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November auto sales jump 17 percent as market gains strength
U.S. car and truck sales jumped 17 percent last month, raising hopes the industry will end 2010 on a high note while creating momentum for the new year.

Light vehicle sales rose to 873,407 units in November, for the market's 11th advance in the past 12 months. The industry's sales total through November--10.45 million--has now topped 2009's full-year mark of 10.43 million.

For the second consecutive month, U.S. sales reached an annual selling rate of 12.26 million units, according to AutoData Corp. A year ago, light vehicles sold at an annual rate of 10.86 million units.

At Ford Motor Co., new car and truck demand jumped 20 percent from a year earlier. GM's total sales rose 12 percent; its four surviving brands were up 21 percent.

The Chrysler Group said November new vehicle demand rose 17 percent. A 58 percent surge at Jeep and robust Ram truck sales helped the automaker offset double-digit declines at the Chrysler and Dodge brands.

Ford said Wednesday it plans to increase first-quarter production in North America by 11 percent to 635,000 units, compared with the first quarter of 2010. Ford also expects average transaction prices to increase in coming months--in another sign that the industry is rebounding from last year's 27-year sales lows.

"The economy is continuing to gain traction," said Jim Bunnell, general manager of U.S. sales for GM. "We believe we will see meaningful job creation in the coming months."

The Hyundai Group, including Kia, reported a November sales increase of 46 percent. Demand rose 21 percent at American Honda. Nissan Motor Co. posted a 27 percent gain, while November sales rose 49 percent at Porsche and 22 percent at Jaguar Land Rover.

But Toyota, despite higher spending on incentives from a year earlier, said combined sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion models slipped 3 percent last month to 129,317 units.

Aside from Toyota and Mazda (up 7 percent), every automaker posted double-digit sales gains last month.

“GM's sales were better than we expected,” said Rebecca Lindland, director of strategic review for IHS Automotive, which forecast GM sales to be 162,000 for the month. “They aren't blowing the doors out, but it's a slow, steady recovery.”

Ford's 20 percent gain factored November 2009 sales from Volvo. Without the Swedish unit that Ford has since sold, the year-over-year increase in November for the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln brands was 24 percent.

At GM, Buick led the way with a 36 percent increase, and GMC advanced 30 percent. Cadillac gained 21 percent and Chevrolet was up 18 percent.

Through November, those brands have sold nearly 103,014 more vehicles than GM sold for the same period in 2009, when it had eight brands.

Nearly all GM vehicles sold in November were 2011 models, allowing the brands to continue to increase average transaction prices, said Don Johnson, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations. Through November, the average price is up $1,300 from a year ago.

Incentives averaged 10.4 percent of GM transaction prices, about the same percentage as the rest of the industry, Johnson said.

Volkswagen AG reported a 24.2 percent increase in VW brand sales last month. Jetta sedan sales climbed 49 percent. AutoWeek

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