U.S. auto sales, behind strong results at Nissan, Ford and Honda, rose 1.4 percent to 1,399,640 in November -- a record for the month -- exceeding most forecasts and driven by light-truck demand and fatter deals.
It is only the second month this year that light-vehicle sales rose year over year. Light truck volume jumped 7.4 percent while car deliveries remained weak, falling 8.8 percent.
Among other major automakers, volume slipped at Toyota, FCA, General Motors and Hyundai-Kia.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized sales rate came in at 17.55 million, well above the 17.3 million forecast and the third-highest pace of the year -- behind 18 million-plus levels in September and October. In November 2016, the SAAR came in at 17.7 million.
"We won’t see a fourth quarter better than last year’s, but we can see positive momentum heading into 2018," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive.
The U.S. new-vehicle market, after seven straight annual gains capped by a record 2016, is off 1.4 percent through November, mostly on sharply lower car and fleet business. But volume is still on track to top 17 million units for a third straight year.
“U.S. economic growth has stepped up and we expect the momentum will carry over to 2018,” GM Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. “Employment continues to grow at a solid pace, wage growth will accelerate and consumer confidence just hit a 17-year high, so industry sales should remain strong.”
Company by company
At Nissan Motor Co., sales jumped 18 percent behind a 19 percent increase at the Nissan brand and 7.5 percent gain at Infiniti, with combined light truck deliveries rising 29 percent at both brands.
The Nissan brand posted record November sales of 122,959, driven by record November demand for two crossovers -- the Rogue and Murano. Combined car sales at Nissan and Infiniti rose 5.2 percent.
Honda's U.S. volume rose 8.3 percent to a November record of 133,166.
American Honda said car deliveries rose 1.4 percent and light truck demand jumped 15 percent last month. Sales rose 8.2 percent at the Honda division even "with major competitors clinging to heavy incentives and financing deals to compete," the brand said. Volume increased 9.5 percent at Acura.
Ford’s 7 percent increase in light vehicles -- aided by higher fleet and car and light-truck volume -- marked a third-straight month of gains of 6 percent or more. Deliveries last month increased 7.6 percent at the Ford division but fell 5.5 percent at Lincoln.
Ford said November car volume edged up 2 percent, SUV demand rose 13 percent and truck deliveries jumped 4.8 percent. Retail volume rose 1.3 percent and fleet deliveries surged 26 percent to 54,707.
GM sales slipped 2.9 percent on lower fleet shipments and flat retail demand, with every brand posting a decline.
GM, which is close to posting its first annual gain in U.S. market share since 2011, saw sales slip for the second straight month while touting its gains in higher-profit retail demand. Its biggest-volume brand, Chevrolet, fell 1.1 percent. Buick was down 3 percent; GMC, 5.8 percent; and Cadillac, 13 percent.
The 3 percent dip in volume at Toyota was the company's biggest drop on a percentage basis since April, though the automaker's sales are now up 0.2 percent for the year. Toyota Motor, ending a streak of five straight monthly gains year over year, said volume dropped 3 percent in November on a decline of 2.4 percent at the Toyota division and 6.7 percent at Lexus.
FCA US, with sales down 4 percent last month, continues to look for its first sales increase of the year. The automaker's sales declined on lower fleet shipments and weaker volume at Jeep, Ram and Dodge. The Chrysler brand, up 14 percent, was the only marque to post a gain among FCA's core brands last month.
FCA said retail sales rose 2 percent to 129,539 units last month but fleet deliveries dropped 25 percent to 25,380 units as part of an ongoing strategy to reduce volume from daily rental customers. Jeep's fleet shipments plunged 75 percent, FCA said.