Does November Surge Set Sales Stage for '12? - AutoObserver

Does November Surge Set Sales Stage for '12?

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November auto sales in the United States posted the best monthly sales rate since the anomalous surge in August, 2009, related to the federal government's Cash-for-Clunkers program. Industry sales rose by 14 percent overall in the month, to about 994,000 units, propelled by broader availability of vehicles to meet American consumers' "pent-up demand," some signs of collective economic confidence and continued moderation in gasoline prices and interest rates. Black Friday and the accompanying shopping mania across the United States likely even contributed. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of sales for the month was 13.6 million.

"[Auto] dealers enjoyed the same uplift as other merchants" over the weekend following Thanksgiving, Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of U.S. sales, told journalists on a conference call today. "That included a strong Saturday." Ford's retail sales were up 20 percent for last month over a year earlier and the company's largest dealer, Galpin Ford in Southern California, experienced its largest single sales day in history on the day after Thanksgiving. Volkswagen was planning for a strong close to the month, and last weekend's surge of activity meant November "ran slightly ahead of our expectations in terms of the overall buoyancy of demand," Jonathan Browning, CEO of VW of America, told reporters. "It was a good time for consumers to be out shopping for vehicles."

"Consumers have had a 'deal mentality' lately," said Jessica Caldwell, senior U.S. industry analyst for "Right now is when consumers expect good deals, from a $5 item to a $30,000 item" such as a new vehicle. Brand and dealer incentives and promotions were heavy leading up to last week, including seasonally early launches of widely anticipated winter-holiday sales. So on Black Friday and the rest of last weekend, Caldwell said, consumers "decided to shop when they saw the deals."

Next Up: 2012
Overall, every major brand except Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. — still hobbled in November by Thailand-flooding-related inventory problems — and most smaller brands rode the updraft in November and looked forward to some sort of continuation. "With consumer confidence making its biggest jump in eight years, we look for the industry to continue its recovery in December and to continue to pick up steam in 2012," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager. Al Castignetti, vice president of the Nissan Division, said that the fourth quarter would be "the strongest of the calendar year. We think December will be a great month in that final quarter, with all the manufacturer marketing out there and a somewhat stabilized inventory."

Castignetti believes that the continued easing of credit availability will help over the next several months, as will an expected easing of the financial crisis in Europe. Don Johson, General Motors' vice president of U.S. sales, also cited the new jump in consumer confidence which "drives even more support for continuing growth in the U.S. economy next year. In that regard, Browning asserted that the industry's progress doesn't represent a disconnect with other discouraging aspects of the economy, because "there is some level of confidence at the consumer level [which] you put together with the factors of low interest rates and strong residual values [of used cars] and great product in the marketplace."

Still, Caldwell cautioned about presuming the hot November pace necessarily would continue. "The sales that are happening this month, and last month, are deferred from earlier in the year" when many brands were in short supply of small, fuel-friendly vehicles, she said. "It's hard not to feel very optimistic. But [November's level] isn't the 'new normal' or baseline demand. It's a lot of deferred demand — people coming in for favorable pricing, or being able to get the vehicle they want, helps sales overall. But I don't necessarily expect that 2012 will just build from this point."

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GM: Big Truck and Chevy Month
General Motors Co. sold 180,402 vehicles in November, up 7 percent compared with November 2010. Of this month's total, 77 percent were retail sales. And GM points out that retail deliveries were up 15 percent; fleet sales were down 14 percent. Within fleet sales, GM said sales to commercial enterprises and small business rose, while daily rental sales dropped and government sales were flat.

As typical for this time of year, November proved to be a strong month for GM truck sales. The fullsize Chevrolet Silverado posted a 34-percent increase in sales from a year ago; GMC Sierra sales were up 22 percent. GM's truck-based SUVs also had double-digit sales increases. "Truck sales showed a very solid increase, as we expected, but the momentum building behind our most fuel-efficient vehicles was even stronger," said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations. "We are seeing a broad spectrum of customers return to the market."

By brand, Chevrolet and GMC were up; Buick and Cadillac were down, although all four brands remain up in sales for the year-to-date. Chevrolet, which has the newest models, was up 9.6 percent in November and strength was across the board from trucks and large SUVs to small cars. The newest Chevrolet, the Sonic subcompact hatchback and sedan, is off to a fast start, selling 4,496 for the month — a figure that outstripped Honda's segment mainstay, the Fit, for instance. GM's Johnson said the average transaction price on a Sonic is $200 to $1,300 higher than competitors, including the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, and that's with limited availability of models with the turbocharged 4-cylinder. Dealers sold 13,238 Cruze compact cars, which continues to be off the fast pace of earlier this year — in part because small-car sales slow in the fall. GM expects to sell 230,000 units of the Cruze when the books close on 2011. GM's Johnson noted that while the pace has slowed, the Cruze is taking a hefty retail share of the segment. The average transaction price of the Cruze is running at $19,200, compared with $16,400 for the Toyota Corolla, he said.

