The Lordstown-built Chevy Cruze continued its successful sales pace last month, showing a 27 percent increase over sales last November and helping General Motors to post its highest November U.S. sales since 2007.
Overall General Motors posted a 3.4 percent gain month over month for November, and a 3.5 percent gain so far this year. Still GM had the lowest gains among the big 3 in Detroit. By comparison, Chrysler reported a 14 percent increase from November 2011, and Ford's sales increased 6.5 percent.
The auto industry nationwide showed large gains, attributing the boost to the improving economy and extra demand for new vehicles in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
In a corporate conference call from Detroit, Kurt McNeil, GM's head of U.S. sales, specifically noted sustained sales of cars like the Chevy Cruze, noting the strong sales and low incentives are helping GM to achieve company-wide average transaction prices, or ATPs, that are $750 more per vehicle this year than last year.
GM's U.S. vice president of Chevrolet sales and service Don Johnson said the Cruze ranks in the top two for ATPs in the small car segment. He added it is the second lowest incentive in the segment.
''We have got a good mix with fleet and retail and are being very disciplined with holding our incentives," Johnson said.
Among all automakers, Toyota and Volkswagen showed the biggest sales bumps in November, U.S. sales released Monday. Toyota said its November sales rose 17 percent from a year earlier, while Volkswagen sales leaped 35 percent. Nissan sales climbed 13 percent. Hyundai, meanwhile, saw sales increase 8 percent, led by the Sonata midsize car and the Elantra compact.
Kurt McNeil, GM's head of U.S. sales, said delayed purchases because of Sandy clearly boosted November sales. But competitors were helped more than GM because they have a stronger presence in states hit by the storm.
Chrysler results were led by the Dodge brand, which saw sales rise 32 percent. Dodge Journey crossover SUV sales rose 77 percent. Small-car sales were strong at Ford, led by the Focus, with 56 percent increase. F-Series pickup sales rose 18 percent.
Sandy, which hit at the end of October, forced buyers in the Northeast to postpone purchases until November. Also, people whose cars were damaged by the storm are starting to buy new ones. And because the average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is approaching 11 years, people are being forced to make costly repairs or buy a new car or truck.
"Everything is kind of moving along almost in concert now," says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry consulting firm.
November sales, when calculated on an annual basis, are likely to be 15 million or more, the highest rate since March of 2008, according to LMC. That's higher than the 14.3 million annual rate so far this year, even though November is normally a lackluster month due to cold weather and holiday anticipation. Both GM and Chrysler predicted November sales would run at an annual rate of 15.3 million.
If sales end up at 15 million for the year, it would be a vast improvement over the 10.4 million during the recession in 2009. Sales would still fall short of the recent peak of around 17 million in 2005.
Most analysts say they are seeing little sales impact from the "fiscal cliff" negotiations between Congress and the White House. The term refers to sharp government spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1 unless an agreement is reached to cut the budget deficit. Economists say that those measures, if implemented, could push the U.S. economy back into a recession.
Schuster says the fiscal cliff and a possible recession are among the risks that could derail the auto sales recovery next year.
Both presidents of two United Auto Workers Locals from the Lordstown complex, however, on Monday downplayed the possible effects of the issue in Washington.
''I believe this is all posturing,'' said UAW Local 1112 president Glenn Johnson. ''I think once the dance is done we will have a new budget that will allow people to reach into their pockets.''
UAW 1714 Local president Dave Green said he thinks the advance coverage of the looming budget deficit is making the scenario sound worse than it is.
Tribune Chronicle business writer Brenda J. Linert and Associated Press auto writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this story.