Automakers rode generous Black Friday incentives to blistering November auto volume and the strongest selling rate since February 2007.
The U.S. industry chalked up sales of 1.24 million light vehicles, an increase of 9 percent from strong year-earlier results. The seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate was 16.4 million, well above October's 15.2 million.
Forecasters expected a selling rate somewhere between 15.6 million and 16.1 million. But most had cautioned that incentives timed for a Thanksgiving weekend that coincided with the end of the month might accelerate sales.
Clearly, the incentives worked.
"Industry sales in November picked up after Thanksgiving, contributing to the best sales pace of the year," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager. "Showroom traffic surged over the holiday weekend for Toyota, indicating good momentum we expect to continue through the end of the year and into 2014."
For example, a General Motors TV spot featured neighbors comparing Black Friday buys. A sleep-deprived man with a black eye had a haul of electronics while his rested neighbor gestured at a new car and said, "I slept in, and saved thousands."
But GM Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem cited an improving labor market, record household net wealth, falling gasoline prices plus new products as the primary reasons for the automaker's 14 percent November jump.
"It's not a surprise we're ending up with strength," he told reporters during a conference call.
GM North America President Mark Reuss added: "This is not a purely incentive-fueled industry right now."
Chrysler Group sales jumped 16 percent to lead the November charge among major automakers. It was closely followed by GM, Nissan North America at 11 percent and Toyota Motor Sales with a 10 percent gain.
Ford Motor boosted sales 7 percent. Hyundai-Kia Automotive had the same gain, as Kia advanced 11 percent and Hyundai was up 5 percent.
American Honda sales were virtually flat, down 73 units to 116,507.
Volkswagen Group of America extended its monthly losing streak to three, this time down 8 percent. The eighth monthly loss in a row at Volkswagen brand outweighed strong results at sister brands Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini.
Nissan outsells Hyundai-Kia: Nissan North America outsold Hyundai-Kia Automotive in November by 5,114 units. Nissan now trails the South Korean manufacturer by just 20,644 through 11 months at 6th place among automakers. Hyundai-Kia had a U.S. sales lead of 118,950 in calendar 2012. But through 11 months this year, its sales are flat while Nissan is up 9 percent, slightly better than the market average.
Ford widens pickup lead: Ford F series pickup sales jumped 16 percent to extend its lead over General Motors' freshly redesigned twins, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
The November tally: F series 65,501 sales to GM's combined 48,748 units, a spread of 16,753. Through 11 months, the F series leads by 84,454, up more than 14,000 from a year earlier, despite being the oldest domestic-brand big-pickup model.
The Ford and GM big boys are both up 19 percent so far this year. But the F series started from a higher point, so its unit lead has grown.
On a percentage basis, Chrysler's Ram pickup is the big pickup winner so far this year, with a 22 percent jump. Ram's November volume of 29,635 was less than 5,000 units behind the Silverado.