More than 1,000 range-extending Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids were sold for the second month in a row, yet GM has pushed back to 2012 its goal of selling 10,000 Volts annually; it originally had been the sales target for 2011. Sales of the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain were down for the month, which GM executives explained away as because of lower fleet sales. Fleet customers are being steered to the fleet-only Chevrolet Captiva and away from the other two models so they can be sold at retail. GM recently announced plans to add Equinox production to its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant, making more room at the Oshawa, Ont., plant for additional Terrain production.

GMC sales rose 6.8 percent on the strength of healthy Sierra fullsize pickup sales. Meanwhile, Buick's momentum appears to be easing — November sales were off 7.2 percent. GM explained Buick's decline on the phaseout of the Lucerne and the launch of the compact Verano and mild-hybrid LaCrosse eAssist model, which has one of the industry's fastest days-to-turn at 14 days from delivery at the dealership to sales to a customer.

Cadillac, in the midst of another transformation of its model line, was down 5.6 percent as fleet sales were purposely lowered as well as the DTS and STS being phased out to make way for next year's new XTS and ATS. Escalade had its best month of the year — though the total seems to be thinning at 2,247 for all Escalade variants — and the CTS sedan and SRX crossover had higher sales compared with last November.

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Ford: Balance is the Key
Ford Motor Co. posted November sales of 166,865 units, up 13.3 percent over year-earlier sales of 147,338 vehicles and the latest report in a year-to-date advance that saw Ford's overall sales up 11 percent through November compared with the same period last year. That means Ford is winding up a second consecutive solid year as a leader of the U.S. auto-industry recovery. Most encouraging to Ford executives was that the company gained 20 percent in retail sales in November over a year earlier, the largest year-to-year increase in nine months. Its retail share has averaged 15 percent of the U.S. market in the last three months, the company noted — a level not seen in five years.

And in the crucial realm of vehicle segments where fuel economy is especially important, Ford did even better on the retail front: Sales of its Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Escape were up nearly 25 percent at retail, "and there was a lot of cross-shopping in that grouping of vehicles," said Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. sales. Throw in the fact that 51 percent of F-150 pickup truck sales in November were 6-cylinder versions that didn't exist a year ago, and Czubay was enthused about how Ford has been able to generate sales among mileage-conscious consumers nearly across its portfolio. "It's balanced," he said. "Customers are looking for fuel efficiency regardless of vehicle choice."

Ford now plans to boost fourth-quarter U.S. production by about 14,000 units over its most recent output "guidance," bringing planned output for the period to 674,000 vehicles. The company plans almost exactly the same level of production — though slightly tilted toward pickup trucks — for the first quarter of 2012, which would amount to about 3 percent higher output than for the first quarter of this year. Ford's incentives increased less per car in November than the industry's average increase for the month (about $200 a vehicle), though the level for Ford was up slightly in sequence from October. "We've been managing our production to demand," Czubay said.

Czubay also once again emphasized Ford's improving performance on the East and West coasts, far from the brand's traditional mid-country stronghold. Retail sales for the Focus compact car in California, for instance, were up 37 percent through November compared with a year ago, and about one out of every six Focus buyers now is under 25 years old, a vast improvement for the new-generation 2012 model compared with the prior Focus. And overall, despite the fact that Focus sales across the country actually were down by nearly 10 percent compared with November 2010, Czubay insisted sales of the nameplate were "on plan." He cited qualifying factors including a relative reduction of Focus sales to fleets, a share decline in the overall compact-car segment in November and a decline compared with last year in incentive levels on Focus. "Our retail sales [of Focus] are consistent with where we were a year ago," he said.

Though Ford just introduced a new version of the Escape compact SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, nameplate sales of the current version surged by 46 percent in November and by 33 percent for the year-to-date, presumably because of its perceived value and high awareness with consumers looking for a dependable, fuel-efficient crossover. "It was the best November for Escape ever," Czubay said. Retail sales were up 52 percent for the month. Ford is approaching 250,000 Escape sales for the entire year, and the nameplate so far has owned 14 percent of the on-fire small-utility segment this year, up five share points from five years ago. Sales of the larger, new Explorer SUV grew by nearly 300 percent at retail in November, he said.

The F-Series fullsize pickup continued a strong advance over a year ago, with November sales about 24 percent higher than a year earlier; for the year to date, F-Series sales were up by 9 percent. Meanwhile, sales of the Lincoln brand were down by 18 percent in November as dealers await a promised slate of overhauled and new vehicles beginning soon. For the year, Lincoln sales were down nearly 1 percent.

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Chrysler: November Romp
The Chrysler Group LLC burst to a 44.5-percent sales increase compared with November, 2010 and its 107,172 sales made for the company's best November since before the recession. Chrysler noted November marked its sixth consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases of 20 percent or better as the company continues to be one of the year's least-heralded success stories. Sales for the Chrysler brand rocketed up 92 percent, sales for the Jeep division were up 50 percent and Dodge sales improved 43 percent, leaving the Ram truck unit's 8-percent gain as the only division to lag the overall industry's strong November.

