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US auto sales accelerate in November

As oil producers agonize over tumbling crude prices, strong car sales in India and China are underpinning demand for gasoline, giving makers of refined products and petrochemicals healthy margins.

[Chicago] US auto sales continued to accelerate in November, industry data showed on Tuesday, but Volkswagen took a huge hit after suspending diesel sales amid an emissions-cheating scandal.

Easy lending terms and better economic conditions have been fueling auto sales as consumers once again have the confidence to replace aging vehicles they held onto following the 2008 economic crash.

"If December remains a healthy sales month, we're on track for an all-time record year in new-car volume," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

About 1.32 million new vehicles were sold last month, the best number since 2001, Autodata reported. US auto sales peaked in 2000 at 17.4 million vehicles.

Total industry sales rose 1.4 per cent in November from a year ago and were up 5.8 per cent for the year to date compared with the same period in 2014, Autodata said. Month-over-month, sales fell 9.0 per cent.

The sales pace in November jumped to an annualised rate of 18.2 million vehicles from 17.1 million a year ago.

"We believe US auto sales will continue to grow in 2016, based on the underlying strength of the economy," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM chief economist.

GM sales rose nearly two per cent over November 2014 at 229,296 units and are up five per cent for the year at 2.8 million vehicles.

The gains were fueled by strong demand for GM's smaller crossover sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

"The phenomenal growth of crossovers in a record-setting market is the biggest sales story of 2015," GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) posted its best November sales in 15 years, with a three per cent gain to 175,974 vehicles.

Strong truck and SUV sales made up for a 22 per cent plunge in sales of cars like the Dart, Avenger and Alfa 500 and 500L.

"The favourable... environment of low interest rates, oil prices, and unemployment, coupled with our strongest product lineup ever, continues to be a significant driver of FCA sales," sales chief Reid Bigland said.

Toyota sales rose three per cent to 189,517 vehicles in November.

"The auto industry is on track to exceed 2015 expectations," said Bill Fay, general manager for the Toyota Division.

Ford sales in the month were essentially flat over a year earlier at 187,794 cars and trucks. But they also were up five per cent in the year to date, at 2.4 million vehicles.

Honda sales fell five per cent to 115,441 in November but are up two per cent in the year to date at 1.4 million. Nissan sales rose four per cent in November to 107,083 vehicles and are up six per cent compared with first 11 months of 2014 at 1.3 million.

VW froze sales of diesel car models in the United States on November 4 after new accusations on the use of software that cheats on emissions tests.

The suspension affects about 20 percent of its typical sales but appears the emissions-fooling scandal also impacted non-diesel models.

Total sales fell by nearly 8,000 vehicles from a year ago to 23,882 units in November: a whopping 25 per cent.

The automaker sold 5,462 TDI diesel vehicles in November 2014, a spokeswoman told AFP.

"Volkswagen was lucky to hold its own in the months immediately following the revelation of the emissions problems, but its luck on sales ran out in November," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader.

"Volkswagen will take a long time to dig out from under this, but the very first step needs to be a clear and comprehensive plan for fixing it, and that does not appear to be forthcoming soon."

VW's US sales for the year-to-date were down four per cent at 318,484.

Volkswagen has been engulfed in scandal since September, when the German automaker admitted more than 11 million vehicles worldwide equipped with smaller 2.0-litre diesel engines had "defeat" software designed to cheat on emissions tests.

The world's number-two automaker faces regulatory and criminal investigations in several countries, including Germany and the United States, and potentially billions of dollars in fines.