US light vehicle sales in November were a mixed blessing. They came up short of last year, but improved over last month.

Aided by rapidly deployed incentives, automakers overcame a weak start and moved just over 1.16 million cars and light trucks. Adjusting for daily sales rate (DSR), that's 6.8% behind November 2004, but 5.8% ahead of October 2005. With the November shortfall, year-to-date (YTD) sales are now just 0.9% ahead of 2004.

Suzuki - some of its US model range is made by GM-Daewoo - set a new November sales record, up 13.5%, the largest gain of any brand. More November records were set by Audi, Honda, Hyundai, Porsche and Toyota.

Mitsubishi looked like it may have turned a corner, posting its second consecutive monthly gain. Volkswagen also had another good month as sales of the new Jetta were up 51%. Dealers have a new Passat in their showrooms, too.

Premium brands claimed their largest share of the market this year, with almost 12.2% of total sales. Lexus looks certain to add another year to its string of victories with a substantial lead over BMW. Meanwhile, Jaguar has fallen to the bottom of the group; it's now over 1,000 sales behind Porsche.

The Detroit automakers all fell short of their year-ago sales with Ford taking the biggest hit. Ford's domestic brands slumped 18.8% as light truck volume continued to tumble. Volvo added to the pain; reporting sales down nearly 29% adjusted for DSR. Only Land Rover delivered good news with a 13% improvement.

General Motors regained better than a point of market share even though it reported a double-digit drop compared to November 2004. Led by plummeting sales of the Buick Rainier and Cadillac Escalade, GM light truck sales were down almost 17% for the month and now trail 2004 by 2.3%. Saab sales contributed to GM's overall 11.4% shortfall as sales of the Subaru-built 9-2X dropped 76.5%. The Saab 9-7X - a rebadged GM SUV - is proving to be another badge-engineering disappointment with just over 1,800 sales in six months.

Both these ersatz US-only Saabs are going to be dropped anyway, as part of a shake-up of the brand and the sales results suggest consumers already know this.

Neither of the DaimlerChrysler groups could match their 2004 numbers. Chrysler, which had eked out a wafer-thin gain in October, missed by 6.6% as sales of the Pacifica and Neon (soon to be replaced by the Caliber) fell by 57% and 50%, respectively. Mercedes came up 2.9% short, done in by an almost across-the-board slump in car sales.

Sales of traditional truck-based SUVs continue to fall, despite the highest average incentives in the industry and declining fuel prices. It would appear consumer tastes have definitely shifted; a change that does not bode well for GM's new full-size SUVs due next year.

Pickups rebounded smartly from their dramatic drop in October, picking up nearly two points of market share. Ford's F-Series looks to have a lock on completing its 24th consecutive year as America's favourite vehicle.

The domestic brands' share of the total light vehicle market rose from its record low in October, but it was still under 53.3%, almost 3.6 points less than last November.

Everyone hopes December will provide a strong finish to the year but look for the hottest competition to be between Chevrolet and Ford to claim the title of America's best-selling brand. Ford has worn the crown for 18 years. Chevrolet blew past Ford in June, but the blue oval has trimmed over 90% of Chevrolet's margin, leaving the bow tie with a slim lead of just 6,400 sales. It should be an interesting month - and year.

Bill Cawthon

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