Huge sales jumps compared with last year indicate some degree of fleet-sales influence, but the company also said retail sales were up 51 percent for the month. There were outsized gains for the Jeep Compass compact car (+887 percent to 4,262 sales) and Chrysler 300 large car, which gained 215 percent to 4,066 sales in November, although 300 sales remain off 13 percent for the year. The Dodge Charger was up 160 percent on 5,066 deliveries and the Avenger gained 102 percent to 5,643 sales. Dodge's new Durango posted 3,947 sales against just 24 last November when the previous-generation model was being decommissioned.

The Chrysler brand's largest boost came from the 200 midsize sedan, which moved 8,065 units in November and so far this year has chalked up 77,820 sales in 2011; the Sebring-replacing 200 launched about this time last year. Town & Country minivan sales were flat for the month and are off 17 percent year-to-date. Every vehicle Jeep sells had a positive month in November, led by the Compass and followed by a 53-percent gain for Liberty and large double-digit improvements throughout the lineup. Jeep sales were up 44 percent to 375,772 through November.

The only losers at Dodge in November were the Nitro SUV (-24 percent) and Caliber crossover, triplet to the Jeep Compass and Patriot. Sales for the Journey midsize crossover gained 38 percent to 3,711 units and the Challenger coupe was up 20 percent. Overall, Dodge sales were up 17 percent through the first 11 months to 409,492. At the Ram division, sales for the Ram pickup were up 8 percent and have gained 24 percent for the year, but Dakota sales flagged 46 percent to just 449 sales as the company winds down production of its midsize pickup, with no indication of an imminent replacement. Ram year-to-date sales nonetheless were up 22 percent to 231,015.

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Toyota: It's Been a Long Wait
For the first time in seven months, the Toyota division of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. was able to report a year-over-year gain in monthly sales in the U.S. market. The Toyota division lifted sales 14.7-percent in November, while the Lexus luxury brand improved by 10.1 percent, leading to total company sales of 137,960 during the month, up 6.7 percent from a year earlier. For the year to date, however, total Toyota sales in the U.S. remained 21 percent behind the first 11 months of 2010.

Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter boasted that Toyota expected to pick up about 1 percentage point of overall U.S. market share once all of the November sales figures were in, added on top of the 1 point that the brand picked up in October. "That put us at 14 percent market share, nearly where we were in the first quarter" before the natural disaster in Japan disrupted the company's global supply lines. Toyota inventories are now back up to about a 46-day supply, and the brand has 30,000 more vehicles in dealer inventories now than a month earlier. All of its North American plants are operating at normal levels (though Carter didn't address any remaining potential for disruptions from floods in Thailand). And now "we're in excellent position to take advantage" of any extension of the industry's recovery in 2012, Carter said, in part because "in the coming year we'll benefit from the biggest influx of new and updated products we've ever launched."

For now, Carter said, Toyota's resurgent Camry is leading the way, with November sales of the nameplate up by nearly 9 percent as the improved 2012 version works its way through dealerships. "This should make Camry America's best-selling car for the year for the tenth consecutive year," Carter predicted. Camry sales will be further boosted by the addition of the line's first hybrid model in significant volumes this month. And further, he said, the high-end SE version of Camry has become the car's best-seller, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all Camrys sold, far outpacing for the first time the lower LE version, which traditionally has led Camry sales. Plus, the SE version "is bringing in significantly new and much younger buyers than we saw in earlier generations" of the venerable nameplate, Carter said.

Meanwhile, sales for the Prius hybrid-electric vehicle rose by nearly 50 percent in November from a year earlier, boosted by strong demand for the new, larger Prius V version of the car and by increasingly adequate supplies of vehicles. The Prius V was the fastest-turning Toyota in November and, Carter said, its sales were "largely incremental" to sales of the pre-existing Prius model, which notched a 14-percent gain in the month. By the end of the decade, he predicted, the Prius "family" would be America's best-selling car nameplate, supplanting Camry. Corolla, now built at Toyota's new Mississippi plant, remains a bit supply-constrained, but inventories are recovering quickly, Carter said, and the nameplate sold about flat last month with a year earlier. Things will really improve on that score when Toyota adds a second shift at the assembly plant in the first half of 2012, he said.

Lexus posted a 7-percent increase largely because of vastly more availability of its vehicles and because of consumer interest in its "December to Remember" holiday promotional deals. The brand posted year-to-year sales improvement for the first time since March. Cars accounted for 55 percent of November sales. Sales of the ES sedan, Lexus's highest-volume sedan, were 16 percent higher than a year ago. The RX utility vehicle, the brand's long-term best-seller, realized a 5-percent sales increase in November as production at Toyota's plant in Canada finally began catching up with demand after months of being hindered.

