DETROIT — All major automakers but Toyota reported strong U.S. sales increases in November as the auto industry's slow-motion recovery continued to gain traction.
Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Hyundai and Honda all reported double-digit increases. Only Toyota, which has been hurt by a string of safety recalls, had a sales drop.
Industry analysts say the solid sales numbers, combined with a strong October, show that consumers who have kept their jobs through the economic downturn are now feeling confident enough to spend money and replace older vehicles.
Yingzi Su, GM's senior economist, said the stable and increasing auto sales mean that consumers with jobs are starting to spend again, and that's a good sign for the broader economic recovery.
Once businesses see increased consumer spending, they will be more willing to hire workers, a factor that has held back the economic recovery for months.
Of the major automakers, Hyundai Motor Co. had the biggest increase, up 45 percent from the same month last year. Nissan Motor Co. sales were up 27 percent, followed by Honda Motor Co. at 21 and Ford Motor Co. with 20 percent. Chrysler had a 17 percent increase, while General Motors reported sales up 11 percent from November of last year, a month marked by consumer paralysis due to high unemployment. Toyota sales dipped 3 percent.
GM reported increased showroom traffic toward the end of the month, after its initial public stock offering on Nov. 18. The U.S. government, which spent $49.5 billion bailing GM out of its financial troubles last year, cut its stake in the company from 61 percent to about 33 percent by selling stock in the IPO. GM has maintained that government ownership has hurt its image with consumers and its sales. GM shares rose 2 percent to $34.83 in afternoon trading.
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Hyundai's big sales increase was led by the popular Sonata midsize sedan, which has sold well since its recent redesign. Sales were up 72 percent. The Korean automaker's sales have been rising all year.
At Honda, the increase was led by the Crosstour, a crossover vehicle that's like a sport utility but is more efficient because it's built on car underpinnings. Nissan was led by the Rogue small crossover, which saw a 67 percent sales increase.
Ford's numbers were fueled by truck sales that went up 34 percent. The year-ago result includes figures for Volvo, which Ford sold earlier this year. Sales of the Fusion midsize sedan were up 28 percent, and Ford said it already has set a full-year sales record for the car.
Chrysler Group LLC reported its eighth-straight month of year-over-year sales increases, driven largely by the Jeep and Ram brands. The newly redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee continued to sell well, more than tripling from November of last year.
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GM's growth was driven by crossover vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Cadillac SRX. Equinox sales were up more than 60 percent, while SRX sales rose nearly 36 percent. GM also saw more modest increases in passenger car and pickup truck sales. The Chevrolet Silverado pickup, traditionally GM's top-seller, saw an increase of 16 percent.
Sales of GM's four brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac — rose 21 percent compared with the same brands last November. GM got rid of Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. Buick led all GM brands with a 36 percent sales jump.
Subaru of America also reported a big sales increase for November, up 22 percent as sales of most of its models grew.
Toyota has been fighting a string of embarrassing safety problems. The automaker has recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide mostly for problems with sticky gas pedals or floor mats that can trap the accelerator pedal.
The company's Toyota Division saw a sales drop of almost 4 percent, while Lexus luxury brand sales fell almost 6 percent.
Industry analyst J.D. Power and Associates is predicting that November U.S. sales overall will rise about 15 percent, while consumer website Edmunds.com predicted sales will increase 17 percent compared with November 2009.
The increased sales likely are due to a combination of rising confidence and pent-up demand as people replace vehicles they have kept for longer than normal during a severe auto industry downturn, said Bruce Clark, senior vice president of Moody's Investors Service.
"There is a degree of pent-up demand that's being met gradually by people who have kept jobs and can go out and afford to do such things," Clark said. The sales are not as robust as historic highs from the early 2000s, but they are still a good sign for the industry, Clark said.
"It makes sense to me that we should have some modest growth of the type that we're talking about right now," he said.
Moody's is predicting U.S. sales this year of 11.5 million cars and trucks, rising to around 13 million next year, still far short of the 2000 peak of 17 million. Sales so far this year are running at an annual rate that matches the Moody's prediction. That's less than the 12.5 million vehicles that are typically scrapped each year. Eventually, that means auto sales will have to increase as people replace their older cars, Clark said.
"I see an upward trajectory with less volatility than we've had over the last several months," Clark said.
Americans' confidence in the economy has been on the rise. The Conference Board, a private research group based in New York, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to a five-month high in November. Consumer spending also was up. The confidence report came in the shadow of high unemployment and declining home values.
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