DETROIT—U.S. sales of cars and light trucks surged 9 percent in November to 1.24 million units and rolled off dealership lots at the fastest pace in almost seven years.
The industry's annualized sales rate, adjusted for seasonal factors, rose to 16.4 million last month, up from 15.3 million a year earlier and easily topping analysts' forecasts in the 15.8 million range.
Last month's seasonally adjusted annual rate was the highest since the 16.8 million mark reached in February 2007—10 months before the start of the recession. It's the second time the SAAR has topped 16 million this year after hitting 16.1 million in August, a sign that the industry's recovery still has plenty of fuel.
"Industry sales in November picked up after Thanksgiving, contributing to the best sales pace of the year," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. "Showroom traffic surged over the holiday weekend for Toyota, indicating good momentum we expect to continue through the end of the year and into 2014."
It was the best November since 2003 and just over 84,000 units shy of the industry's best November ever—2001, when sales totaled 1.328 million. Industry sales topped 16 million units from 1999 through 2007 before the collapse of 2008-09.
General Motors and Chrysler Group led major auto makers with hefty increases in November sales, with pickups and new models such as the Jeep Cherokee driving the gains.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. posted smaller double-digit increases, while Honda Motor Co. volume slipped 0.1 percent from record November 2012 results.
Ford Motor Co. generated an increase of 7 percent and said it scaled back its North American production plans for the first quarter of 2014. Among smaller auto makers, Subaru continued its surge while Volkswagen extended its slump.
"Demand was robust for everything from cars to crossovers," Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales operations for GM, said in a statement.
GM's deliveries climbed 14 percent on a 19 percent rise in volume to individual customers
Deliveries rose 20 percent at GMC, 13 percent at Chevrolet and Buick, and 11 percent at Cadillac.
Cherokee deliveries totaled nearly 10,200 units in its first full month on the market.
For the seventh straight month, Ford sold more than 60,000 F-series pickups. Volume rose 7 percent at the Ford division and 17 percent at Lincoln. It was the second consecutive month of double-digit gains at Lincoln after a string of mostly flat sales.
Ford said it also plans to build 770,000 vehicles in the first quarter of 2014 in North America, a drop of 2 percent from 784,000 vehicles produced in the first quarter of 2013.
A Ford spokesman today cited the need to “match production with demand” for the decline in output.
Ford started November with a 90-day supply of light vehicles, compared with a 72-day supply a year ago. The company said previously it plans to idle U.S. plants temporarily that build the Ford Fusion, Focus and C-Max to trim stockpiles.
Toyota said its U.S. deliveries increased last month by 10 percent to 178,044 units.
At American Honda, sales dropped 2 percent at the Honda division and increased 19 percent at Acura.
"With our second-best-ever November sales, we likely extended our retail sales lead despite very aggressive market actions by competitors in key high volume segments," John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda, said in a statement. "And we're upping the ante as we approach the close of the year with a significantly updated 2014 Civic going on sale in just a few days."
Healthy demand for the Ram pickup and new Jeep Cherokee propelled Chrysler Group to a 16 percent increase, its 44th consecutive monthly advance.