3 things to watch in November sales

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Black Friday hasn’t just taken over Thanksgiving weekend: Big sales run all month, especially in automakers’ and dealers’ marketing efforts. For many Americans, buying big-ticket items in November now goes hand in hand with stuffing themselves full of turkey and gravy and, well, stuffing. We’ll be keeping our eyes on the trends as November comes to a close and the tallies are announced on Dec. 3. Here’s some of what we’re watching.

November steps up

Retail auto sales in millions

2014
13.6

2015
14.2

2016
14.1

2017
14

2018
13.8*

* Forecast

Well past the summer-selling period and not quite to the end-of-year frenzy, November used to reliably be one of the slower months for vehicle sales. But its presence on the sales calendar has been growing: As a percentage of the year’s sales, it climbed to 8.1 percent in 2017, continuing a mostly steady rise from 6.9 percent in 2005. Its growing share is likely thanks to Black Friday — the day-after-Thanksgiving discounts that have jumped from department stores to dealerships and often start as soon as jack-o’-lanterns get put away. Chevrolet dealers took over the front pages of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News with ads promoting their Black Friday sales, including zero-percent financing offers.

Retail reality check

Industry retail sales will probably drop to 13.8 million in 2018, according to J.D. Power, a third straight year of decline to regular consumers as opposed to bulk buyers who can bargain for extra discounts. The slight drop is in line with estimates. After consecutive record years for U.S. light-vehicle sales in 2015 and 2016, sales were expected to ebb. So far, that’s been the case for households, but not the industry as a whole. Retail sales are important because they tend to be more profitable — especially for dealers — and better reflect consumer demand.

Who is selling to fleets?

If the U.S. market remains at 2017 levels, it’s going to be thanks to an increase in fleet deliveries, which rose 2.8 percent in October, according to Cox Automotive.

Automakers have become more disciplined in general, but occasionally, there are big moves compared with the previous year, as with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 56 percent jump in October.

While FCA’s fleet growth appears remarkable, Zohaib Rahim, manager of economics and industry insights for Cox, pointed out that those sales made up about 20 percent of FCA’s total in October, which was in line with the industry average. “2017 was a year in general that we saw a lot of de-fleeting,” he said, so some months have challenging comparisons. Through October last year, fleet sales were down 9 percent, he said.

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