Several automakers post strong new-car sales

Published December 03, 2012

| Reuters

Several automakers on Monday reported strong U.S. new-car sales for November as the industry rebounded from a storm-ravaged October while also benefiting from pent-up demand.

Ford Motor Co posted better-than-expected sales and Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>, Nissan Motor Co <7201.T> and Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> also saw strong increases that industry executives said should continue through the end of the year.

"We are expecting a strong December as the industry continues to recover from the East Coast hurricane," Chrysler U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.

However, sales for General Motors Co came in short of expectations. The No. 1 U.S. automaker said it benefited less than its rivals from the November recovery after superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast.

Auto sales are an early indicator each month of U.S. consumer demand.

Several analysts expect the industry's overall U.S. sales of new cars and trucks to rise 11 percent to 13 percent in November, with the annual selling rate for the month finishing in the range of 14.7 million to 15.3 million vehicles. Ford expects sales in November to rise about 10 percent, while GM sees an annual sales rate of 15.3 million.

Superstorm Sandy hurt the last few days of sales in October, which finished below expectations. In addition, the average age of cars on the road has risen to just above 11 years old, and industry officials say that will continue to drive demand.

Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, said the auto industry is clearly heading this year toward the high end of the company's forecasted range of 14 million to 14.5 million. Many analysts expect the industry to finish 2012 with 14.4 million sales, which would be the strongest year since 2007's 16.1 million.

"Exactly how much growth we can expect next year will depend in part on how Congress and the president resolve the fiscal cliff issue," McNeil said in a statement. "Consumers hate uncertainty, so an agreement on ways to reduce long-term federal budget deficits could remove an impediment to growth."

Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said he sees a continuation of a steady recovery for the economy as well as auto sales in December and into early 2013, but expressed concern about the negative impact on consumer confidence if the "fiscal cliff" occurs. VW brand sales rose more than 29 percent.

As a result of the so-called fiscal cliff, the United States would face a combination of government spending cuts and steep tax increases due to be implemented under existing law in early 2013, and spread out over two years, which may cut the federal budget deficit but also tip the economy back into recession.

Ford's November sales rose 6.5 percent to 177,673 vehicles, better than even some of the most optimistic forecasts for the No. 2 U.S. automaker. In a more positive sign for consumer demand, Ford's retail sales rose 12 percent.

The company had its strongest small-car sales for the month in 12 years. Demand for Ford's popular F-150 full-size pickup truck increased 17 percent, while GM's rival Chevrolet Silverado pickup saw sales drop 10 percent.

Ford said it planned to build 750,000 vehicles in North America in the first quarter, which would be an 11 percent increase from 2012.

GM's sales rose 3 percent to 186,505 cars and trucks, below what several analysts had expected. The company said the average price paid per vehicle rose $750 from last year.

Industry research firm TrueCar.com estimated that the industry's average vehicle selling price in November rose 1.1 percent, or $335, from last year and a similar amount from October to $30,832.

Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat , said sales rose 14 percent to 122,565 cars and trucks, its strongest result since 2007 before a recession pushed the U.S. automaker and GM into bankruptcy.

Toyota's sales rose more than 17 percent to 161,695 vehicles, while Nissan's sales rose a stronger-than-expected 13 percent to 96,197 cars and trucks.

Hyundai said sales increased 8 percent to 53,487 vehicles, the company's all-time high for the month. It was the first sales results since the South Korean automaker and its Kia <000270.KS> affiliate announced they had overstated the fuel economy ratings by at least a mile per gallon on more than 1 million recently sold vehicles.

"The Black Friday sales period once again provided a strong boost," Dave Zuchowski, executive vice president of sales, said in a statement, referring to the day after Thanksgiving.

"We were also very encouraged by the strong sales recovery experienced in those northeastern regions that were ravaged by superstorm Sandy and expect continued momentum there for the balance of the year," he added.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Maureen Bavdek)

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