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Sandy delays, better economy lift US auto sales

Nissan, Hyundai report strong demand

Monday, December 03, 2012 | 1:00 PM    

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DETROIT, USA (AP) — A better economy and havoc from Superstorm Sandy kept US auto sales brisk in November.

Signs of a healthier US economy and purchases postponed by Sandy pushed up sales for major automakers last month.  Chrysler, Nissan and Hyundai reported strong demand on everything from small SUVs to sedans on Monday.

Americans are more confident about the economy than they’ve been in a while: Home values are rising, hiring is up and interest rates remain low. And that means people are willing to make big purchases.

Superstorm 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 replace them. And because the average age of a vehicle on US 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 above 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.

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.

Chrysler’s US sales rose 14 per cent last month from a year earlier, the company said Monday. Hyundai sales rose eight per cent from November of 2011, and Nissan sales were up 13 per cent.

Chrysler results were led by the Dodge brand, which saw sales rise 32 per cent. The company says it sold 123,000 vehicles. Dodge Journey crossover SUV sales rose 77 per cent.

South Korea’s Hyundai reported sales of just over 53,000 for the month, led by the Sonata midsize car and the Elantra compact. Nissan said it sold more than 96,000 vehicles for the month, with a 41 per cent increase at the Infiniti luxury brand.

Foreign-based brands like Hyundai should see the biggest sales increases in November due to big discounts, says Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for automotive pricing site TrueCar.com. TrueCar estimates that Hyundai and Kia, which were admonished by the US government in late October for overstating gas mileage, increased incentive spending by nearly 30 per cent. Nissan spending was up 45 per cent, while Toyota spending rose nine per cent from a year earlier.

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