For the first 10 months of this year, sales of new cars and light trucks in the United States were absolutely terrible. They were up 10 percent from the horrendous results of 2010.
What's that, you say? Isn't 10 percent a pretty good gain?
Well, yes, but not this time. Except for 2009, the depth of the current auto depression, 2010 sales were the worst since 1982.
Hark back to your grade school arithmetic: 10 percent of a small number is a small number.
Then came November. November was not a great month by any stretch of the imagination -- sales slipped below 1 million for the first time since February and were 3 percent below October. But for an industry grasping at straws, sales were 14 percent better than November 2010.
Detroit 3 up 16%
Trucks were the stars last month, with sales up 16 percent. Car deliveries rose 12 percent. Trucks had 53 percent of the November market.
The Detroit 3 fueled the year-to-year increase with a gain of 16 percent -- 7 percent for General Motors, 13 percent for Ford Motor Co. and a stupendous 42 percent for the Chrysler Group. Before the whooping and the stomping begin, let it be known that the Chrysler advance reflects not just the group's recovery; it also reflects how horrible Chrysler sales were a year ago.
European and South Korean cars and trucks were both up 29 percent in November. Japanese vehicles moved ahead a minimal 5 percent, but the gain showed that the Japanese are recovering slowly but surely from March's earthquake and tsunami.
November results for Japan's Big 3 were mixed -- gains of 19 percent for Nissan North America and 7 percent for Toyota Motor Sales, but a loss of 6 percent for American Honda.
Chrysler's big upturn was sparked by truck sales. Jeep deliveries zoomed ahead 50 percent, and Dodge trucks posted a 42 percent advance. Avenger, Challenger and Charger helped out on the car side.
The 2011 winners
Nissan Altima jumped into second place in car sales in November, behind the Toyota Camry. The Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet Cruze were the only American nameplates among the Top 10 car sellers for the month.
With a month to go, most of 2011's major sales races have been decided. For the umpteenth consecutive year, the Ford F-series pickup is the nation's best selling vehicle. It also leads the trucks, of course, and Toyota's Camry will again be the best-selling car.
The annual Ford-Chevrolet battle to be the best-selling brand turned out to be little more than a minor arm-wrestle this year. After 11 months, Ford led Chevy by 214,522 sales.
The Toyota Corolla/Matrix was the leading small car for 11 months, but it led the Chevrolet Cruze by only 4,193 units.
The mid-range segment of the market has the most entries and the highest sales. The Toyota Camry had a 32,000-unit lead over the Altima going into December, and that seems to be enough to keep its title.
The luxury class, which includes cars from near-luxury on up, was paced by the BMW 3 series for 11 months. No other nameplate is close enough to challenge. Likewise with the Chevrolet Camaro in the sporty car category.
Alternative power? Strictly no contest. The Toyota Prius has 77 percent of sales.
Among crossovers, the Ford Escape will be a full-year winner.
In minivans, the Toyota Sienna led the Dodge Grand Caravan by 882 sales after 11 months, and the Honda Odyssey was only 4,286 behind the Sienna. SUVs? The Ford Explorer is in first place. The Kia Sorento is 2,260 back.