NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Auto sales in November were significantly improved from the dismal results posted a year ago by automakers, but remain near historic lows.
Taking seasonal sales swings into account, the sales rate for November works out to annual sales of 12.3 million vehicles, the highest rate since the cash for clunkers sugar rush of August 2009.
And it's also just about the level of sales needed to replace broken down cars being taken off the road, a sign of lackluster demand.
GM sales were up 11% year over year, while Ford came through with a nearly 20% rise. Toyota's sales eased 3.2%.
The overall numbers are an encouraging sign that the recovery is taking hold, and consumers are once again confident enough to purchase big ticket items, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at TrueCar.com.
When comparison is limited to the four brands GM (GM) still sells -- Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac -- sales rose 21% over last year. The 11% figure includes sales for discontinued brands such as Saturn and Pontiac.
The increase in sales was roughly in line with analyst estimates.
"November sales results are consistent with our expectations and show that the plan we laid out earlier this year to steadily grow in the U.S. market is working," Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations said in a statement.
While sales increased over 2009, the four continuing brands suffered a 8% decline from October sales, a drop that was expected.
Full-size pickups and SUVs posted the biggest year-over-year gains, with sales of Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX SUVs increasing a combined 56%.
The automaker, just 17 months removed from a bankruptcy filing and federal bailout, raised $20.1 billion in a mid-November IPO that allowed the Treasury Department to reduce its stake in the company by half.
Ford sales declined 6.8% from October, a steeper drop than the 2% loss forecast by sales trackers Edmunds.com and the 3.8% slip forecast by TrueCar.com.
Ford's truck line-up performed best, increasing 34% over a year ago, while Fiesta, Focus and Fusion models led growth in car sales.
"The better news for Ford and GM is they had balanced increases across different categories of vehicles, which is something that domestic automakers have traditionally had trouble doing," Toprak said.
Chrysler Group reported a year-over-year gain of 16.7%, which met analyst expectations.
Toyota (TM) posted a 3.2% decline in sales versus one year ago, slightly more than analysts predicted. Compared to October, sales declined 11.1%.
That number leaves the automaker mired in third place in terms of U.S. sales, showing that it has yet to fully recover from the recall crisis of earlier this year. Toyota started 2010 a solid No. 2 in U.S. sales, ahead of Ford.
Rival Japanese automaker Nissan topped analyst expectations by posting a 26.8% rise in sales from the prior year, and a 2.3% increase from October. Honda (HMC) sales rose 21.1% versus last year, but slipped 9.3% from October.
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