Americans flocked to buy crossovers and SUVs in unprecedented numbers last month, helping to push annualized car sales above 18 million for the third consecutive month this year. U.S. vehicle sales are on track for their highest November volume since 2001.
Hyundai, Kia and Nissan posted the strongest sales increases, while Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors eked out modest gains. Ford’s sales were flat despite record sales of its trucks and vans, while Honda’s sales dropped as consumers pivoted to more attractive utility vehicle offers from rivals. At the bottom: Volkswagen, whose longstanding challenges in the U.S. market were worsened by the scandal surrounding its so-called “clean diesel” cars.
“November has historically not been a strong month, but starting in 2013 automakers began focusing on Black Friday deals to entice shoppers,” Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com, said about a recent focus on the annual retail shopping event. “They’re trying to take advantage of every opportunity of a deal-like environment.”
November’s sales results set up the industry to easily hit 17.8 million sales this year, topping last year’s 16.5 million unit sales and surpassing a prior sales peak of 17.3 million set in 2000.
“There’s a lot of competition for manufacturers to push their sales numbers to the end of the year,” said Steven Szakaly, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association. Carmakers tend to increase sales specials in the last months of the year in an effort to best one another in annual sales growth. “It would make sense to take advantage of any opportunity between Labor Day and the holidays.”
A strengthening U.S. economy, improving employment and wage-growth figures, rising consumer confidence and low gas prices will likely continue to push automotive sales. But the momentum will likely begin to slow next year as lending rates start to rise for the first time in a decade.
“Light-vehicle sales are projected to continue to be strong in 2016, but if an interest rate increase is combined with declines in confidence, it has potential to impact consumer behavior in the coming months,” Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst, IHS Automotive, said in an email.
Here’s how some of the major automakers fared last month:
The Dearborn, Michigan, maker of Lincolns and F-Series pickup trucks said vehicle sales were flat last month despite the best November sales numbers for the company’s line of trucks. Ford delivered 187,794 vehicles in November, up slightly from 187,000 in the same month last year.
“Ford’s conservative [sales] incentive strategy is driving healthy profits, even as the automaker was flat in terms of volume for November,” Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said.
Nearly half of Ford’s sales last month were carried by its trucks, led by a 10 percent jump in F-Series pickup truck sales as consumers embraced the 2015 aluminum body F-150, pulling market share from rival truck makers. Ford’s truck and van sales, which closely follow confidence in the U.S. housing and construction markets, saw their best November in eight years. Sales of Transit vans, which are typically purchased for commercial purposes, nearly doubled to 13,821, representing nearly a fifth of Ford’s truck and van sales.
Ford's car sales dropped 13 percent, led by double-digit declines in sales of the Focus compact, the C-Max mini and the Mustang. The Fusion, Ford’s best-selling sedan, dropped 4 percent amid a nationwide trend away from cars and toward SUVs and crossovers, which are small-engine SUVs built on sedan platforms.
Ford SUVs and crossovers lost out to rivals last month, with sales dropping 10 percent. Deliveries of Ford utility vehicles were pulled down by a steep decline in sales of the Ford Escape compact crossover, which has entered its third year without a major overhaul. Ford says the 2017 Edge will feature significant changes, but stopped short of announcing an all-new version of its second best-selling vehicle.
The Detroit maker of Chevrolets and Cadillacs said it delivered 229,296 vehicles in November, a 2 percent rise from the same month last year, led by demand for Chevrolet’s crossovers and SUVs.
GM’s return to the long-neglected compact pickup truck market has been a success so far. Sales of the Chevrolet Colorado and its fancier counterpart, the GMC Canyon, which were introduced around this time last year, leaped 162 percent to a combined 8,466 units. Sales of the Chevy Silverado fullsize pickup truck, the country’s second best-selling vehicle, grew 5 percent to 45,001.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
FCA reported sales of 175,974 units in November, a 3 percent increase from November 2014 and above an average forecast by Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com of about 174,000 vehicles.
The Jeep brand continues to carry a big part of FCA’s growth, posing a 20 percent rise led by the Jeep Compass compact crossover. Sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee midsize SUV and Jeep Patriot compact crossover each jumped 11 percent. Ram series pickups, including the Ram 1500, the third best-selling vehicle in the U.S., grew by a lackluster 3 percent as consumers pivoted to competing trucks from Ford and General Motors.
FCA ended November with an 86-day supply of inventory, well above the 60-day supply considered to be an ideal balance in the industry.
Nissan Motor said it delivered 107,083 vehicles in November, a 4 percent increase from last year and above an average forecast by Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com of about 105,000 vehicles.
The Nissan Maxima got a boost from an all-new 2016 model year version of the company’s popular midsize car. Maxima sales jumped in November by 18 percent from the same month last year, to 3,884 units, but that pales in comparison to the 49 percent jump for the Nissan Rogue midsize crossover for the month.
The Rogue is Nissan’s best-seller in the U.S. where consumers are rapidly shifting away from sedans and toward crossovers. Nissan’s truck sales should get a small boost when Japan’s third-largest carmaker releases the second-generation Titan pickup truck later this month. The Titan currently holds a sliver of the U.S. truck market.
Nissan’s luxury division Infiniti grew sales by 3 percent, led by robust demand for the brand’s larger SUVs, such as the QX80. Infiniti SUV sales were up 44 percent year over year, while Infiniti car sales plummeted by 28 percent.