November is a notoriously weak month for auto sales. So it's perhaps a bit surprising that several carmakers reported either increased or steady sales last month, despite concerns among analysts and others that last summer's "cash for clunkers" program would merely rob sales from the months to come.

But Toyota Motor (TM), whose Corolla model topped sales charts during a nearly month-long rebate program, reported a surprise 2.6% sales rise last month compared to a year ago, while Nissan also beat expectations with a 20.6% jump. Hyundai Motor reported a 46% increase, and its fellow Korean brand, Kia Motor, reported a 18.3% boost. Sales were less sanguine at Ford Motor (F), which reported flat sales in November, while those at General Motors slipped 1.8%. Chrysler Group said sales tanked 25%.

Not all Japanese makes reported higher sales, however. Late in the day, Honda Motor (HMC) reported they slipped 3% as consumers passed on its compact Civic model for other brands. For the month, Honda sold 74,003 cars and trucks, 2,230 fewer than November of last year. Among Honda models reporting higher sales were three sport-utility vehicles: the Honda CR-V, and Acura MDX and RDX.

In a sign that GM's brightest prospects likely await in China, the Detroit-based automaker along with its joint ventures sold 177,339 vehicles in the world's most populous nation in November, a 110% increase. That's nearly 26,000 more cars than the 151,427 vehicles that GM's U.S. dealers sold last month. (Also on Tuesday, GM CEO Fritz Henderson suddenly resigned.)

Domestically, sales of GM's "core" Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac brands rose a combined 5.6%, while the brands that GM is either shutting down or looking to sell off -- Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer -- dropped 47.9%. Hummer, which GM is awaiting Beijing's approval to sell Hummer to a Chinese concern, sold a mere 221 vehicles in November, a 85% decrease from a year ago.

Ford Keeps Rising

Though sales at Ford were nearly the same compared to last year, Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. sales and service, was pleased with the results. "Consumer demand for our new high-quality, fuel-efficient products is driving Ford's market share gains," Czubay says.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based company said its total market share last month was higher than a year ago and higher than its share in the first 10 months of this year. It also said its retail share was up in 13 of the past 14 months. It plans to boost production 58% in the first quarter above 2009 levels and expects to meet production goals for the remainder of the year.

Ford said sales of its four hybrid models rose a combined 73% compared to year ago, signaling that consumers are still concerned about the potential for a return of $4-a-gallon gasoline. Including its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo subsidiaries, Ford sold 123,167 cars and trucks in the U.S. in November.

Unlike domestic rivals GM and Chrysler, Ford has gotten through the nation's economic ills without resorting to bankruptcy protection or the need for billions of dollars in government aid. Some analysts believe that's why many American consumers hold the brand in higher esteem, which in turn may be boosting sales.

Though overall cars sales seem to have improved, analysts point out that last month's results are measured against a dismal November of a year ago. Moreover, they're still significantly lower than earlier in the decade. U.S. auto sales have dropped more than 25% through October this year, Reuters reported. The year is expected to end with an annual sales rate of about 10.5 million units, the news agency said, the lowest level since the early 1980s.


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