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Toyota’s First U.S. Gain Since April Caps Automakers’ Best Month of 2011

Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) delivered more vehicles in the U.S. than analysts estimated as auto demand climbed to the highest of the year.

Toyota sales in November grew 6.7 percent from a year earlier, the first increase in seven months, and Leaf-maker Nissan posted a 19 percent gain, according to statements yesterday. South Korea’s Hyundai and affiliate Kia had a combined increase of 29 percent. Deliveries at Honda Motor Co. fell 6.7 percent, the only drop among large automakers, as flooding in Thailand disrupted production.

The Asian carmakers benefited from a recovery in demand as U.S. consumer confidence last month surged the most in more than eight years, and the portion of people planning to buy a new vehicle within six months climbed to the highest since April, according to the latest Conference Board figures released Nov. 29. New cars and light trucks sold at a 13.6 million annual pace, the strongest since “cash for clunkers” incentives aided sales in August 2009.

“Consumers are becoming more comfortable buying again,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at Santa Monica, California-based TrueCar.com. “If they have a car that needs to be replaced, they’re finally deciding it’s time to replace it.”

Japanese and South Korean auto brands reported a combined sales increase of 8.7 percent, trailing the industry’s gain of 13.9 percent, according to Autodata Corp., a research firm in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

‘Year-End Blitz’

“The market is up big, fuel prices are down,” Al Castignetti, Nissan’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in a telephone interview. “We go into the year-end blitz now.”

Among U.S.-based automakers, sales rose 6.9 percent for General Motors Co. (GM), 13 percent for Ford Motor Co. (F) and 45 percent for Chrysler Group LLC.

The sales gain for Toyota, Asia’s largest automaker, followed six monthly declines triggered by parts shortages after Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami. The Toyota City, Japan- based company’s increase for Toyota, Scion and Lexus models beat the 5 percent average of five analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The November gains were led by the revamped Camry sedan, up 13 percent, and the Prius hatchback and v wagon models, with an increase of 49 percent.

Camry, Prius

“Our growth is on the back of how Camry and Prius are performing in the market,” Bob Carter, group vice president of U.S. sales, said on a conference call. “We’re confident our volumes and our share will recover throughout 2012.”

The company begins December with a 46-day supply of Toyota- brand vehicles and about 30 days’ inventory of Lexus models, Carter and Lexus U.S. brand manager Mark Templin said.

“Things are looking up for them,” Toprak said. “This was a year to forget for Toyota.”

The company’s November market share was 13.9 percent, a drop from 14.8 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata.

Toyota rose 0.2 percent to 2,571 yen at 10:10 a.m. in Tokyo trading. Nissan gained 0.3 percent to 703 yen and Honda dropped 0.4 percent to 2,473 yen. Hyundai fell 2 percent to 217,000 won and Kia slid 0.4 percent to 71,200 won in Seoul.

Honda Motor

Honda, Japan’s third-largest automaker, saw plans for a fourth-quarter sales rebound dashed as flooding in Thailand prolonged production slowdowns in North America initially caused by the March quake. The Tokyo-based company’s decline last month missed the 2.6 percent increase projected by the average of five analyst estimates.

“The impact of the Thailand flooding on our North American production levels continued to be felt in November,” John Mendel, Honda’s U.S. executive vice president, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to closing the year on a strong note as production recovers and the all-new CR-V goes on sale this month.”

The Thai flooding shut supplier plants for weeks, reducing availability of some electronics, rubber and plastic parts.

Honda’s market share fell to 8.4 percent from 10.3 percent, according to Autodata.

Nissan’s increased sales of Nissan and luxury Infiniti models exceeded the 12 percent average analyst estimate. The Yokohama, Japan-based company’s gains were led by the Altima midsize sedan and the Rogue small crossover.

The automaker’s sales have risen 16 percent this year and should remain high this month, Castignetti said.

Nissan, Hyundai

“We’ve got a ton of marketing in place, as well as our competitors, which drives a lot of traffic,” he said. “We’re expecting a really big close for the year.”

The increase at Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, and affiliate Kia exceeded the 24 percent increase projected by the average of three analysts’ estimates. The gains were 22 percent for Hyundai and 39 percent for Kia. The Seoul-based companies operate separately.

“Going into 2012 the biggest challenge for Toyota is competition,” TrueCar’s Toprak said. “Hyundai is the most formidable competitor.”

U.S. sales growth for Hyundai and Kia will slow in 2012, Toprak said.

“The current rate is not sustainable,” he said. “If they can post about a 10 percent increase next year that will be quite good.”

Japan’s Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) had a 20 percent sales increase, while Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. said sales of its Subaru brand dropped 15 percent last month. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (7211)’s deliveries fell 13 percent and Suzuki Motor Corp. had a 22 percent decline.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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