Most automakers reported their monthly sales figures Tuesday, and the results showed the industry remains on track to sell more than 18 million vehicles in the United States in 2015. November was the third consecutive month the seasonally adjusted average rate stayed above that threshold, according to research firm Autodata Corp.
Barring an unforeseen dip in December, carmakers should sell approximately 18.19 million units for the year, which would eclipse the previous record set in 2000, when 17.8 million vehicles were delivered. November sales rose 12.1 percent year over year, and Autodata estimated final monthly sales at 1,319,913 units.
Though November had only four weekends and 23 overall sales days, buyers were driven to showrooms by interest rates that remain low and some of the lowest gas prices since 2004. Today's national average is $2.03 per gallon and that's poised to fall below $2, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
"The economics are right," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader.com. "The cheap credit and lower gas prices are putting more money in household budgets, and holiday and Black Friday resonated with consumers."
With the jarring exception of Volkswagen, which watched sales plunge nearly 25 percent amid its emissions cheating scandal, most automakers saw rising sales. Toyota set the pace with 3.4 percent growth, while large SUV and truck sales helped Fiat Chrysler Automobiles lead the domestic pack.
Trucks and SUVs led the growth. Many automakers saw sluggish growth or declines in compact and midsize sedan sales, but the market for crossover vehicles and SUVs more than made up for that erosion. General Motors, for example, saw total car sales drop 10.5 percent year over year, according to Autodata Corp., but light truck sales increased 21 percent. Chevrolet crossover sales increased 35 percent, and it marked the 12th consecutive monthly increase for the brand. Crossovers now account for 40 percent of the retail industry, according to General Motors. Total sales of Cadillac's SRX crossover rose 53 percent. "The phenomenal growth of crossovers in a record-setting market is the biggest sales story of 2015," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations.
Mercedes-Benz did not report sales numbers Tuesday, but their figures are expected soon.
Asian manufacturers maintained a microscopic sales lead over domestic U.S. carmarkers, outselling them 593,175 units to 592,086. It's a small reversal from November 2014, when Detroit's Big Three held an advantage by about 1,500 units.