Americans on verge of buying 1M expensive cars

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Angela Weiss | Getty Images

In the latest sign Americans are comfortable paying more for what they'll drive, the country is on the cusp of major milestone.

This year, automakers are on pace to sell more than one million vehicles in the U.S. with transaction prices of at least $50,000 according to new data compiled by TrueCar.

"I'm not surprised so many of these higher priced models are selling right now," said John Krafcik, President of TrueCar. "Buying a car for $55,000 or $60,000 has become the new norm for those who are fairly well off."

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The growth in sales of higher priced models is stunning when compared with the auto industry overall.

From January through November 931,064 vehicles were sold in the U.S. with average price above $50,000, a whopping 30.8 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to TrueCar.

Meanwhile, the data compiled for CNBC shows sales of models with average transaction prices under $50,000 are up just 4.1 percent this year.

Luxury models and high-priced SUV's

Two types of vehicles are driving the growing sales of models costing more than $50,000: Luxury models and High Priced SUV's.

Take the GMC Yukon and its high-end version known as the Denali.

The Yukon MSRP is $46,999, while the Denali starts at $63,770.

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Sales of the Yukon this year are up 49 percent as low gas prices and strong consumer confidence have Americans rushing to buy more full-size SUV's.

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"The Yukon Denali is clear example that many vehicles selling for more than $50,000 are not traditional luxury models," said Krafcik. "The people buying those full-size SUV's want to make sure they have it with all the features that push the price up to $60,000 and higher."

Meanwhile, luxury brands are also seeing surging sales over the $50K mark.

For example, sales of the Jaguar F-Type, which has an average transaction price above $75,000, are up 74 percent according to TrueCar.

As for the Tesla Model S, with an average transaction price above $90,000, sales in the U.S. surged to a record high in September, which is the most recent month the company has reported sales data.

Leasing's growing popularity

As prices of vehicles have risen, so has the popularity of leasing.

Krafcik estimates roughly two thirds of those vehicles selling for more than $50,000 are being leased to customers who want a high-end model with a reasonable monthly payment.

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"If you can get into a luxury car for a monthly payment of $550 or $600 a month, that's a pretty good deal," he said. "At a time when many people are spending $100 or $125 every month on their cell phone bill, paying $500 or $600 a month to drive the car you want seems reasonable."

Automakers certainly think so.

Increasingly, they are offering low interest rates and lease plans that make committing to a higher end model for 36 months an attractive offer.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.