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Auto sales hit high gear

DETROIT — Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Nissan reported big U.S. sales gains last month, a sign that people are starting to replace cars and trucks that they've held onto during the economic slump.

Chrysler's sales of new cars and trucks rose 45 percent from a year earlier, Ford's 13.3 percent, GM's 7 percent and Nissan's 19 percent.

The results underscore projections that Americans bought new cars at the fastest pace in more than two years as they replace aging cars. Analysts expect that the annual sales rate for November could range between 13.3 million and 14 million cars and trucks. That is far better than the rate of 12.6 million through the first 10 months of the year.

November sales also could approach the 14.1 million annual rate from August 2009, when the government offered big rebates for drivers to trade in their gas-guzzling clunkers.

Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's executive vice president of national sales, said the Thanksgiving weekend helped the South Korean automaker set a November sales record of 49,610 vehicles, a 21.8 percent gain from a year earlier.

With a 13.3 percent gain in November U.S. sales, Ford sold 166,441 vehicles.

Volkswagen, including its Audi division, saw sales rise 28.7 percent to 38,283 vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. sales rose 6.7 percent to 137,960 vehicles last month, its first year-over-year monthly sales increase since April. But Honda Motor Co. sales fell 6.4 percent to 83,925 vehicles.

Dealers say they've had strong floor traffic all month, with surprisingly high sales for a month that's normally lackluster because of colder weather and holiday distractions. But in November, buyers went to showrooms because of good deals on leases, more confidence in the economy and a need to trade in older cars, said Ryan LaFontaine, a partner in a six-dealer chain run by his family in Southeast Michigan.

Chrysler was led by the Jeep Compass small SUV, which had a nearly 10-fold increase in sales. Jeep brand sales rose 50 percent, while Chrysler brand sales nearly doubled on strong demand for its 200 and 300 sedans. But Chrysler also raised its incentives to nearly $3,300 per vehicle, up 6 percent from October.

Buyers snapped up GM's small cars and pickup trucks. Sales of the Chevrolet Cruze compact rose 54 percent, while the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, GM's top-selling vehicle, saw sales jump 34 percent.

At Nissan, the tiny Versa led sales with a 38 percent increase, but SUV and truck sales rose 32 percent.

People have been holding onto their cars and trucks in an unstable economy, and the rate of cars that are scrapped has surpassed sales for several years. The average age of a car on U.S. roads is now a record 10.6 years, according to the Polk auto industry research firm.

The sales increases also reflect consumer confidence for November, which rose to the highest level since July, according to the Conference Board.

Car buyers are releasing pent-up demand, said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of data for the TrueCar.com automotive website. "I think consumers are just starting to say, 'It's time to start spending money again,' " he said.

TrueCar expects November sales to be nearly 12 percent higher than a year earlier, capping six months of sales gains compared with the same month in 2010. Last November, the annual sales rate was only 12.3 million, as the auto industry was just starting to recover from the economic meltdown.

Moving off the lot in November

U.S. automakers: Chrysler sales rose 45 percent from a year earlier. Ford's rose 13.3 percent, and GM's rose 7 percent.

What's hot? Jeep brand sales rose 50 percent, while Chrysler brand sales nearly doubled on demand for its 200 and 300 sedans. For GM, sales of the Chevrolet Cruze compact rose 54 percent. The Chevrolet Silverado pickup, GM's top-selling vehicle, saw sales jump 34 percent.

Big month: TrueCar expects November sales to be nearly 12 percent higher than a year earlier.

Local dealers

Tampa Bay area dealers with the most sales. (October)

1. Hyundai of New Port Richey (Pasco County): 436 units

2. Sun Toyota Sun Scion (Pasco): 235

3. Autoway Scion Autoway Toyota (Pinellas): 171

4. Stadium Scion Stadium Toyota (Hillsborough): 160

5. Fitz Way-Fitzgerald Auto Mall (Pinellas): 154

Source: AutoCount

Auto sales hit high gear 12/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 11:05pm]

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