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Honda: November Another Disappointment
As evidenced by November sales down 6.4 percent to 83,925, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. still struggles to regain traction after the year's natural-disaster setbacks and a lackluster response to a new-generation Civic. November's lag means Honda's year-to-date total sales remain off by 5.7 percent to 1,042,055. "The impact of the Thailand flooding on our North American production levels continued to be felt in November," said John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales, in a release. "We're looking forward to closing the year on a strong note as production recovers and the all-new CR-V goes on sale this month."

Fresh blood can't come a moment too soon for Honda, which saw sales of its all-new Civic lag again in November, regardless of whether the reason was Thai flooding-related lack of supply or ongoing kickback about the car's relative lack of appeal. Civic sales were off just 0.7 percent compared with November, 2010, but year-to-date sales are down a hurtful 13.8 percent in a market where many rival compact cars are soaring. Such is the case for the Accord, another of Honda's key models: November sales dropped 17.9 percent to 14,355, while year-to-date sales are off 14.2 percent.

In fact, sales were down for each of Honda's car nameplates in November, including a 24-percent drop for the Fit subcompact, to 3,307 sales — with several fresh competitors in the segment, Honda has to be worried, too, about the Fit's place in the firmament, although year-to-date sales remain up by 8.9 percent to 54,097. Honda's hybrids continued to slump, too, with just 305 buyers for the CR-Z coupe (-71.4 percent) and 749 for the Insight 5-door (-53.2 percent). Honda has sold just 14,859 Insights this year and 10,766 CR-Zs.

On the truck side, the Pilot midsize crossover was the only nameplate to improve in November, with sales up 32.6 percent to 10,487. Consumers likely anticipating this month's launch of the redesigned 2012 CR-V likely was one reason for the always-popular compact crossover's 13.7-percent November slide, although with a solid 196,787 sales through November, the CR-V is certain to cruise to yet another 200,000-plus sales year.

At the Acura premium-vehicle unit, sales were off 11.2 percent in November to a total of 9,909. Sales for every Acura save the RDX compact crossover (+7.6 percent) were down compared with last November, led by a 74.3-percent plunge for the RL flagship, which reached just 45 garages last month and 1,046 for the first 11 months, a 45-percent drop compared with the same period in 2010. A 24.2-percent drop for the MDX midsize crossover pulled down year-to-date sales to a 6.7-percent deficit and sales for every Acura except the RDX are down for the year.

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Nissan: Another Record Month
Nissan North America Inc. reported record November sales of 85,182 units, a 19.4-percent increase from a year ago. Nissan division sales also set a new November record, up 21.5 percent to 76,754 vehicles. Sales of Infiniti vehicles increased 3 percent to 8,428 units. "Strong gains across our lineup extended Nissan's record-breaking October into our best-ever November," said Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Sales. "We expect to finish 2011 on a high note with vehicles like Altima, Versa, Sentra and Rogue leading Nissan to a strong close in December and into an even better 2012."

Indeed, the Versa, Rogue and Altima set new November records. The group was led by the new sedan-only 2012 Versa, with sales of 9,29, up 38.2 percent from a year ago; the Rogue crossover was up 27.2 percent to 10,845 sold; and the Altima had a 12.2 percent gain to 20,613 sold. Nissan sold 672 units of the all-electric Leaf, which now is at 8,738 sold since it went on sale last December. Nissan also enjoyed gains on the truck side. Frontier pickup sales rose 37.8 percent; Pathfinder sales rose 26.3 percent. The 2012 Nissan NV, the automaker's first foray into the commercial van market, chipped in 1,238 units of sales for its best month since its spring launch.

The only downers in Nissan's portfolio were the why-bother Cube, plunging 79.8 percent to a scant 203 units; the Juke, which had been selling far better than company executives expected, was down 25.5 percent, possibly suggesting everyone who wanted one got one; and the 370Z was down 43.5 percent along with the continued slide of sportscar sales.

Nissan's Infiniti upscale division, which struggled to recover from production disruptions caused by the Japan earthquake in March, showed an uptick of 3 percent in sales to 8,428. The full-size QX luxury SUV continued to post gains with record November sales of 1,446 vehicles, a 9-percent increase from a year ago. G sedan sales were up 26.9 percent of 3,362 sold.

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Hyundai: Solid November, Big Year
The 21.8-percent sales increase for Hyundai Motor America to 49,610 sales was only part of the story in November, as the month's sales total also cruised the brand further past its former record annual sales figure (set last year), which Hyundai surpassed in October. November sales also made the Sonata the company's first-ever vehicle to surpass 200,000 annual sales. All this from a company that's struggled nearly all year with tight inventories. "Improving consumer demand and increased product availability at Hyundai dealers nationwide drive a positive December outlook for us," said John Krafcik, HMA president and CEO, in a statement. "While our 35 days-supply level today is low by most standards, it's the best we've seen at the start of a month for some time."

