US automakers report mixed sales for November

New York (AFP) –


US auto sales offered a mixed picture in November, with Ford reporting an increase but GM and Fiat Chrysler posting declines, according to monthly sales data released Friday.

The major Japanese automakers also were split, with Honda and Nissan posting strong sales increases, while a gain in light trucks for Toyota was not enough to offset a steep drop in sales of cars.

The pace of sales also fell sharply for electric automaker Tesla.

Analysts said the varied results last month came as average prices hit all-time highs and US demand for autos may have peaked. After a multi-year boom in auto sales, carmakers expected the market to slow this year compared with the record-setting 2016.

Edmunds analyst Jeremy Acevedo said highly popular SUVs once again have driven sales in 2017.

"Consumers have proven time and time again this year that they're not afraid of the bigger price tags, higher APRs and longer loan terms," he said in a statement.

Indeed, Ford's 6.7 percent sales increase compared with November 2016 was driven by solid jumps in sport utility vehicles and trucks -- including the best showing for the market-leading F-Series truck since 2000 -- although the company also saw higher sales of sedans.

Total sales at the US number-two automaker came in at 210,771 vehicles, slightly better than the forecast by Edmunds.

But at GM, sales fell to 245,387 vehicles, down 2.9 percent from a year ago and far short of Edmunds' forecast for a 1.8 percent gain. The company said deliveries to rental companies were much lower.

- Peaking demand? -

Sales of many larger "crossover" vehicles increased, however, and the biggest US carmaker said it was optimistic that an improving US economy would keep consumption high.

"Employment continues to grow at a solid pace, wage growth will accelerate and consumer confidence just hit a 17-year high, so industry sales should remain strong," said GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem.

In a report on Wednesday, however, ratings agency Fitch said the US auto market has peaked, and annual sales would plateau in the mid 16 million to low 17 million range for "an extended period."

At FCA, retail sales rose two percent, but as with GM, its overall results were hit by a decline in sales to rental companies. Total sales dropped four percent to 154,919 vehicles, a bit below the Edmunds projection.

Sales fell three percent at Toyota 191,617 vehicles, weighed down by 10.1 percent decline in cars, even as light trucks, such as the popular RAV4, rose 2.3 percent.

Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming said average prices hit an all-time high in November, reaching $35,870.

"Prices are being driven higher by the shifting sales mix away from cars, which now stands at just 34 percent and is trending downward," he said in a statement, noting that SUV sales were running counter to the overall downward trend.

Nissan delayed releasing final monthly results due to technical difficulties, but an estimate from Autodata put the company's sales up 13.9 percent over November 2016 at 131,139 vehicles, with a 15.7 percent rise in cars that outpaced the 12.3 percent jump in light trucks.

Electric automaker Tesla saw sales fall 17.9 percent for the month to 3,590, according to Autodata.

Despite their small market share, German luxury brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz each saw some gains, with BMW up 7.1 percent to 28,049 units, and Mercedes gaining 3.6 percent to 34,112.

Volkswagen, which has made progress in putting a string of corporate and environmental scandals behind it while making a push to develop electric vehicles, fell 1.6 percent to 29,207.

While sales this year are on track to decline, the performance has been boosted by a strengthening economy and the unexpected lift from back-to-back US hurricanes that boosted sales of replacement vehicles in September and October.

Edmunds is projecting that total sales will come in at 17.2 million for 2017, down from 17.55 million last year.