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US Automakers Enjoy Best Month of the Year

It's been about three years since the auto bailout and the Big Three celebrated the milestone by boosting sales this month to the highest thus far in 2011. Chrysler, General Motors (GM) and Ford

It’s been about three years since the auto bailout and the Big Three celebrated the milestone by boosting sales this month to the highest thus far in 2011. Chrysler, General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) all posted big sales numbers for November, showing that Black Friday might not just be for retail stores.

It’s the Most Wonderful Month of the Year

Chrysler, which is owned by Italian auto-maker Fiat (FIATY), had by far the biggest month of the Big Three, posting a year-over-year sales increase of 44.5 percent to 107,172 cars and trucks. This represents back-to-back “big threes” for Chrysler as it is the company’s sixth straight month posting sales gains of 20 percent or more. It’s also Chrysler’s 20th straight month of year-over-year gains and the best month since November of 2007. “November was another huge month for the Chrysler Group and our highest year-over-year sales gain of 2011,” Reid Bigland, president and head of U.S. sales for Chrysler and CEO of Dodge, said in a statement.

Ford was also in the act, though, with a 13.3 percent rise to 166,865 cars and trucks. These gains were bolstered by a 20 percent improvement in retail sales, which helped Ford reach an average market share over the last three months of 15 percent, the highest level its seen in five years. Executives at Ford seemed to believe that upturn in sales isn’t temporary. “The industry sales rate has exceeded 13 million in each of the last three months,” said Ken Czubay, head of Ford’s U.S. sales division. “This suggests the current momentum is not an aberration. We believe replacement demand will continue to support stronger levels in 2012, and Ford is ready to meet that demand with high-quality, fuel-efficient cars, utilities and trucks.”

Finally, GM also posted strong gains with sales increasing 6.9 percent. However, the company benefited from increasing retail sales that boast a higher profit margin than cars and trucks sold to rental car companies and other bulk purchasers. Retail sales rose 15 percent while fleet sales were down 14 percent. All told, GM sold 180,402 cars and trucks in November, with a 34 percent increase in sales for the Chevy Silverado, a 22 percent rise in sales of the GMC Sierra, and a 54 percent jump in sales for the Chevrolet Cruze. “We are seeing a broad spectrum of customers return to the market,” said Don Johnson, GM’s head of U.S. sales operations. “Truck sales showed a very solid increase, as we expected, but the momentum building behind our most fuel-efficient vehicles was even stronger.”

Honda Still Reeling

Despite the glowing numbers across the industry, including a 19 percent leap for Nissan (NSANY) and a 6.7 percent jump for Toyota (TM), still sales sales contracted in November. Honda saw a 6.4 percent tumble in sales to 83,925 cars and trucks in November with company pointing the finger at depressed North American production because of the flooding in Thailand disrupting parts supply. “Looks like production was a bigger issue for Honda in November than we thought,” analyst Jessica Caldwell said. “The less than compelling Civic could have been the company’s bright spot in an awful year, with customers clamoring for it despite shortages, but it doesn’t look like that is happening.”

Markets Show Little Shift Over Strong Numbers

Stocks in most of the major car companies remained largely static Thursday, seeming to imply that the strong sales numbers had already been priced in. GM was off nearly 1.5 percent, Ford gained less than 0.1 percent, Toyota was down a quarter of a percent, Nissan lost almost 1.5 percent, and Honda lost about 0.1 percent. However, auto manufacturer stocks appear to be trending up of late. The S&P 500 Automobiles Industry Index has gained almost 12.5 percent since the end of September, while the S&P 500 Automobile Manufacturers Index is up almost 10 percent in the same period, and the S&P 500 Automotive Retail Index has jumped almost 22 percent since August 8th.

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