Hyundai's top seller in November was the still-hot Sonata midsize sedan, its 15,668 sales propelling it well past the 200,000 mark for a year-to-date total of 208,621. Sonata's November tally was 11 percent better than last year. The Elantra compact car also had a stellar month, its 12,414 deliveries a 43-percent hike over last year, when the new-generation Elantra was just coming into availability. Sales for the Tucson compact crossover were up 30 percent compared with last November, to 4,101 units and the all-new Veloster coupe added 2,538 incremental sales, as did the Equus flagship and its 300 sales.

Hyundai's only sales declines came for the Santa Fe midsize crossover, the Azera large car (an all-new version is coming early next year) and the Genesis coupe/sedan lineup.

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Kia: Keeping It Rolling
Sales of 37,007 vehicles meant a record November for Kia Motors America, the latest is a string of record months, nameplate sales and annual sales for the bursting-at-the-seams South Korean brand. November's performance was a 39.1-percent improvement over last year and almost all of its mainline models delivered gains over last November, which itself was a record month that led to a record year for Kia. In October, the company surpassed its record 2010 full-year sales total, so November only padded the gains over last year, demonstrating just how strong 2011 has been for Kia.

In November, the Sorento midsize crossover and Optima midsize sedan tussled to be the brand's volume leader: Sorento sales came to 9,669 units (flat compared to last November) and Sorento, still wowing the buying public with its upscale lines, generated 9,553 sales, a 670-percent gain compared with last year, prior to the new-generation Optima's full availability. The new-generation Rio subcompact also started strong, selling 2,159 units for a 223-percent gain over last year. Rounding out Kia's triple-digit gainers was the Sportage compact crossover, its 3,218 sales a 174-percent hike over last November's performance.

Kia's losers for the month were few: the Forte compact car slid by 28 percent to 4,135 sales. The big Borrego SUV dropped to a ludicrous 17 sales for the month (compared with 455 last year), while the phasing-out Spectra, Amanti and Rondo all had single-digit sales.

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Volkswagen: Passat Sets Pace
Volkswagen of America Inc. intensified its sizzling sales pace of 2011 with November sales of 28,412 units, up 40.7 percent over November 2010, bringing the brand to a year-to-date gain of 25 percent in the increasingly important U.S. market. "We're continuing to build momentum in the U.S. marketplace," Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen of America, told journalists. "This momentum really is on a number of fronts" including not only sales strength but also good reception for the new, U.S.-made Passat mid-size sedan as well as VW dealers' ability to squeeze out more sales even with sparse inventories.

The most important development for Volkswagen was a strong launch of the new version of Passat, which has been tailored more to American tastes and offers entry-level price points much lower than its previous version as VW attempts to garner mainstream volumes for the nameplate in a difficult segment. On the strength of Passat's being named the Motor Trend 2012 Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, the vehicle sold 6,018 units in November. In its first two months of sales, the Tennessee-built Passat already has outsold volume for the previous version for all of 2010.

In fact, Browning addressed reports that many U.S. VW dealers are frustrated by their inability to obtain Passats, at least not in the desired mix, for retail sale. "Dealers have been very supportive in terms of preparing their activities and in the marketplace," he said obliquely, noting that the company is "ahead of our plan in terms of both the ramp-up of [Passat] production and sales into the U.S. market." Overall, he said VW's fleet inventory level improved to just a 34-day supply at the end of November from a tight 31-day supply a month earlier and said that the brand's inventories got even tighter during the month relative to the expanding supplies enjoyed by Toyota and Honda. "We're achieving this growth, this momentum, with relatively lean inventory," Browning said. "That shows a dealer network very well-engaged in driving our business."

Sales of VW's Jetta compact sedan increased by 16 percent over a year ago, while the new Beetle, just coming out of the gate, sold more than 1,600 units in November. Meanwhile, sales of the GTI subcompact boomed by 33 percent and Golf by 38 percent. Sales of the tiny Eos surged by 53 percent. VW also achieved an 11-percent gain in sales for the Tiguan SUV, and Tiguan sales were up by 28 percent for the year-to-date. Only sales of the Routan minivan came up negative, falling 35 percent below the year-earlier November and of 19 percent for the year-to-date.

Volkswagen was cheered by news of a tie-up between BMW and Toyota for diesel vehicles because, as Browning put it, any resulting diesel-powered vehicle would add to the overall growth of the segment, where VW at this point reigns in the U.S. marketplace. Turbo Direct Injection models accounted for 22 percent of U.S. sales for VW through November, a volume increase for diesel of 36 percent over a year earlier, Browning said. And while TDI "is new to the mid-size [sedan] segment" in the United States and will take a while to become adopted," he said, VW has been encountering "some shortages" in supply of TDI-equipped Passats because of "strong turn rates."

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Mercedes-Benz: Best November Yet
Mercedes-Benz USA reported November sales of 28,255 vehicles, a 55.2-percent improvement over November 2010, when it sold 18,208 vehicles in America, and the company's highest November volume on record. On a year-to-date basis, the 236,415 vehicles sold represent a 20.4 percent increase over the 196,288 vehicles sold during the same period last year. It is proving to be an awesome autumn for Mercedes-Benz; the company reported September and October were its highest-volume September and October on record.

