Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Black Friday spurs strong auto sales

2014 BMW 4 Series convertible
Image source: Kelley Blue Book

Black Friday turned out to be very green in auto showrooms across the U.S., and because of that surge in business, the auto industry posted its best monthly sales since February of 2007.

"What we saw in November was an excellent month," said Erich Merkle, Ford Motor's U.S. sales analyst.

Excellent is not an understatement.

(Read more: Detroit 3 auto sales rise in November, top expectations)

Overall sales were up nearly 9 percent compared to November of last year, according to final figures from Autodata, and came in better than many expected; the sales rate of 16.4 million vehicles was an improvement of more than 1.2 million compared to October.

"Cars are very hot, but also if you take a look at this time of the year, full-size pickup trucks are also very hot," Merkle said.

Black Friday surge

Many automakers attributed their sales gains to strong traffic on Black Friday—which traditionally isn't a big day for auto sales—and throughout the Thanksgiving weekend.

Toyota announces surge in holiday traffic
Toyota announces surge in holiday traffic

"Industry sales in November picked up after Thanksgiving, contributing to the best sales pace of the year," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.

"Holiday shopping added fuel to our sales, giving us the best November ever for BMW," said Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO, BMW of North America.

(Read more: Luxury cars to drive Black Friday sales)

Chrysler, which saw its monthly sales jump 16 percent compared to 2012, said Black Friday was the fifth-busiest sales day of the year for the automaker.

But what sparked the increase?

First, many of the mass-market brands took a page out of the luxury brands' playbook, running special promotions tied in with Black Friday.

General Motors did several of these promotions this year, contributing to November sales growth of 13.7 percent compared to last year—well above what analysts were expecting.

Luxury battle for No. 1

December is often when the luxury automakers run some of their most aggressive ad campaigns. Part of the rationale is to attract wealthy buyers who are looking to pour their year-end bonuses into a new car or SUV.

Luxury auto sales 2013

#1 Mercedes 281,753
#2 BMW 271,891
#3 Lexus 239,090
#4 Cadillac 164,378
#5 Acura 149,685
#6 Audi 141,048

Source: Source: Company filings

Another reason is because the luxury automakers are battling for the crown of No. 1 in the U.S. The prestige is understandable, since the U.S. is still the world's No. 1 market for luxury auto sales. For most of this century, Lexus has led the U.S. in luxury sales; but after the scandal involving its models being suspected of unintentionally accelerating, BMW has taken the crown for the last two years.

(Read more: GM shares near high as Uncle Sam unloads)

So far this year Mercedes-Benz is in the lead, ahead of BMW. This lead was extended in November, thanks in part to the company's new model, the CLA-Class. Since going on sale in late September, Mercedes has sold 10,828 of the entry-level cars.

"November's result has already propelled us past last year's record sales volume," said Steve Cannon, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "We're striking a chord with more customers than ever before."

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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