November 2012 Auto Sales: Hurricane Highlights

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Things are looking up for automakers in the United States. All told sales topped 1.1 million new cars and trucks in November. That’s nearly a 15 percent increase compared to the same month in 2011. Year-to-date sales eclipsed 13 million units, an improvement of almost 14 percent compared to the same time period last year.

Hurricane Sandy ravaged America’s Eastern Seaboard suppressing shoppers in late October, but come November they were out in force. Month-over-month sales increased a healthy 9 percent, but a strong performance later in the calendar is not necessarily a surprise.

“The auto industry usually has a good time at the end of the year, usually” said Jim Hall, Managing Director of 2953 Analytics.

A lot of experts are pinning the strong sales performance on two things: pent-up demand and Sandy. But Hall doesn’t agree. “I don’t believe in pent-up demand” he said, because vehicles last a lot longer than they used to and because “people are retaining cars longer now.” Before the recession many consumers would get new vehicles because they felt they had to, but he argues they now seem to be hanging on to them for the long run.

There’s no doubt the hurricane suppressed sales, but Hall said don’t read too much into the November increase. “Automakers do not sell cars to customers, they sell to dealers,” and retailers replenish their inventory faster than consumers purchase vehicles, so that could explain a lot of the sales bump. “There is nothing worse for a dealer than to be low on stock” he said.

Going forward, Hall expects truck sales to grow because of the mini construction boom brought on by Sandy’s destruction. “These things tend to be pickup-truck rich” he said. “The same thing happened after Katrina.”

According to Hall “if housing stays good you’re going to see trucks stay a healthy percentage.” He also said “when things are really moving well you can see a pretty good turnover in pickups.”

But there’s another advantage for trucks. Hall said “the nature of what they’re doing is that they’re purchased before cars are,” noting that carpooling is not an option with these rough-an-ready work vehicles. “If it’s your business you can’t double up with somebody” he said.

On the subject of trucks, they’re perennially popular in the U.S. Two of the top five best-selling vehicles last month featured body-on-frame construction and open cargo boxes. The Ford F-Series took the sales crown. Blue Oval dealers moved more than 52,000 of them in November. The Chevrolet Silverado came in the No. 2 spot, racking up nearly 31,000 deliveries.

Following in their wake, the Honda Civic beat out the Toyota Camry for a bronze-medal finish. The Camry came in fourth while the Honda Accord landed in fifth place. And please note; these are sales for the month of November. Year-to-date the Camry is still the best-selling car in America, a title it will almost certainly maintain at the end of 2012.

In November Chrysler’s RAM pickup narrowly landed in the No.6 spot. Had it edged out the Accord, three of the top five best-selling vehicles in America would have been trucks.

Taking a look at automakers, year-over-year the Detroit Three were all up for November. Chrysler improved by 14.4 percent. Ford was up nearly 6 percent and GM increased by more than 3 percent.

Compared to the same month last year, Subaru was up a colossal 59.7 percent. Honda’s November performance was almost as impressive. Sales for Soichiro’s company jumped almost 40 percent. Toyota and Nissan performed solidly as well.

BMW was another standout. It nearly matched Honda’s growth, albeit at a much lower overall volume. Last month Bay Em Vay delivered almost 36,500 new vehicles. However, Honda sold more than 116,000.

Looking forward, Hall said “December is historically a good month,” and hopefully it brings the auto industry some well-deserved holiday cheer.

[Source: Ward’s Auto]

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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