The highest-volume performers for the month were the C-Class and E-Class model lines. The 2012 C-Class sedan led the pack with sales of 8,358, up 112.7 percent from November 2010. The ninth-generation E-Class sedan followed with sales of 5,095, up 2.2 percent, and the all-new M-Class SUV finished third in volume with monthly sales of 4,796, up 38.2 percent compared with 3,470 units sold last November. Additionally, sales of the 2012 CLS-Class posted a 215.8 percent increase for the month, to 758 vehicles sold from 240 a year earlier, and sales of the new SLK roadster were up 87.3 percent (206 versus 110) over November 2010.

Total diesel-powered models sold for November were up 136 percent with sales of 2,097, compared with 888 units sold in November 2010. At the high end, the company sold 169 of its SLS AMG high-performance sportscar, up 369.4 percent from 36 in November 2010, bringing its year-to-date sales to 636. Sales of Sprinter vans increased by 26.1 percent for November with sales of 1,045 versus 829 last November, raising the year-to-date total to 14,982 units sold (up 108.7 percent). Meanwhile, sales of the smart fortwo 2-seater totaled 414 vehicles, up 96 percent for the month compared to the 211 vehicles sold in November 2010.

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BMW: Crossover Sales Surge
The BMW Group, including the BMW and Mini brands, reported November U.S. sales of 26,271 vehicles, an increase of 14.8 percent from the 22,883 vehicles sold during the same month a year ago. Year-to-date, BMW Group sales for the market are up 14.6 percent to 272,873 in the first eleven months of 2011 compared to 238,157 in the same period in 2010. Sales of BMW brand vehicles, which include trucks as well as automobiles, increased 7.1 percent in November for a total of 21,521 vehicles sold compared to 20,097 sold in November 2010. Year-to-date, the BMW brand is up 12.3 percent on sales of 221,073 January through November compared to 196,833 sold in the first eleven months of 2010.

However, BMW's automobile sales were down 14.2 percent in November to 13,728 versus 16,009 in the same month a year ago. Sales of the 1 Series of small family cars plunged 34.8 percent to 664 from 1,019 a year earlier, the 3 Series of sedans were off 15.2 percent to 7,568 from 8,928, and the 5 Series of sedans fell 29.3 percent to 3,564 from 5,042. The Z4 sports car saw a 6.6 percent drop in November-November sales to 156 from 167. That said, sales of the 6-Series sedan lineup surged 998 percent, from 549 units sold in November from 50 the same month last year, and sales of 7 Series sedans shot up 52.8 percent to 1,227 unit sold from 803 over the same period. Year-to-date U.S. sales are up 1.6 percent to 156,841 automobiles, compared to 154,372 in the same period of 2010.

Sales of BMW crossovers (X3, X5 and X6) increased by 90.6 percent this November to 7,793 vehicles from the 4,088 sold last November. Leading the sales boom was the X3, which soared 2,947 percent to 2,773 units sold last month from just 91 in November 2010. The X5 experienced a 30.8 percent sales gain over the same period, to 4,496 vehicles sold, up from 3,436. Sales of the X6, meanwhile, slipped 6.6 percent to 524 units sold versus 561 the previous November. Year-to-date, sales of BMW SUVs were up 51.3 percent to 64,232 vehicles, compared to the 42,461 sold in the first eleven months of 2010.

"The numbers show this is the buying season, consumer optimism is increasing and we are seeing the most showroom traffic in our dealerships so far this year," said Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW of North America. "I am particularly pleased to see MINI setting a new sales record and I am looking forward to a strong December, especially with our X Drive momentum, X3 and X5 in particular."

Mini USA reported sales of 4,750 vehicles in November, up 70.5 percent from the 2,786 sold in November 2010. The Cooper S in hardtop led the charge with a 17.4 percent gain, to 2,383 units from 2,030. The all-new Crossover added 1,412 sales to Mini's totals for the month. Year-to-date, Mini sales in the U.S. are up 25.4 percent on volume of 51,800 compared to 41,324 in the first eleven months of 2010. By coincidence, BMW Group posted the sales figures the same day J.D. Power & Associate reported that Mini ranked highest among mass market brands in sales satisfaction for the second consecutive year. Speaking to the sales totals, Jim McDowell, vice president of Mini USA, said "the results are exciting because it means customers are not only buying in record numbers (but) they are also ordering customized vehicles. This will be the best sales year ever for Mini, thanks to our expanding model line-up, and there's more to come!"

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Mitsubishi: Sales Drop
After a blistering summer, things are cooling off for Mitsubishi Motors, which saw November sales drop 13 percent from a year earlier, to 3,735 cars, crossovers and trucks. The company, which enjoyed double-digit sales increase for most of the year, also saw a sales dip in October. But thanks to its strong performance in the first three quarters, Mitsubishi's year-to-date sales tally is running 45 percent ahead of the same period of 2010. The company's sales dip appears to stem at least in part from sluggish performance of some of its older models as well as increased competition as incentive spending by competitors such as Nissan rises.

