Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Hyundai, Subaru and Kia posted higher U.S. sales in November, a sign that the industry is winding up the year with renewed momentum after an October lull.
Sales rose 9.2 percent at Toyota Motor, for its second-biggest gain but only fourth increase of the year. Honda Motor deliveries spiked 11 percent, its second double-digit gain in a healthy year. Hyundai tallied its 15th gain in 16 months, advancing 6.2 percent.
Sales also increased at Subaru, Mazda, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi. But at Nissan Motor Co., demand skidded 16 percent as the company continued to scale back on fleet shipments and incentives to shore up retail volume and profits.
The industry heads into December with a chance at topping the 17 million mark for a fifth straight year.
"The U.S. consumer, motivated in part by low unemployment rates, continues to drive the economy forward," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. "Strong labor and equity markets continue to provide the foundation for robust vehicle demand. Until either of those changes substantially, strong vehicle markets are likely to continue."
Through 10 months, industry sales had slipped 1.6 percent from their year-earlier mark, according to Automotive News Data Center estimates. Higher fleet deliveries have offset a decline in retail volume all year.
Overall industry sales were forecast to rise slightly in November, according to J.D. Power-LMC and ALG forecasts. Demand was helped by an extra sales day and weekend, heavy holiday promotions and rising incentives that reached record levels during the month.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of sales was forecast by analysts to come in at 16.9 million to 17.5 million. That would be a rebound from October’s 16.55 million pace, which was hampered by a 40-day strike at General Motors. The SAAR reached 17.5 million in November 2018 and has topped 17 million in five of the first 10 months this year.
Company by company
At the Toyota division, volume increased 8.4 percent to a November record of 177,764. Lexus was up 14 percent. Overall, Toyota Motor's light-truck deliveries rose 11 percent while car demand jumped 6.2 percent.
Honda Motor’s increase stemmed from a 12 percent increase at the Honda division and a 3.1 percent rise at Acura. Car sales rose 2.2 percent while light-truck demand surged 18 percent. Through October, the company was up nearly 1 percent in a down market.
An expanded crossover lineup and 19 percent increase in retail deliveries drove Hyundai to its 6.2 percent jump.
Hyundai said its retail gains last month were led by three incumbent crossovers -- the Santa Fe (up 26 percent), Tucson (up 31 percent), and Kona (up 39 percent). The new three-row Palisade crossover, meanwhile, chalked up more than 5,000 retail units sold, a 21 percent increase over the previous month. The entry-level Venue crossover made its showroom debut with 290 deliveries last month.
Hyundai said fleet shipments fell 33 percent in November, representing 15 percent of total volume.
Kia, another brand with an expanded crossover lineup, posted its fourth double-digit increase of the year with a 12 percent rise in November volume.
Nissan’s tumble marked its third straight decline and eighth dip of the year. Sales were down 13 percent at the Nissan brand and 33 percent at Infiniti. The struggling automaker, once eager to gain market share, is scaling back on fleet shipments and incentives to shore up retail volume and profits. Infiniti deliveries have now dropped 11 consecutive months.
Among other automakers, November deliveries rose 0.2 percent at Subaru, 9.1 percent at the Volkswagen brand, 18 percent at Mazda and 6.5 percent at Mitsubishi. Sales at Mini, down 13 percent, slipped for the ninth month this year, but the latest decline was far less than the brand's performance in the first seven months of 2019.
BMW, up 10 percent; Mercedes, up 13 percent; Audi, up 21 percent; Porsche, up 12 percent; Land Rover, up 11 percent; Volvo, up 18 percent; and Genesis, up 420 percent, were among other luxury brands posting double-digits increases in November volume. Sales dropped 7.5 percent at Jaguar.
GM, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles report U.S. sales results on a quarterly basis; Tesla releases global deliveries once a quarter.
Cox Automotive said Tuesday it expected the Detroit 3 to finish near or slightly below its forecast -- projected November declines of 5.5 percent at GM, 2.7 percent at Ford and 3.5 percent at Fiat Chrysler -- as lower car shipments continue to undermine their results.
Without Detroit 3 results, sales rose 2.2 percent in November, according to the Automotive News data center.
“GM fleet activity, and likely some retail, was significantly lower in October by tens of thousands of units as factory closures disrupted deliveries,” said Chesbrough. “The question for the market [in November] is whether these sales were simply delayed, replaced or canceled.”
J.D. Power and LMC estimate average incentive spending was on pace to reach $4,538 per vehicle last month, an increase of more than 12 percent from November 2018 and the first time discounts topped $4,500.
ALG estimates average November incentives rose 1.2 percent to $3,759, with the biggest discounts among major automakers offered by the Detroit 3, Daimler, BMW and Nissan. Many Honda dealers dangled red-tag discounts on older new vehicles and Buick offered 20 percent off MSRP.
The increase in incentive spending is being driven by record levels of older-model vehicles still lingering on dealer lots, analysts say.
Discount spending on 2020 model-year vehicles was on pace to reach $3,723 in November, an increase of nearly 13 percent from a year ago, J.D. Power and LMC said.