General Motors Co. (GM), Ford Motor Co. (F) and Nissan Motor Co. (7201) all reported improved sales in November as demand for pickups and sport-utility vehicles helped the industry match its fastest sales pace of the year.
GM’s deliveries in the month climbed 11 percent to 168,739. Sales of its Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain SUVs gained 60 percent. Ford’s sales rose 20 percent to 147,338, fueled by a 55 percent boost in sales of the Edge SUV. Nissan, Honda Motor Co. (7267) and Chrysler Group LLC also reported light-truck gains as they boosted results. Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) sales fell 3.3 percent.
Industrywide light-vehicle sales ran at a 12.3 million annual pace in November, matching the October rate that was the fastest since the U.S. government’s “cash for clunkers” program in 2009. Annual U.S. sales plunged to 10.4 million last year, the worst year since 1982, after averaging 16.8 million from 2000 to 2007.
“It’s not like happy days are here again -- it’s one more plodding step down the road in the right direction,” said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of Edmunds.com, an auto-shopping research site in Santa Monica, California.
The U.S. automakers’ sales gains lagged analysts’ forecasts. GM was expected to post a 13 percent sales increase by researcher TrueCar.com, and Edmunds.com projected a 12 percent gain. Ford deliveries were expected to rise 21 percent, the average estimate of five analysts. Chrysler reported a 17 percent boost to 74,152, compared with a 26 percent average of five analysts’ estimates.
Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s third-largest automaker, said U.S. sales of Nissan and Infiniti brand vehicles rose 27 percent from a year ago to 71,366. The average of four analysts’ estimates was for a 16 percent gain. The Yokohama-based company benefited from higher sales of crossovers and pickups, posting a combined 54 percent increase in light-truck deliveries.
“You’re going to see strong truck sales all day,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Edmunds.com. “That’s being driven by stable gas prices and pent-up demand from people who use trucks and SUVs for work and have been putting off purchases.”
Average regular unleaded gasoline prices in the U.S. have been between $2.60 and $2.95 a gallon throughout 2010, according to AAA.
GM rose 58 cents to $34.78 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 5.4 percent from their $33 sale price in an initial public offering last month. Ford gained 52 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $16.46. Ford had gained 65 percent this year. Stocks rose on speculation of larger effort to end Europe’s debt crisis.
Chevrolet, which accounted for 70 percent of GM’s sales, boosted deliveries 18 percent to 117,588, the Detroit-based company said today in a statement. Buick sales climbed 36 percent to 11,725 vehicles, led by deliveries of the Enclave SUV, GM said today. GMC sales gained 30 percent to 27,590. Cadillac deliveries rose 21 percent to 11,801.
Sales of the Cadillac SRX climbed 36 percent, the company said.
“We continue to see a gradual rise in overall industry demand,” Don Johnson, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales, said today on a conference call. “Consumers are still cautious. We’re starting to see an inclination for people to come back into dealerships.”
Light-vehicle sales ran faster than the 12.2 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average of eight analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The Conference Board said its monthly Consumer Confidence Survey (CONCCONF) rose from 49.9 in October to 54.1 in November, the highest level in five months.
Leasing accounted for 11 percent of GM sales, up from a pace of nearly 8 percent for the year, Johnson said. More leasing and subprime lending from General Motors Financial Co. Inc., formerly AmeriCredit Corp., should help sales as the lender and GM work more closely together, he said.
Since filing for bankruptcy last year, GM has closed Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn and sold Saab to focus on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Sales of those four remaining brands rose 21 percent.
GM’s sales topped Lexington, Massachusetts-based research firm IHS Automotive’s estimate of 162,000 for the month.
“They aren’t blowing the doors out, but it’s a slow, steady recovery,” said Rebecca Lindland, IHS’s director of strategic review.
Ford’s sales increase was driven by gains from its redesigned Edge sport-utility vehicle, a 26 percent jump in F-series pickup deliveries and strong demand for small cars such as the Focus and Fiesta. Ford’s Lincoln luxury line rose 19 percent on sales of the MKZ sedan, MKX SUV and the Town Car, which the automaker is discontinuing next year.
Since last November, Ford sold the Volvo brand to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Excluding that luxury make, Ford’s sales rose 24 percent.
Chrysler’s gains were driven by the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee, sales of which more than tripled from last November to 10,984. Ram pickup sales rose 86 percent to 18,206 last month.
The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker’s car sales fell 9.1 percent to 13,112.
Among the seven top sellers of vehicles in the U.S., only Toyota reported a decline in the month. Its U.S. vehicle sales fell 3.3 percent on an unadjusted basis. The average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for a decline of 3 percent.
“It’s a twofold issue for Toyota: The competition has come out with great products just as they were coming out of the recall impact,” said James Bell, industry analyst for forecaster Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, “took a blow in terms of public perception because of the recalls and it’s given people a chance to stand back and take a look at the Sonata, the Altima, the Chevy Cruze,” Bell said.
Toyota’s American depositary receipts traded in New York rose $1.89, or 2.4 percent, to $79.58 at 4:04 p.m. It was the highest closing price for the ADRs in more than seven months.
Honda, fourth in U.S. sales, had a 21 percent increase in deliveries of Honda and Acura brand models last month, the company said in a statement. Sales rose to 89,617 units from 74,003 a year ago, Honda said. Deliveries were forecast to increase 24 percent, the average of four analysts’ estimates.
Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), South Korea’s largest automaker, boosted U.S. sales 45 percent in November to 40,723, a record for the month, the company said in a statement. Growth for the Seoul-based company was led by increased sales of Sonata and Genesis sedans and Tucson crossovers, Hyundai said.
GM’s Equinox small SUV outsold Ford’s Escape, which had a sales decline of 1.4 percent. Ford’s U.S. sales chief, Ken Czubay, said he wasn’t sure if Escape was losing buyers to Equinox.
“There’s a lot of competitors in that segment,” Czubay said on a conference call. He noted that some Escape shoppers might have instead purchased the Edge.
One in five online car shoppers researching the Escape also looked at the Equinox, according to Edmunds.com, while 8.6 percent of those researching the Equinox also looked at the Escape.
GM’s Chevy Camaro widened its lead against the Ford Mustang, which has held the annual U.S. sports car sales crown since 1986. GM sold 4,164 Camaros in November, bringing the total for the year to 75,685, while Ford sold 4,093 Mustangs, for an 11-month tally of 68,264.
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