U.S. auto sales — led by big gains at Chrysler Group, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen — rose 14 percent last month for their biggest increase since April.
On a seasonally-adjusted annual basis, sales reached 13.6 million units last month. That was the highest since August 2009, when U.S. cash-for-clunkers incentives revived demand following the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors.
“The industry sales rate has exceeded 13 million in each of the last three months,” said Ken Czubay, head of U.S. marketing, sales and service for Ford. “This suggests the current momentum is not an aberration. We believe replacement demand will continue to support stronger levels in 2012.”
Analysts had expected a Seasonally Adjusted Rate in the 13.45 million range, up from October’s 13.26 million. The SAAR had peaked this year at 13.29 million in February, before the March earthquake in Japan took steam out of the recovery.
U.S. auto sales have advanced 10 percent to 11.5 million units this year through November and are forecast to hit about 12.8 million units for the year. That would mark the second straight annual increase of more than 1 million units since 2009, when sales plunged to 27-year lows.
On a volume basis, it was the industry’s best November since 2007 and raised hopes the recovery — interrupted by the March earthquake in Japan and threatened by economic jitters — will gain speed the remainder of the year and into 2012.
Chrysler Group sales soared 45 percent, their biggest monthly increase since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. Similar advances were seen at Mercedes-Benz, up 46 percent, and the Volkswagen brand, up 41 percent.
Hyundai and Kia also did better in November than they have for the year. Hyundai climbed 22 percent and Kia jumped 39 percent.
A 7 percent gain at GM was helped by strong demand for big pickups and smaller cars such as the Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze. Still, it was one of GM’s weakest performances of the year. Chevy and GMC were up; Buick and Cadillac fell.
At Ford Motor Co., sales advanced 13 percent, their biggest gain since April, with volume at the Ford division up 20 percent.
Toyota Motor Corp., finally rebounding from the March earthquake in Japan, posted its first monthly gain in U.S. sales since April. The Toyota and Lexus brands each rose 7 percent.
Nissan Motor Co. said its sales rose 19 percent last month, helped by a 22 percent increase at the Nissan division.
Honda Motor Co., still reeling from earthquake-related inventory shortages, was the only major automaker to post a decline in U.S. volume last month. It said sales dropped 10 percent when factoring the difference in selling days last month vs. November 2010. Its unadjusted demand fell 6 percent.
U.S. auto sales have advanced 10 percent to 11.5 million units this year through November and are forecast to hit 12.8 million units for all of 2011.
Ford plans to build 675,000 vehicles in North America during the first quarter of 2012, up 3 percent compared with the first quarter of 2011. The automaker also plans to produce 674,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2011, an increase of 14,000 units from a previous forecast.
Hyundai — helped by new or redesigned models such as the Accent subcompact, Elantra compact and Veloster sport hatchback — said its sales rose 22 percent last month. The Korean automaker said annual sales of the Sonata topped 200,000 units for the first time.
Several automakers — notably Toyota and Lexus — launched year- end sales promotions earlier.
The average incentive per new car or light truck was estimated at $2,534 for November, an increase of 2.5 percent from the previous month but down 0.5 percent from November 2010, according to TrueCar.com, an online shopping site.
TrueCar estimated that the average transaction price for a new car or light vehicle sold in the U.S. market was $30,317 last month, an increase of $1,163 — or 4 percent — from November 2010 and up $164 — or 0.5 percent — from October 2011.
Consumer confidence has rebounded to its highest level since July and Americans appear to be in a mood to spend based on Thanksgiving holiday shopping levels.
Auto sales have also been aided by a more favorable lending environment and the nation’s aging light vehicle fleet. The average car or light truck on the road today is nearly 11 years old and many consumers have reached the point where they need to replace their vehicle, analysts say.
Small cars, entry-level crossovers, full-sized vans and traditional SUVs continued to sell well last month. GM said Chevy Silverado pickup sales rose 28 percent last month. At Nissan, demand for the Versa subcompact climbed 38 percent and Sentra compact sales rose 35 percent.
Analysts expect U.S. light vehicle sales to continue rebounding in the coming months as Japanese automakers rebuild stockpiles following the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Subaru, also hurt by short supplies, said November sales dropped 15 percent and are down 2 percent for the year, threatening its string of annual sales gains in the United States.
Japanese automakers started November with 622,600 units in stock, up from 575,600 units in early October and 527,800 units on Sept. 1.