For November, Mitsubishi's best performer — and only model to post a gain from a year earlier — was the Outlander Sport. Sales of the compact crossover SUV were up almost 65 percent to 1,133. Sales of the standard Outlander , however, were down 22 percent to 695. Mitsubishi dealers managed to sell only 148 of the mid-size Endeavor crossover, a 79.5 percent drop from year-earlier sales volume. One the car front, Mitsubishi's aging Lancer compact sedan lineup accounted for 967 sales, a 19 percent drop; the Eclipse coupe and convertible sporty cars combined for 155 sales, down 12 percent; sales of the mid-size Galant were flat at 633 and the new all-electric "i" city car — which just started arriving at dealerships in the past few weeks, accounted for four sales.

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Porsche: Bad Month, Good Year
Porsche Cars North America announced November sales of 2,255 vehicles and year-to-date sales of 27,189 cars. The year-to-date sales compare to 22,753 vehicles sold last year — a 19-percent increase. But Porsche's November sales for North America are down seven percent compared to the same month last year, when Porsche sold 2,416 vehicles. The German automaker attributed the drop to a limited supply of the 911, Boxster and Cayman models. The company sold 395 of its flagship 911 sports cars in North America last month, compared to 476 in November 2010. Porsche sold a total of 167 Boxster and Cayman sports cars in North America in November, compared to 214 for the same month last year. Cayenne SUV sales were up 1,085 over 997 November of last year, while sales of the Panamera four-door coupe on the continent slid to 608 last month from 729 in November 2010.

"Our year-to-date results remain very strong," said President and CEO Detlev von Platen. "For the year, the 911 remains up seven percent, even as we are in the midst of a change-over with our all-new model going on sale early next year."

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Saab: Gloomy November
With just 356 sales for the month, down 10.3 percent from a year earlier, a moribund Saab is showing all signs of impending doom. No surprise there as the once-proud automaker has been spiraling downward since before General motors sold it to a Dutch investment group in early 2010. Saab filed for bankruptcy in Sweden in September and just this week its parent, Swedish Automobile, said that it lost nearly half a billion dollars in the first nine months this year.

Saab's gloomy November sales report included 150 of its 9-3 sedans, convertibles and wagons — just half the number sold in the same month last year; 166 of its 9-5 sedans, up from 91 a year earlier, and 40 of the new 9-4X crossovers, a model that was added to the lineup just this year but for which contract manufacturer GM has suspended production pending Saab's potential change of ownership. For the first 11 months, Saab sales of 5,340 cars and crossovers topped last year's pace by 22 percent and a national inventory of 2,443 vehicles was about half the level being carried a year earlier. Those numbers aren't a sign or progress, however, but an indication that Saab dealers in the U.S. are pushing hard to clear their lots and Saab loyalists are picking up bargains as those dealers cut good deals on what might be the last batch of Saabs ever to be sold.

Swedish Automobile Chairman Victor Muller said this week that the company "faces much uncertainty" as it attempts to structure a rescue investment deal that would put a pair of Chinese automotive companies — including the owner of Lotus Automobile — in the driver's seat. If that fails, Muller said, Swedish Automobile would consider options including "an orderly wind-down" of Saab's business. Also this week, Saab Great Britain filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.K. from its creditors' claims.

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Subaru: Inventory Issues
Subaru of America Inc. had a 15.1-percent drop in November vehicle sales from a year earlier, as the Japanese automaker said it continues to be plagued by supply issues that have hamstrung inventory since the March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan shuttered many automaker and supplier manufacturing plants. Subaru sold 17,657 vehicles in November, down from 20,792 a year earlier, with only the low-volume Tribeca crossover showing year-over-year gains.

With the 2012 Impreza compact set to debut this month, buyers appeared to hold off on buying the 2011 model and sales plunged 58.5 percent to 1,412 vehicles. Sales of the mainstay Forester also fell, by 6.9 percent, to 5,829 vehicles. Subaru's Outback crossover, the company's most popular U.S. vehicle, had a sales decline of 6.7 percent from a year earlier to 7,293 vehicles, while Legacy midsize sedan sales dropped 7.7 percent to 2,892 vehicles. Sales of the Tribeca increased 28.3 percent to 231 vehicles.

Meanwhile, Subaru's leaps-and-bounds growth of the past several years has come to a halt: year-to-date sales are down 1.6 percent to 233,288 vehicles. "We have weathered a number of unforeseen inventory shortages this year," said Bill Cyphers, SVP Sales, Subaru of America, in a statement. "Despite those set-backs, our retail sales still outpace last year's record-breaking numbers — a testament to the demand for Subaru vehicles. The new models hitting showrooms in 2012 will help us support this consumer demand."

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Suzuki: November Decline
American Suzuki in November had its second straight year-over-year sales decline after 13 consecutive months of increases, though year-to-date sales were still up 13 percent for the Japanese automaker. The company's November sales dropped 22 percent to 1,822 vehicles, with sales of its biggest seller — the SX4 lineup that includes a sedan and a small crossover SUV — plunging 27 percent to 829 vehicles.

