Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported better U.S. sales than expected for last month as Black Friday promotions and year-end discounting lured buyers into showrooms.
Deliveries of cars and light trucks jumped 7 percent for Ford, buoyed by the best November for its F-Series truck line since 2001. Sales slipped 3.7 percent for Fiat Chrysler and 2.9 percent at General Motors, as both companies reduced shipments to fleet customers like rental-car companies.
Car manufacturers have cranked up incentive spending to clear inventory that's built up on dealer lots as they wind down the first year of shrinking demand since the recession. Automakers have had more leeway to offer big rebates and cheap financing because buyers have been snapping up more sport utility vehicles and trucks, which typically start at higher prices than passenger cars that have fallen out of favor among consumers.
"November and December over the last few years have become a very big merchandising window for the industry," Mark LaNeve, Ford's U.S. sales chief, told analysts and reporters on a conference call Friday. Across the industry, spending on incentives increased by $300 to $400 per vehicle last month, he said. "From a discipline standpoint, even though it's moved up, transaction prices moved up along with it."
Industrywide, November sales probably ran at about a 17.3 million annualized rate, analysts estimated in a Bloomberg survey. That's down from last year's 17.7 million pace and slower than the blistering clip of the past two months, but would still mark one of the better months this year. GM estimated an industry selling rate of 17.4 million for the month.
"The basic economic fundamentals are sound and support new-vehicle sales," Michelle Krebs, an analyst with car-buying website Autotrader, said by phone. "Incentives were up for the month, but they were targeted at specific vehicles or even specific customers. So they are maintaining discipline."
Volkswagen 's combined deliveries for its VW and Audi brands rose 3.4 percent, narrowly missing estimates. While the German luxury brand has recorded 83 straight record sales months, demand dropped for all VW models except the new Atlas and Tiguan SUVs.
Ford's gains were also driven by strong SUV sales, including a 25 percent jump for the Explorer, the best November result for the model in 13 years. More than a quarter of the company's deliveries were to fleet customers in the month, more than a year earlier.
For GM, Cadillac sales tumbled 13 percent and the GMC truck and SUV brand had an unusually weak month, with deliveries dropping 5.8 percent. Fiat Chrysler has reported monthly declines in U.S. sales for 15 consecutive months as it's curbed shipments to rental-car fleets.