U.S. Car Sales Climbed 17% in November


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Auto makers posted another solid rise in new-vehicle sales in the U.S. in November, lifting hopes for a strong finish to the year, especially with the typically robust holiday sales season looming.

Sales last month totaled 873,323 cars and light trucks, according to Autodata Corp., up almost 17% from the year-ago total. The results lifted the seasonally adjusted annualized sales pace to 12.26 million vehicles.

It was the second month in a row the closely watched annualized figure topped 12 million, a figure it had not hit this year before October. During the boom times earlier this decade U.S. vehicle sales exceeded 16 million annually.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co. and several others all reported gains of 11% or more. Ford, GM and Chrysler all cited strong sales of pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles and the car-based SUVs dubbed crossovers.

Toyota Motor Corp. was one of the few makers that saw a decline. Its sales fell 3.3%, driven by a 17% drop in sales of its cars. Toyota said it was hurt by a shift by buyers to trucks and SUVs and away from cars, although Nissan and Honda showed no ill effects from that trend.

Car sales industrywide have risen about 6% so far this year, while truck sales have climbed about 17%.

“We haven’t seen this kind of mix of car versus truck really since before the recession,” said Bob Carter, U.S. sales chief for the Toyota brand.

Mr. Carter acknowledged that Toyota’s recalls and safety troubles earlier this year may be having a modest impact on sales but said he doesn’t believe they are a significant factor.

Earl Hesterberg, chief executive of Group 1 Automotive Inc., a large chain of car dealerships based in Houston, said the true test of the industry’s recovery will come in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, which is typically the strongest week of the year for new-vehicle sales.

“That’s when you’ll really get a sense if there’s been an improvement in consumer behavior,” he said. One good sign, he added, was the customer traffic that department stores and other retailers saw on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. “A good number of people were out shopping, so we’re fairly optimistic” about car sales later in December.

In November, GM sold 168,670 cars and light trucks, up 12% from a year ago, while Ford saw its sales jump almost 20% to 146,956 vehicles. If Ford’s total is adjusted for its recent sale of Volvo, its sales rose 24%. Chrysler’s sales climbed 17%, driven by big increases in its Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle and Ram pickup.

“The economy is continuing to gain traction,” said Jim Bunnell, general manager of U.S. sales for Detroit-based GM, which completed a $23.1 billion initial public stock offering last month. “We believe we will see meaningful job creation in the coming months.”

Toyota’s sales slipped to 129,317 cars and light trucks, from 133,700 a year ago. The drop means Toyota is all but certain to suffer a decline in U.S. market share this year—its first decline since 1999, according to Wards Auto.

Among other car makers, Honda said its sales rose 21% to 89,617, while Nissan Motor Co. said its total climbed 27% to 71,366 vehicles.

Subaru of America Inc., a maker of all-wheel drive station wagons, reported its best November ever with sales of 20,792, up 22%. Subaru is owned by Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.

Hyundai Motor Co. said U.S. sales rose 45%, while sister Korean company Kia Motors Corp. posted a 48% increase.

Volkswagen AG, meantime, said U.S. sales of its namesake VW brand climbed 24% to 20,189 on strong demand for its redesigned Jetta compact car, while fellow German companies Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz, saw sales rise 10% and BMW AG reported a 27% gain.

Recent positive economic signs have heartened Ford officials about the outlook for auto sales. Ford chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said that “taken together, the latest batch of data suggest that we have seen restructuring in the household balance sheet,” citing improvements in holidays retail sales, an uptick in the U.S. gross domestic product and modest declines in joblessness.

While Ms. Hughes-Cromwick cautioned in a conference call that “our perspective on the housing sector does remain negative” she said that “many buyers now have the means to replace older vehicles, and credit is becoming a bit more available.”

U.S. private employers added a stronger-than-forecast 93,000 jobs in November, the biggest rise since November 2007, after an upwardly revised gain of 82,000 the month before, data from ADP Employer Services showed.

In a sign of the car industry’s rebound, GM and Chrysler both said Tuesday they would hire 1,000 engineers each, chiefly in Michigan, to work on fuel-efficent vehicles.

GM’s Mr. Bunnell said economic improvement was seen in both the sales of pickups and sales to corporate fleets. Corporate customers made up 28% of GM’s total in November.

“We feel pretty good about our November results and our plan to grow in the U.S. market remain on track,” he said.

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