New cars sell well in November, in Augusta and nationwide


Sales associate Paul Foust, at Jim Hudson Lexus, shows Khalilah Wright how to open the hatch of a Lexus RX with just the wave of his hand.   MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

They bought cars at a near-record pace at dealerships throughout the U.S. and across the Augusta-Aiken area in November, logging the best record for the month since 2001 and putting the industry on a year-end track to challenge the 17.35 million sales peak reached in 2000.

The National Auto­mobile Dealers Association is forecasting even higher sales in 2016 based on continued low interest rates on car loans, moderate wage growth and declining gasoline prices – all of which encourage households to form and to purchase new vehicles.

“The formation of new households is rising, which is resulting in increasing auto sales and strengthening the overall economic recovery,” the association’s chief economist, Steven Szakaly said at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show. “There is nothing better for the housing market and car sales than people getting married and having children.”

Analysts also credit the Black Friday sales that car dealers began promoting a few years ago with helping turn around what was once a notoriously slow month.

Despite two fewer sales days this November and a wetter-than-normal start to the month in Augusta, which put a damper on car browsing, November was an excellent sales month at Jim Hudson Lexus, largely on the strength of the newly redesigned RX 350 sport utility, the best-selling Lexus.

General Manager Bill Gibbs said the dealership’s November new-car sales were about 10 percent higher than the same month last year:

“November was a pretty good shot in the arm. It exceeded even our expectations,” Gibbs said.
Used-car sales were off for the month, he said, because of changes being made to the used-car lot at the corner of Washington and Pleasant Home roads, which next year will be the site of the dealership’s expanded new-car showroom.

Nationally, new-car sales hit 1.3 million vehicles in November, the third straight month that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales topped 18 million vehicles.

Toyota, which owns Lexus, sold 3.4 percent more cars nationwide last month than the previous year – second only to Nissan, which posted a gain of 3.8 percent.

Sunbelt Nissan General Manager Mike Watson said the Augusta-based dealership had the top-selling lot in the company’s sales district, which includes part of east Georgia and most of upstate South Carolina.

He said the dealership has seen strong demand for the automaker’s line of “crossover” vehicles, such as the midsize Rogue and the luxury Murano, which give motorists carlike comfort and fuel efficiency with a trucklike stance on the road.

Companywide, sales of Nissan’s crossovers, trucks and SUVs rose 15 percent.

In addition to attractive manufacturer incentives, Watson said low finance costs and cheap fuel made it easier to sell vehicles in November: “Lower gas prices reduce the overall ownership cost, so people feel good about trading up. But it’s not just gas mileage. People are coming in because they like the appearance of our cars.”

Research company Auto­­data Corp. said nearly 59 percent of November’s volume was classified as light trucks, which also includes SUVs. That was nearly the highest mix of pickup and SUV sales, as a percentage, in history.

Fiat Chrysler, which posted the third-best gain in monthly sales – 3 percent – had 80-plus percent of sales come from the light-truck category, which includes Jeep Cherokee, Compass, Patriot and Wrangler.