Cruze sales surge

DETROIT – The holiday weekend was good to U.S. automakers as November sales rose 9 percent to beat strong numbers from a year ago.

The month was especially good for the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze, which saw 18,200 deliveries, up more than 8 percent over last year at this time when 16,807 Cruzes were sold in the U.S. Annual sales for the small car have surpassed 230,000, or up 6.3 percent over last year.

The continued brisk sales of the Cruze are especially amazing, U.S. vice president of Chevrolet sales and service Don Johnson said Tuesday, because the car – first launched with the 2011 model year – is Chevrolet’s oldest existing model.

“When you look across our car portfolio, the ‘oldest’ or most senior model is the Chevy Cruze,” Johnson said during Tuesday morning’s General Motors conference call from Detroit for investors and media. “That’s pretty amazing given the record performance we are still seeing there.”

Cruze was the No. 3 best-seller in the Chevrolet lineup last month, behind only the Equinox, which sold 18,397 and Silverado pickup truck, which sold 34,386.

Like the Cruze, GM officials said Chevy’s small Sport Utility Vehicle, the Equinox and GM’s electric vehicle, the Volt, also set all-time sales records for November.

North American auto sales across all manufacturers put sales on pace for an annual rate of 16.4 million cars and trucks, the best rate of the year according to Autodata Corp.

Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. sales chief, attributed the strong sales pace to better conditions for consumers.

“The economy is creating jobs and household wealth,” he said. “Energy costs are dropping and credit is available and affordable. All of this bodes well for future growth.”

Dealers said sales started slowly, but they did well after Thanksgiving, boosting their monthly totals over November of last year. Normally, November is a lackluster month for auto sales. But automakers, particularly Ford and GM, offered deals this year that brought out buyers, according to the Kelley Blue Book auto website.

Chrysler’s U.S. sales rose a surprising 16 percent in November, while Ford notched a 7 percent gain. Nissan sales rose 11 percent; Toyota was up 10 percent; and Hyundai sales rose just under 5 percent. Of major automakers, only Volkswagen and Honda reported sales drops. VW brand sales were down 16 percent, while Honda sales were off less than 1 percent.

Small crossover SUVs like the new Jeep Cherokee were once again the stars for the month. The crossovers continued to gobble up market share during November, gaining two full percentage points over a year ago to 15.5 percent of U.S. sales, said Erich Merkle, Ford’s top sales analyst.

The gains came at the expense of small and midsize cars. Midsize cars’ share of the market fell one point to 14.5 percent, while small cars dropped a point to around 20 percent, Merkle said. Both Ford and GM said competitors offered big discounts on their small and midsize cars and predicted that trend would continue.

Both GM and Chrysler reported their best November sales since 2007. GM sales rose to 212,060, up from 186,505.

GM was led by larger vehicles, with its top-selling Chevy Silverado pickup posting a 12 percent gain. The GMC Sierra pickup saw sales rise 23 percent. Large SUVs, like the Chevrolet Tahoe, also had big sales, with the Tahoe up 23 percent. Big cars also were up. The Chevy Impala posted a 20 percent gain, while the Cadillac XTS was up 42 percent.

The double-digit pickup gains were repeated at Ford and Chrysler. Sales of Ford’s F-Series, the best-selling vehicles in the U.S., rose 16 percent to 65,501. For Chrysler, sales of the Ram pickup increased by 22 percent.

Tribune Business Editor Brenda J. Linert and AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this story.