A solid November showing has practically guaranteed that U.S. new light-vehicle sales will top 17 million units in 2017 for the third straight year and only the fifth time ever.
But when the final numbers are tallied in early January, expect applause, not exuberance. Most forecasts see this year's total slipping from 2016's record 17.5 million. And 2018 sales are predicted to ease again.
November's industrywide sales rose 1.4 percent to 1,399,640 deliveries, led once again by strong sales of light trucks. Widespread, though not sharply higher, incentives also helped.
That total brings sales for the first 11 months to 15.64 million, down 1.4 percent from a year earlier. That leaves the industry about 1.36 million units away from 17 million. Last year, December sales were 1,688,368. So sales this month would have to tumble about 19 percent for 2017's total to fall shy of 17 million -- a bigger drop than in any month this year.
At the same time, automakers would have to sell about 1.9 million vehicles in December -- 13 percent more than last year's record for the month -- to give the industry its eighth consecutive year of growth. In other words, that's not happening either.
Christopher Hopson, manager of North America light vehicle forecasting at IHS Markit, said total volume for the year was trending toward "a 17.2 million unit volume level."