Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro vehicles move down the production line at Chrysler's… (Jeff Kowalsky, Bloomberg )
Add automobiles to the watches, video games, cashmere sweaters and the rest on the list of goods selling briskly in the days following Thanksgiving. It seems car buyers caught Black Friday fever this year.
Galpin Ford, the nation's largest Ford dealership, sold 140 new vehicles on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a single-day sales record for the San Fernando Valley franchise.
"It was surprising for all of us," said Beau Boeckmann, Galpin's vice president. "I don't think we expected that November would be the biggest car month since 'cash for clunkers' two years ago. Our November sales will be 50% above last year."
A rush of shoppers helped the auto industry post an annual U.S. sales rate of 13.6 million vehicles in November, the best this year and the strongest since August 2009, when the federal cash-for-clunkers economic stimulus program was in effect.
The industry posted sales of 1 million in November, up 13.9% from a year earlier, according to automaker statistics released Thursday and compiled by Autodata Corp.
"The Thanksgiving holiday weekend, including Black Friday, proved to be a very strong selling period," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's executive vice president of national sales. He said the weekend helped the South Korean automaker set a November sales record of 49,610 vehicles, a 21.8% gain from a year earlier.
During the last week of November 2008, auto dealers sold about 260,000 vehicles. That held steady during the recession but then started growing, reaching more than 340,000 this year, according to estimates from auto information company TrueCar Inc.
"It is a factor of the deal mentality out there," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com. "With Black Friday, everyone just assumes there is a deal for everything, whether it is a sweater or jewelry or a car."
Automakers expressed surprise at the strength of the Thanksgiving weekend.
"We were planning for a strong close for the month and expecting to see good traffic, and it ran ahead of our expectations," said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America.
Browning said shoppers are enjoying low interest rates, strong resale value of their trade-ins and good lease deals.
"Certainly we saw a kick at the end of the month," said Don Johnson, General Motors Co.'s vice president of U.S. sales operations.
Thanksgiving weekend has emerged as a popular car-shopping weekend only in recent years, said Jesse Toprak, a TrueCar analyst.
"Automakers are realizing that Black Friday is a great day to sell a car. A lot of people are off, and they aren't doing the traditional visit to the mall and are instead shopping online, so they have time to look for a car," he said.
Moreover, the timing of the holiday weekend comes at the end of the month and almost at the end of the year, times when dealers are trying to reach sales goals and manufacturers are offering specials, Toprak said.
Dealers such as Galpin contributed to a 13.3% gain in Ford Motor Co.'s November U.S. auto sales. The automaker sold 166,441 vehicles last month.
November sales for GM rose 7% from a year earlier to 180,402 vehicles, Autodata reported. Chrysler Group sales rose 44.5% to 107,172 vehicles. Volkswagen, including its Audi division, saw sales rise 28.7% to 38,283 vehicles.
Toyota Motor Corp. sales rose 6.7% to 137,960 vehicles last month, its first year-over-year monthly sales increase since April. Nissan North America sales increased 19.4% to 85,182 vehicles. But Honda Motor Co. sales fell 6.4% to 83,925 vehicles.
Although the sales numbers were good in November, the gains can't all be attributed to people getting into the holiday spirit, said Caldwell, the Edmunds analyst.
A portion of the sales increase came from buyers who deferred purchases earlier this year after the Japan earthquake disrupted global production and caused spot inventory shortages, especially for Toyota and Honda, the top Japanese brands, Caldwell said.
The shortages caused a price jump in the U.S. market that is now starting to ease.
Toyota executives expect an easier 2012. Its North American factories are back to operating at full speed, including the resumption of overtime production, and the automaker starts December with 30,000 more vehicles in inventory than it had at the beginning of November.
"We're in an excellent position to take advantage of a rebounding marketplace," said Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice president and general manager.