It's down to December. It's the sprint for the finish, the runner's bell lap, the last circuit of the track.
Most yearly sales races were decided much earlier. But in the few still unsettled, it comes down to who has a kick left.
The first 10 months, I watched five likely sales races. Did November change them? Yep. Some leads grew. Some races got tighter:
- My favorite, as usual, is the perennial battle for best-selling U.S. luxury brand. Lexus used to own this. BMW won in 2011 by 2,715 vehicles (not counting those tri-star badged Sprinter commercial vans). BMW defended again in 2012 with a spectacular December surge of spiffs and dealer soft money that left Mercedes executives muttering darkly. The margin last year: 7,286. This year, Mercedes led all year and was ahead by 4,986 through October. Mercedes won November, bumping its 11-month lead up to 7,346.
- Nissan North America vs. Hyundai-Kia Automotive for the sixth best-selling U.S. automaker. Hyundai-Kia's hot streak drove it to back-to-back wins. The South Koreans won by 88,649 units in 2011 and 118,950 in 2012. But this year Nissan and Infiniti are up 9 percent while H-K is flat. With Nissan winning November by 5,114 units, Hyundai-Kia's 11-month lead is down to just 20,664.
- The Jimmy-Jeep tilt for king of the truck-only brands. In 2012, Jeep topped GMC by a healthy 60,250 units. But without a replacement for the discontinued Liberty most of the year, by October Jeep's lead slipped to 19,710 as GMC sales surged. The new Jeep Cherokee finally rode over the hill like the cavalry to the rescue. Jeep sold more than 10,000 of them in November, trounced GMC by almost that amount and widened the gap through 11 months to 29,348.
- Subaru vs. Volkswagen brand. In 2012, it was VW by 101,692. But by October, Subaru snuck into the 2013 lead by 4,928 units. November doubled that gap. Now Subaru's up by 10,822.
- And a model-level shoot-out in 2013's hottest segment, small crossovers. In 2012, Honda CR-V beat Ford Escape by 20,644 units. Through 10 months, Escape cut the margin to a razor-thin 1,093. But CR-V rose in November while the multiple-recalled Escape didn't. With a month to go, CR-V leads 275,145 to 271,531.
Realistically, luxury brand and top crossover are the only races left. But strange stuff happens in December. As always, it comes to this: Who has the will to win?