A big Black Friday weekend finish — with heavy marketing by automakers and dealers that started early in the month — pushed November to a sales boom and ensured a strong finish for the year. Several automakers, including Subaru and Audi, were powered by November results to all-time annual U.S. sales records — with a month still to go.

With the economy picking up and credit still readily available and cheap, things are looking good for December.

And the strong November was not driven by a big boost in sales incentives — incentives were down vs. last year and last month — so automakers still have tools to make sure the year does not go out on a whimper.

November scorecard:

• The annualized sales rate for the month was 17.2 million vs. 16.29 million a year ago, according to Autodata. The overall industry sales increase was 4.6% compared to November 2013.

• The estimated average transaction price (what people actually paid) for new cars and trucks was $32,482, up $178 or .6% from November a year ago and down $62 or .2% from October, according to TrueCar.

• Sales incentives averaged $2,660 per vehicle, up .2% from a year ago and down 2.3% from last month, according to TrueCar.

Black Friday weekend was a great time to buy a car and December could be even better, if last year is an indication. In 2013, two of the five days on which buyers averaged the highest discount off the sticker were on Black Friday weekend, but and the other three all were in December. Top days for discounts last year (with average discount):

“Automakers were keen marketers in November, tapping early into Black Friday magic to boost sales to levels not seen in more than a decade,” said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar in a statement. “While deals were good, automakers held the line on incentives while boosting average transaction prices 1%.”

In the latest USA TODAY monthly Auto Sales Breakdown here are five things we learned from November sales reports:

1. We found four (and a half) surprises in the month’s sales

Who’d have thought? Enough closet Subaru fans to nearly double sales of some new models. That’s just one of several surprises we dug out of the November auto sales data.

The city-size Buick Encore SUV is another eye-opener, managing to hang on long enough that it’s now a boomingly popular veteran player in a segment that didn’t exist when Encore was launched.

Volkswagen provides another “say what?” example. VW managed to continue its unexpected sales rebound on the back of its Jetta compact sedan, with a little help from its new Golf hatchback models, while seemingly all other automakers got their big November sales from SUVs.

FULL DETAILS: We weren’t expecting these

2. SUVs, crossovers and trucks dominated Top 20 sellers

Why do Detroit automakers lavish so much attention and effort on their full-size pickups? For the answer you need only check out this month’s Top 20 sellers. The profitable big trucks from Ford, Chevy and Ram big pickups are 1-2-3 on the list 00 and GMC’s upscale truck also made the top 20.

As gas prices stay low and credit is easy, the trucks and automakers crossover SUVs dominated the list. Honda’s refreshed CR-V even passed the Toyota Camry — the best-selling car model — on the list with sales up more than 37%

But a sleeper on the list was the return of a compact car and brand that hasn’t been on the Top 20 list for a while — and it even bumped an SUV, the Nissan Rogue, off the Top 20.

FULL DETAILS: Month’s Top 20 best-selling vehicles

3. Cadillac’s revived lineup failed to resuscitate the brand

Cadillac has a fresh line of cars that, despite good reviews and third-party quality scores, aren’t selling nearly as well as the GM premium brand hoped.

November auto sales continued the disappointing tally for Cadillac cars, even as its SUVs sold well. The brand’s cars, the XTS, ATS and CTS – none rolling out late than the 2012 calendar year — are too expensive, were launched with unreasonable sales expectations and are getting lost in the renewed SUV boom, analysts say and Cadillac execs acknowledge.

The brand’s new president, Johan de Nysschen, is moving some of the brand’s marketing people to offices near the SoHo area of Manhattan “to eat, drink, sleep, live ‘premium’,” and absorb “the trends and attitudes and openness shaped” on the U.S. coasts.

He says that should make it intuitive to market the brand to the buyers it wants, rather than trying to recycle Cadillac traditionalists. He also says there will be a $100,000 Cadillac to prove the brand belongs on luxury shopping lists, and Cadillac will begin reporting its earnings separately, probably in 2017, to emphasize its independence from slower-moving, bureaucratic parent General Motors.

4. Sporty cars and SUVs had short waits for buyers

Snow hit many parts of the country early, but that didn’t stop people from buying sporty cars. The three cars that tied to top November’s fastest-sellers list — at 10 days each — all have serious performance. The rear-wheel-drive Ford Mustang, redesigned for 2015, was on top for the second consecutive month, tied by a pair of performance vehicles — the Porsche Macan and Subaru WRX — that nonetheless sport all-wheel drive, so weather is less of a worry for buyers.

All three are new or updated for 2015 — and their sales also may have been helped by the lowest gas prices in year.

But practical also sold, with the latest versions of the all-season-friendly Honda CR-V and Subaru Outback just a day behind at 11 days to sell.

As for likely December deals — cars selling at a slow enough pace that dealers may be motivated to discount — check out cars.com’s picks for the month.

FULL DETAILS: Hot, not, and picks for Christmas

5. Buyers pay up for dealers’ “certified” used cars

Faced with high prices for new cars, more car shoppers in November turned to the used-car market. And some of the strongest action was for “certified pre-owned vehicles” — late-model used vehicles checked over by dealers and carrying a brand warranty.

Such cars posted a 21% increase to $16,130 in what customers actually paid for the cars compared to the same month last year, reports CNW Research. Sales this year through November are up 10%.

Certified pre-owned models are considered good alternatives to new cars, since they are generally fresh from rental car or corporate fleets, usually three years old or younger and backed by a warranty.

Prices for them remain high because “dealers struggle to get enough of them on the lot,” says Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

Certified used car unit sales are up 10% for the first 10 months of the year compared to last year, says Tom Webb, chief economist for Manheim, a wholesale auction house for used cars. There have been record sales of them in each of the last three years and, he says, the trend is almost assuredly going to continue for 2014.

However, they are just one piece of a used-car market in November that was strong both in activity and price, he says.

FULL DETAILS: Used car prices up, led by “certified” cars