* Big pickup trucks still popular with U.S. buyers
* Industry sales at torrid annual pace
Aggressive discounting and the continued popularity of big pickup trucks helped propel November vehicle sales well past expectations, with the three Detroit automakers and two of Japan's top three reporting year-to-year increases on Tuesday.
The industry's torrid sales pace in November reached an annual rate of 16 million vehicles, according to General Motors Co. That was the second highest for the year and well above last month's annual rate of 15.2 million.
Analysts polled earlier by Thomson Reuters had estimated the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate in November was 15.75 million.
Manufacturers continued to provide ample incentives averaging $2,500 per vehicle and more in November, according to research firm TrueCar.com.
"It's pretty clear that the industry was super aggressive as we approached the holiday season (and) through the (U.S.) Thanksgiving (holiday) weekend," said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen of America.
John Felice, Ford Motor Co's vice president of U.S. marketing and sales, added, "We saw pretty significant incentive activity as the month progressed," including "very strong promotional activity" at the end of November.
Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Fiat SpA, said Tuesday its U.S. vehicle sales in November jumped 16 percent to 142,275. GM said November sales climbed 14 percent to 212,060. Ford reported that November sales rose 7 percent to 190,449.
Toyota Motor Corp said sales were up 10 percent to 178,044, and Nissan Motor Co said sales were up 11 percent to 106,528.
Big trucks were the best-selling vehicles at each of the Detroit automakers.
Ford's industry-leading F-series pickup outsold all of the company's passenger cars combined, rising 16 percent to 65,501. Combined sales of GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra were up 15 percent at 48,748. Chrysler's Ram pickup gained 22 percent to 29,635.
Volkswagen of America said VW brand sales in November fell 16 percent to 30,727. VW does not sell pickup trucks in North America.
Driven in part by aggressive price cuts and incentives, sales of the most popular electric and hybrid cars had a good month, but accounted for only a fraction of total industry sales.
Nissan said sales of its battery-powered Leaf jumped 30 percent to 2,003, while GM said the Chevrolet Volt hybrid was up 26 percent to 1,920. For the first 11 months, Leaf sales totaled 20,081 and Volt sales totaled 20,702.
By comparison, Ford has sold 688,810 F-series pickups during the same 11-month period.