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Sign of recovery?

GM says annual auto sales rate may be up to 10.8 million

Keith Naughton//November 23, 2009

Sign of recovery?

GM says annual auto sales rate may be up to 10.8 million

Keith Naughton//November 23, 2009

General Motors Co. said U.S. auto sales in November may run at an annualized rate of 10.8 million vehicles, the third-highest total this year, in a sign of improving industry health.

“Things are solidly looking up,” Susan Docherty, GM’s U.S. sales chief, said last week in a conference call with reporters. She said November sales for Detroit-based GM are on pace to rise 10 percent to 15 percent from a year earlier.

GM’s prediction for light-vehicle sales exceeded forecasts from two private researchers. projected the annual selling rate for November will be 10.3 million vehicles, while J.D. Power & Associates gave an estimate of 10.2 million. The November 2008 rate was 10.1 million, J.D. Power said.

Manufacturers, suppliers and dealers use the annual sales rate to compare monthly totals by taking into account seasonal buying patterns. U.S. sales were 13.2 million in 2008, after averaging 16.8 million this decade through 2007. The lowest pace this year was 9.11 million, in February.

“The recovery has been slow, but is progressing,” Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power, said in a statement. “Transaction prices are at their highest levels in years, indicating a healthier close for the fourth quarter.”

February’s sales rate was the lowest since December 1981, as the recession scared off potential buyers. The industrywide slump helped drag GM and Chrysler Group LLC into government-aided bankruptcies earlier this year. projected November sales of 710,000 vehicles, and Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power forecast 687,800. Those estimates would mean 4.9 percent and 7.9 percent fewer autos than a year earlier, based on figures from researcher Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

The annual sales rate may rise because this month has two fewer selling days than last November.

Declines for the U.S. automakers will be 35 percent for Chrysler, 1.3 percent for GM and 0.3 percent for Ford Motor Co., according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based

Japan’s three biggest automakers also will report fewer U.S. sales, with Toyota Motor Corp. down 4.4 percent, Honda Motor Co. off 9.1 percent and Nissan Motor Co. sliding 0.7 percent, said. Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co. will post a 26 percent increase, projected.

Industry sales in November, traditionally a slow month, will fall 15 percent from October, said.

“November is living up to its reputation for being one of the worst months of the year for car sales,” Jessica Caldwell, an analyst, said in a statement. “But automakers have already launched holiday-season incentives in order to pick up the pace.”

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