If you've been paying attention to U.S. automotive sales data over the past 11 months, you won't be surprised to hear that November's nearly 1.3 million sales pushed the industry closer to its annual sales peak of 17.4 million, set back in 2000. However, it will take a strong December to top that mark, as the industry is still about 1.6 million sales short. Looking at last month's sales performance, November was the third consecutive month of sales topping a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate, or SAAR, of 18 million -- the first time that has happened for three straight months.
Among the major automakers posting gains were Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU). Here's a look at how they fared in the U.S. market over the first part of the holiday season.
Ford: Sales of 187,794 units, up 0.4% year over year
While Ford trailed its two crosstown rivals in year-over-year sales gain percentages, looking at that number alone doesn't do Detroit's second-largest automaker justice. The biggest story in Ford's monthly data was certainly its pricing power.
Ford's average transaction price was up a very strong $3,800 compared to year-ago levels -- easily the largest gain among any major automaker -- and ATPs increased in all three of Ford's segments: cars, SUVs, and trucks.
"We saw strong customer demand for our cars and SUVs with the latest technology and sold a very rich mix in November," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a press release. "F-Series and commercial vans also were very strong, with an 18 percent gain for the month and our best November sales performance for Ford Trucks in eight years."
In addition to higher transaction prices, Ford's incentives last month were actually $275 lower than October's figure, and were flat compared to last year's November. That's great news for investors hoping for each sale to be more profitable for Ford's fourth-quarter results.
One obvious black eye in Ford's sales data involved its best-selling SUV, the Escape. Sales of the Escape were down 18.5% compared to last November, a drop-off that swung its year-to-date sales to a 0.7% decline compared to the same period in 2014. A large portion of the decline was blamed on the Escape's fleet sales, which were down nearly 50% in November compared to last year. Expect the Escape's sales to rebound sequentially in December.
General Motors: Sales of 229,296 units, up 1.5% year over year
Beyond its overall 1.5% sales gain, GM noted that its retail sales were up 4% year over year in November. However, when you adjust for the two fewer selling days this November compared to 2014, that 4% gain in retail sales is the equivalent of a 14% increase, according to GM. Detroit's largest automaker also estimated it gained 100 basis points of retail market share in the U.S. to reach 16.5% in November, which is the automaker's eighth consecutive month of year-over-year gains.
Much of General Motors' sales gain came from its best-selling brand in the U.S., Chevrolet, which posted a 10% rise in truck sales and a 35% increase in crossover sales.
"The phenomenal growth of crossovers in a record-setting market is the biggest sales story of 2015," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations, in a press release. "Buick was one of the pioneers of the fast-growing small crossover segment with the Encore. Chevrolet's crossover sales growth is far outpacing the rest of the industry, thanks to the Trax, Equinox and Traverse. And the GMC Terrain is on track to have its best year ever."
Beyond a surging Chevrolet brand, there were a couple of other interesting takeaways from GM's November sales data.
Last month, Cadillac had the highest ATPs in the U.S. among full-line luxury brands, reaching roughly $55,000, according to J.D. Power PIN estimates. Overall, GM's ATPs were a record-high $35,800, which was a $740 increase from October and up about $580 compared to November 2014. Lastly, these healthy sales figures from November aren't inflated by sales to historically less-profitable rental fleet customers -- sales to rental customers declined 16% in November, and are down 11% through the first 11 months of the year.
FCA: Sales of 175,974 units, up 3% year over year
Gone are the days of FCA's monthly double-digit year-over-year sales gains -- thanks to tougher comparisons from last year's strong sales -- but the automaker checked in with a 3% gain, which was good enough to make this its best November in 15 years.
"The favorable I.O.U. environment of low interest rates, oil prices, and unemployment, coupled with our strongest product [lineup] ever, continues to be a significant driver of FCA sales," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, in a press release.
Those factors helped drive seven FCA vehicles to record sales numbers for the month. Four of those seven were within its highly successful -- at least in terms of sales -- Jeep brand: the Cherokee, Compass, Patriot, and Wrangler. Jeep-brand sales increased 20% in November, its best November ever and its 26th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. Beyond Jeep, one of FCA's most valuable products, its Ram Truck, posted a 2% sales gain, which made this its best November sales month, too.
Ultimately, with sales of SUVs and trucks continuing to drive higher, coupled with holiday sales events, expect Detroit automakers to post a solid December to wrap up an excellent and highly profitable 2015.