DETROIT (AP) -- Chrysler's U.S. sales rose a surprising 16 percent in November, a sign that the auto industry is on track to beat strong sales numbers from a year ago.
The automaker sold just over 142,000 vehicles last month for its best November in six years, up from nearly 123,000 a year ago.
The company was led by the Jeep brand, which posted a 30 percent increase and its best-ever November sales. The star was the all-new Cherokee small crossover SUV, which notched the rare achievement of sales of more than 10,000 in its first full month on the market.
"That is a big number," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of auto sales forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm.
The Cherokee's successor, the boxy Jeep Liberty, sold only around 8,000 in its first full month on the market in 2001, a year in which the industry sold more than 17 million vehicles, Schuster said.
The Cherokee's sculpted look annoyed Jeep purists. But Schuster says the styling may have paid off. "It sends a signal that the Cherokee, which has been polarizing in the industry, may be appealing to consumers more than critics," he said.
Chrysler delayed Cherokee shipments for several months while engineers tinkered with its new nine-speed automatic transmission to make it shift more smoothly. Dealers didn't have a normal inventory until mid-November, the company said.
David Kelleher, owner of a Chrysler dealership in Glen Mills, Pa., outside Philadelphia, said his dealership sold 21 Cherokees last month. That helped the store reach its best November sales since Kelleher bought it eight years ago.
The big sales gain for Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., shows that consumers didn't shy away from auto showrooms last month and that sales likely will remain strong through the end of the year.
Most industry analysts expected Chrysler to post around a 10 percent gain for the month. They also estimate that total U.S. sales rose 3.6 percent to 6.3 percent for November. That's slower growth than earlier in the year, mainly because sales in November of 2012 were the best in nearly five years. Superstorm Sandy hit in October last year, delaying some East Coast sales until November.
All automakers report monthly sales figures on Tuesday.
Dealers contacted by The Associated Press all said sales started slowly, but they did well after Thanksgiving, boosting their monthly totals over November of last year.
"Black Friday did give us a lift," said Bill Perkins, president of two Chevrolet dealerships in the Detroit suburbs of Taylor and Eastpointe, Mich. "A lot of people were out shopping over the weekend."
Normally November is a lackluster month for auto sales. But automakers, particularly Ford and General Motors, offered deals this year that brought out buyers, according to the Kelley Blue Book auto website.
Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for KBB, predicted total U.S. sales of 1.19 million vehicles for last month, a 3.6 percent increase from a year ago and an annual rate of 15.6 million.
Others, including the TrueCar.com auto pricing site, expect larger increases. TrueCar estimates sales hit 1.21 million, up 6.3 percent from a year ago. Senior Analyst Jesse Toprak said the auto industry is on track to reach sales of nearly 15.7 million vehicles this year, up about 8 percent over 2012.
The Edmunds.com auto site expects a 4.7 percent sales increase to 1.2 million vehicles, led by Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota.