3 percent to a November record of 133,166.
American Honda said car deliveries rose 1.4 percent and light truck demand jumped 15 percent last month. Sales rose 8.2 percent at the Honda division even “with major competitors clinging to heavy incentives and financing deals to compete,” the brand said. Volume increased 9.5 percent at Acura.
Ford’s 7 percent increase in light vehicles — aided by higher fleet and car and light-truck volume — marked a third-straight month of gains of 6 percent or more. Deliveries last month increased 7.6 percent at the Ford division but fell 5.5 percent at Lincoln.
Ford said November car volume edged up 2 percent, SUV demand rose 13 percent and truck deliveries jumped 4.8 percent. Retail volume rose 1.3 percent and fleet deliveries surged 26 percent to 54,707.
GM sales slipped 2.9 percent on lower fleet shipments and flat retail demand, with every brand posting a decline.
GM, which is close to posting its first annual gain in U.S. market share since 2011, saw sales slip for the second straight month while touting its gains in higher-profit retail demand. Its biggest-volume brand, Chevrolet, fell 1.1 percent. Buick was down 3 percent; , 5.8 percent; and Cadillac, 13 percent.
The 3 percent dip in volume at Toyota was the company’s biggest drop on a percentage basis since April, though the automaker’s sales are now up 0.2 percent for the year. Toyota Motor, ending a streak of five straight monthly gains year over year, said volume dropped 3 percent in November on a decline of 2.4 percent at the Toyota division and 6.7 percent at .
FCA US, with sales down 4 percent last month, continues to look for its first sales increase of the year. The automaker’s sales declined on lower fleet shipments and weaker volume at Jeep, Ram and Dodge. The Chrysler brand, up 14 percent, was the only marque to post a gain among FCA’s core brands last month.
FCA said retail sales rose 2 percent to 129,539 units last month but fleet deliveries dropped 25 percent to 25,380 units as part of an ongoing strategy to reduce volume from daily rental customers. Jeep’s fleet shipments plunged 75 percent, FCA said.
At the Group, volume dipped 1.6 percent at the VW brand, snapping three straight months of gains, and rose 12 percent at Audi, extending the luxury marque’s streak of gains to 97 months year over year.
November volume rose 0.8 percent at Subaru and 25 percent at Mitsubishi but skidded 16 percent at Kia and 9.4 percent at Hyundai. Deliveries dropped 2.6 percent at Mazda.
Among other luxury brands, volume rose 1.7 percent at Volvo, 7.1 percent at , 0.8 percent at , 1.6 percent at (excluding cargo vans), and 20 percent at Land Rover. Deliveries dropped 9.5 percent at .
The industry was expected to record a slight decline in overall volume last month but still produce the second-best November on record after November 2016.
Edmunds saw volume rising 3.5 percent behind higher deals and even fatter discounts on what it says are higher-than-normal levels of remaining 2017 models.
Sales were driven by strong light-truck demand — notably crossovers — and lingering replacement demand following hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
In addition, low-interest rates and gasoline prices, steady job gains and lofty U.S. equity markets are helping support industry sales, automakers and analysts say.
It “doesn’t hurt that automakers are starting to really sweeten the deals to clear out lingering 2017s and end this year on a high note,” said Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell.
Cox Automotive on Friday said it was forecasting U.S. sales of 16.6 million light vehicles in 2018.
And the National Automobile Dealers Association on Friday forecast U.S. sales of 16.7 million new cars and light trucks next year.
“We expect 2018 to be a robust year,” NADA Chairman Mark Scarpelli said in a statement. “Every dealer in America, myself included, would be thrilled with a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of above 16 million. Because it means that, one, the market is stable, and two, that demand is still healthy.”
Ahead of November’s final results, sales were projected by analysts polled by Bloomberg to rise at most major automakers: 3.7 percent at Ford; 0.4 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., 5.4 percent at Honda Motor Co., 6 percent at Nissan Motor Co. and 3.6 percent at Volkswagen-Audi. Volume was projected to fall 1.5 percent at GM, 5.5 percent at Fiat Chrysler, and 10 percent at Hyundai-Kia.
The average new-vehicle incentive was tracking at $4,065 in the first few weeks of November, J.D. Power says, and was expected to set a record after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Edmunds says automakers pitched “Black Friday” deals all month. ALG says new-vehicle incentives averaged $3,692 last month, an increase of 4.6 percent over November 2016. The Detroit 3 automakers and Nissan Motor Co. were the biggest spenders among broadline automakers.
There were 25 selling days last month, the same as November 2016. … New model-year vehicles accounted for just 44 percent of sales in the first few weeks of November, compared with 53 percent in November 2016, according to J.D. Power. … Among major automakers, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia are still looking for their first monthly sales gain this year. … Jeep, Hyundai, Fiat and Smart, among brands, have yet to post a monthly sales advance in 2017. … Audi (97 months) and Subaru (72 months) have the longest streak of monthly gains (year over year) through November … Kelley Blue Book estimates transaction prices for new light vehicles in the United States averaged a record $35,870 in November, an increase of $554, or 1.6 percent, from November 2016, and an increase of $83, or 0.2 percent, from October. … Incentives, as a percentage of MSRP, stood at 10.8 percent in early November, exceeding the 10 percent threshold for the 16th time over the last 17 months, J.D. Power says.
“In November, many [automakers] added additional lease-pull-ahead-type incentives, as used-vehicle values continue to be very strong. For consumers with lease terms close to maturing, this has been a good incentive to get back into the market. The pull-ahead incentives, however, are likely short lived. As used-vehicle values normalize, we expect [automakers] to dial back on these programs.” — Brad Korner, general manager of rates and incentives for Cox Automotive
“2017 has been the year of the SUV. Consumers have proven time and time again this year that they’re not afraid of the bigger price tags, higher APRs and longer loan terms.” — Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds
By David Phillips, Automotive News