Auto sales rose slightly in November as year-end push begins

Sales of new cars and trucks in the U.S. rose slightly in November, driven by the continuing demand for light trucks and SUVs.

Dealers sold nearly 1.4 million vehicles in November, a gain of just under 1 percent from a year ago. Ford and Honda reported sales increases last month, while GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota say they were down.

Sales of passenger cars dropped more than 8 percent from November 2016 and are down more than 10 percent overall in 2017, according to market analysts Autodata. Sales of Fiat Chrysler sedans declined more than 31 percent from November 2016, while GM saw a 16 percent drop in passenger car sales.

Meanwhile, sales of light truck and SUV remained strong, up 6.6 percent compared to last November. Ford’s sales jumped 7 percent on strong demand for its F-Series pickups. The company sold nearly 73,000 of the trucks, the most since 2001.

The November numbers set up what analysts expect will be an aggressive December push to sell down their inventories of 2017 models. The year-end promotions began weeks before Thanksgiving. Dealer incentives averaged more $4,000 per vehicle, according to JD Power.

“The need to clear out record inventories of prior model-year vehicles continues to keep incentive spending aggressive in November,” Thomas King, J.D. Power’s senior vice president of data and analytics, said in a statement.

Despite the deals and strong consumer confidence, industry analysts expect 2017 sales to be down compared to last year — a trend they predict will continue into 2018.

The National Automobile Dealers Association projects this year’s sales to total about 17.1 million vehicles, down roughly a half-million from 2016. Citing rising interest rates and higher loan and transaction costs in 2018, NADA forecast another dip in sales, to about 16.7 million new cars and trucks.

NADA senior economist Patrick Manzi said new-car sales will also be affected by larger inventories of used vehicles. He estimates the market for older models will exceed 40 million in 2018.

“The influx of off-lease vehicles returning to dealerships is likely to put pressure on new-vehicle sales,” Manzi said. “However, the mix of these late-model vehicles will favor light-trucks more than past years and should be more in line with present consumer demand.”