Analysis

U.S. light-vehicle sales, based on the seasonally adjusted annual selling rate, improved on prior-month’s results for the third straight time this year in November, suggesting a longer-term growth trend is taking hold.

Last month’s 13.6 million-unit SAAR was the highest since 14.2 million units in August 2009, when the government launched its Cash-for-Clunkers incentive program, and noticeably improved on year-ago’s 12.2 million.

The string of stronger months sets the stage for a relatively healthy finish to 2011 as inventory continues to build, especially for Asian auto makers that suffered from depleted stock levels due to production hiccups caused by catastrophic events overseas.

Sales volume in November totaled 992,709 units, for a daily selling rate of 39,708 over 25 days. That’s an 11.5% gain on year-ago’s DSR of 35,621 over 24 days on a volume of 854,899.

Sales in the first 11 months totaled 11,291,494 units, up 10.1% from 10,252,735 in like-2010.

Related document: U.S. Light Vehicle Sales – November 2011

The Detroit Three delivered 451,385 light vehicles in November, for a 12.1% daily sales increase over year ago.

Year-to-date, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have delivered a combined 5,399,207 units, marking a 15.2% rise over prior-year.

GM reported 180,402 sales in the month, up 2.7% on a daily basis over like-2010. Chrysler’s 106,679 units represented a 39.8% increase over a poor year-ago performance, marking the 20th month of year-over-year volume gains for the company. Ford’s DSR rose 9.1% to 164,304.

Asia-based auto makers combined for a 4.4% gain in November over year-ago, led by Toyota, which registered its first post-tsunami increase, up 2.4% on sales of 137,960 units.

Nissan’s DSR rose 14.5%, but Subaru saw its lowest volume month since January 2010, with 17,657 deliveries, an 18.5% drop vs. year-ago. Hyundai’s DSR jumped 17% on a volume of 49,610, while sister-brand Kia’s deliveries surged 33.6% to 37,007 over prior-year.

However, the impact of the October flooding in Thailand on Honda’s North America vehicle production gave the auto maker a disappointing 10.1% decline in November on sales of 83,925 units.

Honda had just posted its first month of positive results in October since the March tsunami in Japan first disrupted its production and drained inventories.

Europe-based auto makers recorded a combined 21.8% sales increase over year-ago in November, helped by the Volkswagen brand’s 35.1% surge. However, VW’s Audi luxury brand was disappointed by a 0.6% dip in deliveries, it first year-over-year decline in 25 months.

BMW’s sales, including Mini, climbed 10.2% in November. But competitor Mercedes, including Smart, saw its DSR soar 40.8% in the month, giving the Daimler brands a volume lead of 1,984 units.

With one month left in the year, the BMW group, with deliveries up 14.6% for the first 11 months, still has comfortable lead over Daimler, whose year-to-date sales are pacing 14.4% ahead of like-2010.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com