Sales of the Kizashi sedan fared worse, dropping 42 percent to 420 vehicles. Such declines more than offset the effect of rebound months for both the Grand Vitara crossover and Equator pickup. Suzuki dealers sold 412 Grand Vitaras, marking a 22-percent increase, while Equator sales jumped 35 percent to 161 vehicles. For the first 11 months of the year, Suzuki sales increased to 24,053 from 21,347 a year earlier.

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Mazda: Sedans, Crossovers Feed Growth
Mazda North American Operations reported November sales of 18,432 vehicles, up 20.4 percent from a year ago, largely on a jump in demand for the Japanese automaker's sedans and crossovers. The Mazda6 sedan accounted for 4,292 vehicle sales, up 53.9 percent from November 2010 and marking the best monthly sales for the model since March, 2009. Mazda's CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers reported their best November sales in four years: Mazda sold 2,298 CX-7s, up 7 percent from a year earlier, while the company's sales of 2,662 CX-9s represented a 39.2-percent jump from November 2010.

Mazda's volume-leading Mazda3 compact car sold 6,873 units, accounting for a 6.2-percent increase versus November, 2010. The new model is the first from Mazda to use its Skyactiv-G engine, which boosts highway fuel economy to 40 miles per gallon. November sales of the Mazda5 multi-activity vehicle were up 15.1 percent, with 982 vehicles sold last month compared to 853 a year ago. Mazda sold 801 Mazda2 subcompact cars, up 73.4 percent from a year earlier.

Mazda's November gainers more than offset declining sales for three of its lower-volume vehicles. Sales of the MX-5 Miata fell 9 percent from a year earlier to 294 vehicles, while sales of the Tribute compact crossover declined 20.8 percent from a year ago to 202 vehicles. Finally, Mazda sold 28 of its soon-to-be-discontinued RX-8 sports cars, down 68.2 percent from November, 2010.

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Audi: More Records In November
Audi of America sold 9,700 vehicles in November, a 3.6-percent increase compared with last year, making the month the brand's best-ever November and its 11th consecutive month for record-setting sales. The pace propelled Audi to its best U.S. sales year ever, with year-to-date sales of 104,906 surpassing Audi's total of 101,629 for all of 2010, which itself was a record year for Audi. "Having achieved our all-time sales record with a month to spare, we're confident that the Audi momentum story will continue well into 2012," said Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen. "Consumers clearly are responding to Audi's superior product, unmatched engineering and progressive luxury positioning."

Audi's biggest gainer for the month was the all-new A6 midsize sedan, which enjoyed a 69.8-percent increase to 1,379 sales. The A8 flagship was up 38.4 percent to 461 sales and the TT coupe/roadster jumped 115.8 percent to 164 sales. The brand's record-setting total was boosted by the addition of the A7 to the model range, its 631 sales in November being entirely incremental to Audi's total.

Sales for several of Audi's mainline vehicles were down in November, however — some perhaps sacrificed to buyers shifting to the redesigned A6 and the all-new A7. Sales for the A4, Audi's best-selling model, were off 9.4 percent in November and the Q5 crossover, Audi's other volume leader, was down by 3.5 percent to 2,390 sales. Audi's A5 coupe also was down in November by 15.8 percent.

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Volvo: Double-Digit Gains
Volvo Cars of North America reported U.S. sales of 4,844 units, an 18.8-percent increase from November 2010. The S60 sports sedan was the top seller in November with 1,786 units sold versus 369 in November 2010, for a 384-percent gain. Volvo's Year-to-date sales are up 25.8 percent over the first eleven months of 2010, with 61,898 units sold compared to 49,192 during the first 11 months of last year.

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Jaguar Land Rover: New-Model Boost
Benefitting from the launch of the new Land Rover Evoque multi-purpose vehicle and the Range Rover Sport, Jaguar Land Rover posted a 17.3- percent gain in November, with total sales of 4,735 cars and trucks across both brands. Jaguar sales were down 18 percent at 915 cars sold, but Land Rover managed to clamber out of the hole with 3,820 sales for the month, a 27.7-percent gain compared with November 2010.

In addition to the recently launched 2-door Evoque, which accounted for 669 sales, Land Rover dealers sold 1,522 Range Rover Sports for a 37.2-percent increase, and 711 standard Range Rovers for an 8.5-percent increase over the year-earlier tally. The boost likely came from increased showroom traffic drawn in by the Evoque. Two other Land Rover models were down for the month, the LR2 accounting for 253 sales and a 14-percent drop, while the LR4 posted a 23-percent decline with 665 sales.

On the Jaguar side of the ledger, the XK sports coupe was the only gainer with a 13.7-percent increase to 141 sales. The XJ's decline of 36.2 percent to just 345 sales was the marque's biggest disappointment, followed by an 11-percent drop for the XF sedan, to 429 sales.

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