Hopes for a brighter November went largely unfulfilled as US car sales declined 7.6% from October’s disappointing results, writes Bill Cawthon.

Of the Detroit vehicle makers, only Chrysler posted better sales in November than in October. The American companies got more bad news as they saw their share of total sales fall below 59% in spite of aggressive incentives.

Americans bought just over 1.2 million light vehicles in November. According to Ward’s Auto, that’s a 12.7% drop from November 2001. Light trucks claimed the lion’s share, with SUV sales totalling over 300,000 units.

GM had a bad month. Their market share dropped to 25.4% as sales declined 18%. They are now 3.3% off their YTD performance in 2001. Surprisingly, the culprit was a 26% plunge in light truck sales. Car sales were down just six percent.

Ford turned in the worst performance of the Detroit companies with a 20% drop in November. Their cumulative sales are now down by 10%.

Third-place Chrysler posted the smallest decline, 11.9%, and is closer to its 2001 sales record then either GM or Ford.

Japanese car makers fared somewhat better. Honda racked up a 4.6% improvement as they posted their best November ever. Toyota and Nissan posted relatively small declines of 5.2% and 1.6%, respectively. All remain ahead of their 2001 sales totals.

Mercedes, Audi, Land Rover and a resurgent Infiniti also reported best-ever November results.

Audi could be a month away from its best-ever US sales year while parent VW is struggling. Volkswagen sales were down 17% last month.

Ford’s other premium brands reported mixed results. Volvo reported improved sales last month, though it is still well off its year-ago pace. Jaguar‘s streak of record months ended at 15 as it missed the 2001 mark by almost 16%.

With a month to go, some contests are already decided. Ford’s F-Series pickups will remain America’s favourite vehicle for the 21st consecutive year. Ford will also easily retain bragging rights in the SUV market. It’s beginning to look like Ford would actually have to discontinue the Explorer for a competitor to take over the lead.

Toyota’s Camry will reclaim the crown as America’s best-selling passenger car, followed by the Accord and Taurus.

The Dodge Caravan will cruise to an easy victory in the minivan market with a commanding lead. In full-size vans, Ford’s E-Series may come close to a 50% market share.

The hottest competition will be in the luxury market, which looks to go right down to the wire. Leaders BMW and Lexus are separated by only 206 sales. In the past two months, Lexus has lagged, allowing BMW to close the gap. Propelled by sales of the new E-Class, Mercedes is poised to come in third.

Industry analyst views of December are mixed with some expecting a holiday miracle and others pointing to the diminishing power of costly incentives to drive sales. Ford, with an above-average 88-day supply of new vehicles in the pipeline, has already cut its forecast production to the end of the year.