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GM, Chrysler lead sales gains as Black Friday boosts auto sales

An assembly line worker builds a 2015 Chrysler

An assembly line worker builds a 2015 Chrysler 200 at the Sterling Heights assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. on March 14, 2014. Photo Credit: AP

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said U.S. auto sales rose more than analysts estimated last month as Black Friday specials attracted flocks of consumers. GM said it was the industry's best November in 11 years.

Fiat Chrysler sales jumped 20 percent to 170,839 for a 56th straight monthly increase amid gains in deliveries of Jeep sport-utility vehicles, Ram pickups and the Chrysler 200 sedan. The average estimate was for a 16 percent jump. Ford and Nissan sales declined less than estimated.

"By any measure, households are reaping significant disposable income gains each week at current gas prices," Emily Kolinski Morris, Ford's chief economist, told analysts and reporters on a conference call Tuesday. "With U.S. gasoline consumption of over 360 million gallons a day, that represents a total savings of about $180 million per day now versus September."

Sales of pickups and SUVs have benefited from that cheaper fuel. The price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States fell to $2.77 on Dec. 1, according to AAA, the motoring club. That's the lowest since October 2010. Automakers have also offered deals to get a piece of consumers' holiday spending. Black Friday, once associated with big-box retailers and shopping malls, marked an important day on the automotive sales calendar.

"Lots of automakers pulled ahead their holiday promotions earlier and maybe it paid off," Michelle Krebs, an analyst for AutoTrader.com, said in an interview.

GM estimated that the annualized sales pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, was 17.1 million, the fastest November rate since 2003. Fiat Chrysler, formed from the combination of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, said the industry's annualized sales pace for November may have reached 17.5 million, including medium- and heavy-duty trucks that typically account for at least 200,000 deliveries a year.

It would be only the second month with a faster than 17 million pace since 2006 after August's 17.5 million.

GM sales rose 6.5 percent, beating the average estimate for a 2.6 percent increase. Buick gained 27 percent, while GMC picked up 23 percent for its best November since 2001, while Cadillac deliveries dropped 19 percent and Chevrolet sales ticked up 3 percent. Silverado pickup sales rose 24 percent while Malibu sedan sales fell 17 percent.

Ford's light-vehicle sales slid 1.8 percent, less than the 2 percent decline analysts projected for the Dearborn, Michigan- based company.

Strong SUV sales powered Ford's November sales, as Escape deliveries jumped 22 percent to the best November ever and Explorer sales rose 13 percent. Ford's car sales fell, including an 11 percent decline for the Fusion sedan. Sales of Ford's F- Series pickup line declined 10 percent as the automaker changes over factories to produce a new aluminum-bodied F-150.

Falling gas prices won't dent the introduction of its new truck, which achieves as much as 26 miles per gallon on the highway, a 29 percent improvement over the existing steel-bodied truck.

"It's still the perfect time to launch that product," John Felice, Ford's U.S. sales chief, said Tuesday on a conference call with analysts and reporters. "Truck customers want capability, quality and fuel efficiency, regardless if it's $2 gas or $4 gas."

Lower fuel prices have caused car sales to suffer, said Erich Merkle, Ford's sales analyst. He predicted small SUVs may outsell small cars next year.

For Fiat Chrysler, Jeep sales rose 27 percent to 57,489, including a 67 percent increase for the new Cherokee, which topped the Grand Cherokee with 16,945 deliveries. Ram pickup sales jumped 21 percent to 35,865 and sales of the Chrysler 200 more than doubled to 14,317, helping the brand to a 30 percent gain for the month.

"In total we had 11 vehicles last month that set new sales records," Reid Bigland, Fiat Chrysler's head of sales, said in a statement. "Calendar year to date, Chrysler Group remains the fastest growing automaker in the country."

Toyota sales rose 3 percent, beating the estimates for a 2.1 percent gain, as compact Corolla deliveries jumped 14 percent and the Lexus luxury line posted its best November ever with 27,472 deliveries, the company said in a statement. Camry sales slipped 5.1 percent to 28,846, and Prius hybrid sales dropped 13 percent to 13,957 while Highlander SUV deliveries rose 17 percent and 4Runner sales soared 53 percent.

"Auto industry sales during Thanksgiving weekend were even better than expected," Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president, said in the statement. "Consumer demand for light trucks continues unabated and Toyota dealers set new November sales records for light trucks and SUVs."

Total light-vehicle deliveries were projected to rise 2.5 percent to about 1.28 million, based on projections compiled by Bloomberg. Analysts estimated before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 27 that the annualized selling rate probably rose to 16.8 million, which would mark the ninth straight month of 16 million or higher.

Nissan sales declined 3.1 percent, smaller than the 5 percent drop predicted by analysts. Rogue compact SUV sales rose 44 percent, while Altima sales slid 7.2 percent and Infiniti brand deliveries dropped 13 percent. Through 11 months, the company's U.S. deliveries have risen 11 percent to 1.27 million, more than the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker has ever sold in the country in a full year.

Honda sales rose 4.6 percent, better than the 4.3 percent increase predicted by analysts. While Accord sedan sales dropped 6.7 percent, deliveries of the redesigned Fit compact jumped 55 percent and CR-V compact SUV sales gained 38 percent.

Volkswagen's VW and Audi brands may see a jump of 4.1 percent, according to estimates gathered by Bloomberg.

Black Friday specials aided sales last month. Among them were Volkswagen's zero-percent financing offer for 60-month loans on its Passat sedan, GM's Cadillac luxury line $299-a- month lease deal on the ATS sedan and Ford's $3,000 cash-back offer on the Fusion sedan, according to researcher KBB.com.

"Arguably more than other Black Fridays, this one seemed to have been positioned as a big ticket Black Friday," Jeff Schuster, an analyst with LMC Automotive, said before the results were announced. "It's the 65-inch TVs, big appliances or cars that consumers focused on. This month's performance was riding on Black Friday and the weekend."

With gasoline prices at a 4-year low, big, luxury SUVs are flying out of dealer showrooms like they did in the late 1990s. Cadillac Escalade sales soared 91 percent last month, while Lincoln Navigator deliveries jumped 88 percent. Those models earn automakers as much as $10,000 in pretax profit, analysts estimated.

Searches for high-end wheels at Autotrader.com increased 20 percent last month, said Krebs.

"Conspicuous consumption is OK again," she said in an earlier interview. "We may be back to the go-go days."

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