US car sales accelerated in November in what was shaping up to be the best performance since 2009, with Chrysler posting a sizzling 45 percent gain, industry data showed Thursday.
Auto sales have been recovering slowly but steadily over the past couple years after collapsing in late 2008 amidst the credit crunch and financial market meltdown.
They have picked up speed in the past few months thanks to an improving economic outlook and all the pent up demand from people who put off buying but are now feeling the need to replace their aging vehicles.
"It's the underlying replacement demand and the economy as well as the great new products that are really driving it," Don Johnson, GM vice president for US sales, said in a conference call.
"We are seeing a broad spectrum of customers return to the market," he added.
"Given recent sales trends and consumer confidence numbers we're feeling pretty good about where the industry is going."
GM forecast that total industry sales would come just under a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of 14 million vehicles, up from 13.3 million in October. Final figures were expected later Thursday once reports come in from all automakers.
A planned reduction in lower-margin fleet sales kept GM's sales gains in check in November, with sales up seven percent at 180,402 vehicles compared with November 2010 and up 14 percent at 2.3 million vehicles for the year to date.
Ford also expected US auto sales to continue to grow.
"The industry sales rate has exceeded 13 million in each of the last three months," Ken Czubay, Ford's US sales chief, said in a statement.
"This suggests the current momentum is not an aberration. We believe replacement demand will continue to support stronger levels in 2012, and Ford is ready to meet that demand with high quality, fuel-efficient cars, utilities and trucks."
Ford's sales rose 13 percent to 166,865 in November and were up 18 percent for the year to date at 1.9 million vehicles.
November marked Chrysler's 20th month of year-over-year sales gains, which it attributed to strong demand for its revamped vehicles.
"November was another huge month for the Chrysler Group and our highest year-over-year sales gain of 2011," Reid Bigland, who heads Chrysler's US sales, said in a statement.
The 107,172 vehicles Chrysler sold in November helped push year-to-date sales up 25 percent to 1.2 million vehicles.
Honda, which has been hit by parts shortages due to flooding in Thailand, saw its sales drop 10 percent to 83,925 vehicles. Sales for the year also took a hit from shortages caused by the March 11 quake and tsunami in Japan and were down six percent at one million vehicles.
"We're looking forward to closing the year on a strong note as production recovers and the all-new CR-V goes on sale this month," said John Mendel, American Honda's vice president of sales.
Nissan sales rose 19 percent in November to 85,182 vehicles while sales for the first 11 months of the year were up 16 percent at 814,840.