Plenty of incentive money left after Nov. sales rise 5%

Timely automaker Black Friday promotions and a strong economy drove U.S. auto sales higher in November.

Look for more of the same this month.

“Everything seems to be in place for a strong close, and the good Thanksgiving weekend results provide a great start to the holiday selling season,” Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager, said in a conference call today.

Overall November sales rose 5 percent to 1.3 million light vehicles, more than most pundits had predicted. The seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate was 17.2 million, the second month this year above 17 million and well above the 16.3 million SAAR in November 2013.

Some analysts say the strong November may end up sapping some demand from the year’s final month. But with 2014 sales leadership in the full-size pickup and luxury segments at stake, John Krafcik, president of TrueCar, thinks a December incentives shootout is likely.

“Most automakers have underspent their incentives budget this year,” he said. “So if they want to make December huge, they absolutely have the capacity to do so.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ran away with November sales, jumping 20 percent to 172,217 units in November. It was led by gains ranging from 27 to 31 percent at the key Jeep, Ram and Chrysler brands.

All five Chrysler Group brands recorded increases as the automaker extended its string of consecutive year-over-year increases to 56 months.

Short takes on other automakers in November:

• General Motors sales climbed 6 percent to 225,818 units. Pickups fueled the gain: In a month with a net unit gain of 13,758, the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra duo picked up 16,595 and the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon combined for another 3,210.

• Ford Motor Co. sales fell 2 percent to 186,334 light vehicles. The Lincoln brand rose 21 percent, but like GM, Ford’s fate also was decided by pickups. With its F-150 model changeover, F-series sales fell 6,452 in November, pulling the automaker into negative territory.

• Toyota Motor Sales gained 3 percent on hot truck sales, notably the Toyota 4Runner and Highlander.

• American Honda sales rose 5 percent with the Honda CR-V crossover jumping 38 percent to 32,378 units and handily outselling Accord and Civic.

• Nissan North America lost 3 percent for the month, largely because Infiniti was off 13 percent and Nissan’s volume leader, the Altima, fell 7 percent.

• Hyundai-Kia sales fell 3 percent, ending the South Korean duo’s eight-month string of gains. It’s up 3 percent so far this year.

• Volkswagen Group of America sales rose 10 percent for a second straight month as VW brand posted just its second positive number this year. The VW brand was up 3 percent, weighing down double-digit increases for Audi and Porsche. Through 11 months, the group is down 3 percent.

Among smaller players:

• Subaru sales jumped 24 percent -- its 36th straight monthly gain -- to 45,243. The hero models: Legacy, almost doubling last November, and the Outback with a 60 percent gain.

• Mitsubishi rose 8 percent and Mazda was 2 percent higher.

• Luxury automakers collectively had a lackluster month in an otherwise strong year. Daimler AG was up 2 percent, BMW Group sales fell 1 percent, Volvo Cars dropped 14 percent and Jaguar Land Rover plunged 19 percent.

With only December left in the sales year, two annual races are shaping up to be tight: luxury brands and big pickups.

• The best-selling luxury brand contest got closer as BMW brand sales fell 2 percent in November. Mercedes-Benz (excluding Sprinter commercial vans) inched higher, so the BMW lead after 11 months is less than 2,000: 298,212 to 296,382.

• Can the capacity-constrained Ford F series outsell the charging GM big pickup twins Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra for the full year? A once-substantial Ford lead is now less than 20,000 after November, 679,496 to 660,315.

Pickup battle

With Ford retooling two assembly plants for the aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150, November sales fell 10 percent while the GM duo jumped 11 percent. Combined, they outsold the F series by 6,000 units. Both automakers have plenty of big trucks in stock, so December could get interesting.

Through 11 months, full-size pickup sales are 7 percent higher and have outperformed the industry’s 5 percent gain.

Which automakers are taking advantage of Ford’s model changeover? GM and Fiat Chrysler.

In November, F-series sales fell 6,452 units. Ram pickup sales jumped 6,230. GM’s new-generation twins soared 16,595 units, or more than the total gain for the sub-segment including the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan.

Year to date, Ram is the biggest winner, 73,299 units higher, or 23 percent. GM is up 55,959 units and Toyota 6,250. The Ford F series is 9,314 units lower, mostly in October and November. Nissan is a non-factor, with the Titan down 2,749 or 19 percent.

Cadillac vs. the “A” brands

Last November, Cadillac was the No. 4 brand in U.S. luxury sales and widening its lead over No. 5 Acura and No. 6 Audi.

This November, Cadillac sales tumbled 19 percent to 13,148, while Audi was up 22 percent to 16,640 and Acura rose 2 percent to 14,857.

And with just a month left in 2014 sales, Audi has grabbed the No. 4 spot with 162,773 sales through 11 months, a gain of 15 percent. Cadillac is far behind Audi at 154,600 and less than 4,600 units up on Acura.

Compact crossovers near the top

Compact crossovers didn’t actually snatch the best-selling U.S. segment title from midsize sedans in November, but with a 20 percent surge in the period they came within 52 units: 191,709 to 191,657.

Through 11 months, compact crossovers trail midsize cars by more than a quarter million units, but they are ahead of the compact cars they are derived from -- 2,112,647 to 2,052,085.

Article by Jesse Snyder.

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