US auto sales hit 14-year high in November thanks to promotions; Volkswagen sales plummet

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FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2015 file photo, the Volkswagen Passat is displayed during a reveal event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal took a serious bite out of the company's U.S. sales last month. The German automaker reports that November 2015 U.S. sales fell almost 25 percent from a year ago. The company blamed the decline on stop-sale orders for diesel-powered vehicles that the government says cheated on pollution tests. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, photo, salesperson Andrew Montalvo, left, talks to a customer checking out the interior of a 2015 Grand Cherokee Limited in Doral, Fla. Fiat Chrysler sales are up in what could be a record November. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

DETROIT — November used to be a slow month for U.S. car sales. Not anymore.

Black Friday promotions — some of which began well before Thanksgiving — pushed last month's sales to a 14-year high of 1.3 million, just short of a record for the month. Sales were up 1.4 percent from last November, according to Autodata Corp.

General Motors' sales rose 1.5 percent, while Toyota and Fiat Chrysler each saw 3 percent sales gains. Hyundai's sales jumped 12 percent, while Nissan's were up 4 percent. Ford's sales were flat.

Honda's sales fell 5 percent, hurt by lower CR-V sales. But the biggest sales decline was at Volkswagen. VW's U.S. sales plummeted almost 25 percent, hurt by the company's admission that its diesel vehicles cheated on emissions tests.

November was a notoriously slow sales month until about five years ago, when car dealers joined other retailers in promoting Black Friday, according to Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell. Now, like Amazon, Wal-Mart and others, dealers start advertising Black Friday deals as early as Halloween. Jeep offered zero percent financing for up to 75 months. GM teased savings of up to 20 percent of for its Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands. Hyundai offered an extra $500 on the Sonata sedan between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30.

Ford's U.S. sales chief Mark LaNeve said sales got progressively stronger in November, and the last day of the month was one of the best this year.

Deals can be dangerous for the auto industry because they cut into profits and lower vehicles' resale value. Incentives have been creeping upward since 2011; in November, they rose an estimated $172 over last year to $3,066 per vehicle, according to the car buying site

But Eric Lyman, vice president for industry insights at TrueCar, says the gradual increase isn't a worrisome trend for the industry. For one thing, companies are making more profit per vehicle than they used to because they're selling more expensive SUVs and trucks. The average sale price of a vehicle last month was $32,966, up 1 percent from the previous month.

Automakers are also trying to capture as many sales as they can in the boom years before sales inevitably slow. Rising interest rates, higher gas prices and other factors are all expected to stall auto sales sometime in the next few years.

"It's kind of like, make hay while the sun shines," Lyman said.

And the sun is certainly shining. Last week, sales forecasting firm LMC Automotive said sales are now likely to reach a record 17.5 million in 2015.

For November, automakers said:

— GM's sales rose 1.5 percent to 229,296. Chevrolet and Cadillac brand sales were up but fell at Buick and GMC. Sales of GM's best-seller, the Silverado pickup, rose 5 percent.

— Toyota's sales rose 3 percent to 189,517. In a sign of the impact of lower gas prices, sales of the RAV4 SUV jumped nearly 30 percent while Prius hybrid sales were down 10 percent.

— Ford's sales were up less than 1 percent to 187,794. A 10-percent increase in F-Series pickup sales couldn't overcome lower sales of key vehicles like the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan.

— FCA's sales rose 3 percent to 175,974, powered by a 20-percent increase in Jeep sales. Ram truck sales rose 1 percent. Dodge, Fiat and Chrysler sales all fell.

— Honda's sales fell 5 percent to 115,441. The company was hurt by an 18-percent decline in sales at its Acura luxury brand.

— Nissan's sales rose 4 percent to 107,083. Truck and SUV sales jumped 15 percent, but Leaf electric car sales dropped 60 percent.

— Hyundai's sales rose 12 percent to 60,007. Sales of its newly redesigned Tucson SUV nearly doubled over last November.

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