Why Automakers Could Break Another Sales Record This Year

December 1, 2016, 4:34 PM UTC
SAN BRUNO, CA - JANUARY 26: An American flag waves behind a Ford sign at a Ford dealership January 26, 2004 in San Bruno, California. Toyota Motor Corp. surpassed Ford Motor Co. of the United States as the world's No. 2 automaker, according to global sales numbers released today by the Japanese automaker that confirmed last week's preliminary data. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

Hefty discounts during a robust Black Friday weekend helped boost November U.S. auto sales between 4% and 5%, the first automakers to report said on Thursday, which could catapult results this year above a record high in 2015.

“All economic indicators show significantly improved optimism about the U.S. economy,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist at General Motors Co. “The U.S. auto industry is well positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels into 2017.”

Each month, auto sales offer an early snapshot of U.S. consumer spending.

The robust sales helped push automaker and auto dealer shares up. In Thursday morning trade, GM rose 4.4%, Ford jumped 6.6%, and leading auto dealer group AutoNation Inc advanced 5.3% while the Dow Jones industrial average added 0.3%.

Market leader GM’s sales rose 10.2% to 252,644 new vehicles in November. GM said the average selling price of its vehicles in November in the U.S. market was nearly $35,800, about $4,000 higher than the industry average.

GM reported lofty sales for its big SUVs and pickup trucks, which are higher priced than sedans and other passenger cars.

For the industry, GM (GM) expects November sales at 17.9 million on a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate, which would be short of an annualized rate of 18.25 million reported in November 2015.

Two more selling days in November made the comparisons to year-ago sales easier to top, but the annualized sales rate was more difficult to match.

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Toyota Motor Corp (TM) narrowly outsold Ford Motor Co , by fewer than 100 vehicles. Ford (F) sales rose 5%, outpacing expectations, while Toyota nearly matched estimates with a 4.3% gain over the year earlier.

Ford said retail sales rose 10% as fleet sales fell 9%. Retail sales count vehicles sold directly to individual consumers, while fleet sales are multiple-vehicle transactions to rental agencies, businesses and government.

GM said retail sales rose 8% in November.

Nissan Motor Co. beat expectations with a 7.5% rise in U.S. sales to 115,136 vehicles.

A Thomson Reuters poll of 35 economists showed expectations of a of 17.7 million vehicles for November in the United States. A separate poll of nine Wall Street analysts by Reuters showed expectations of 17.8 million in annualized sales.

Wall Street analysts expect Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) to fare the poorest among major automakers, with some forecasting a 14% drop from last November.