Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' sales fell 4% in November; General Motors' slid 2.9%, and Ford's sales rose 6.7%, as dealers tried to clear 2017 models from their lots and consumers continue shifting to trucks, crossovers and SUVs.
Volkswagen's sales dropped 1.6% as it continues to rebuild its reputation following the diesel emissions scandal.
Once again, Ford's increase was helped by the sale of 72,769 F-series pickup trucks, up 1% from November 2016. F-series sales far exceeded the combined sale of all Ford and Lincoln brand passenger cars, which totaled about 45,000.
Despite that, Ford posted a 5.2% increase in sales of its Ford brand passenger cars, reflecting a 44.9% jump in sales of the Focus.
Ford's Edge crossover and Explorer SUV were up 22.5% and 24.8%, respectively.
At FCA, only Chrysler of its four major brands posted an increase (14%), aided by a 51% gain in sales of the Pacifica minivan.
Sales fell 2% at Jeep, 15% at Dodge, 5% at Ram and 28% at Fiat. Alfa Romeo, which is in the early stages of its return to the U.S., posted a huge increase to 1,440 from just 23 vehicles sold in November 2016.
Sales declined at four General Motors brands: down 1.1% at Chevrolet, down 5.8% at GMC, down 3% at Buick and down 12.8% at Cadillac.
As rivals General Motors and Ford have done over the past year, FCA is trying to reduce sales of less-profitable vehicles to daily rental companies. Historically FCA was more dependent on those sales than most other automakers.
Through the first 10 months of 2017 fleet sales represented 20.4% of the company's total sales, the lowest level since 2001, according to spokesman Ralph Kisiel.
GM said in a release that sales to commercial and government fleets rose 7%, driven by a 30% increase in full-size pickup sales and a 35% increase for the Chevrolet Tahoe Police Pursuit Vehicle. But total fleet sales were down 13% after a 24% reduction in daily rental deliveries.
The sales picture was mixed for several other automakers.
Toyota reported a sales drop of 3% for the month, to 191,617 units, compared to the same period in 2016.
The Toyota brand was down 2.4%, and the luxury Lexus brand was down 6.7%, according to the Japanese automaker.
Jack Hollis, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, however, noted that light trucks “continue to shine” for Toyota, the RAV4 SUV remains a hit and the Camry, which was updated this year, had its best-ever November.
He was also bullish on the industry, saying that “through November, the auto industry remains on track to have its third consecutive year of new vehicle sales topping 17 million, in-line with our expectations.”
Honda reported a total U.S. sales increase of 8.3%, to 133,156 units, for November compared to the same month in 2016.
The Honda brand was up 8.2%, and the luxury Acura brand was up 9.5%.
For the larger volume Honda brand, sales of both cars and trucks were up overall, but the increase for car sales was attributable only to a strong showing for the Civic, up 23.2%. The company noted that supplies of the all-new 2018 Accord are continuing to ramp up, which would help explain its 15.4% decline. Among its SUVs, Honda’s CR-V and Pilot both had a strong month.
Henio Arcangeli Jr., senior vice president of the Automobile Division and general manager of Honda Sales, noted in a release that "we remain committed to our long-term strategic plans built around steady and sustainable growth.”
Subaru continues to defy gravity. The Japanese automaker said it sold 51,721 vehicles in the U.S. in November, which represents a 0.8% increase over the same period a year ago and the 72nd consecutive month of yearly month-over-month growth.
The company saw significant sales increases for its all-new Impreza and Crosstrek, even as Subaru’s formerly best-selling Outback has declined. Sales of the Forester were up slightly, but it was enough to make it the company’s new top seller.
That trend for the Outback could continue. One analyst suggested that sales of the larger, three-row Ascent SUV, which was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, could canabalize Outback sales.
Nissan said it would need to delay its release of U.S. sales figures for the month until Monday because of a mechanical failure that caused a systems outage. But the Japanese automaker said it expects a total increase of 14% for its Nissan and luxury Infiniti brands.
Even though automakers are clearing inventories of 2017 models as production of model year 2018 vehicles increases, consumers are gravitating toward more expensive, fully equipped vehicles.
The average new vehicle sold for a record $35,870 in November, 1.6% higher than a year earlier and up 0.2% ($83) from the average price in October.
“Prices are being driven higher by the shifting sales mix away from cars, which now stands at just 34%," said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
Analysts were expecting November sales to be flat with a very strong year-early level.
LMC Automotive was forecasting that sales will be down 0.2% from November 2016, based on data from the first half of the month.
But early reports indicated the month was stronger than expected.
Credit has been freely available for the past several years and that is not changing, said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
LMC and its affiliate, J.D. Power, estimated that the average incentive cost rose to $4,065 in November, or an average of 10.8% of a vehicle's manufacturer's suggested retail price.
"Enjoy the party. We could see a January 2018 hangover," said Michelle Krebs, analyst with Autotrader. "There are a lot of lease pull ahead programs going on right now.
"There also will be an interest rate increase coming in the next few months. We're in the post-peak sales period as evidence by the increased incentive spending."
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© 2017 Detroit Free Press