October Auto Sales Show an Industry on the Rebound

auto car sales GM
auto car sales GM

Buoyed by consumers' increased confidence in the U.S. economy, automakers with few exceptions reported higher sales of cars and trucks in the U.S. during October compared to a year ago. Smaller manufacturers, including South Korea's Hyundai and Kia brands, saw some of the strongest gains but Ford (F) and General Motors reported solid improvement as well.

Improved sales helped make last month the best October in three years, and it may go down as the best month of sales this year. Sales were on track to record a seasonally adjusted rate of about 12 million annually -- at the high range of analyst expectations.

"The trends are positive, and we are going in the right direction," Jesse Toprak, auto analyst at online buying guide TrueCar.com told The Associated Press. "We are seeing more confidence by consumers to make big ticket purchases in an uncertain economic environment," he said, although sales aren't increasing as fast as the industry would like.

Demand Improving

For the month Ford Motor said its sales rose 19% to 157,935 vehicles on much higher demand for passenger cars and trucks. Meanwhile, GM, which is preparing to once become a publicly traded company, reported its sales inched up 3.5%. Excluding its orphaned brands, the Detroit-based automaker said sales of Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet models rose 13% for the month.

Toyota Motor (TM), however, weighed down by its myriad safety recalls, said sales slipped 4.4% last month compared to year-ago levels, dragged down by decreased demand for passenger cars within its namesake Toyota division. But Toyota joined other carmakers in reporting higher demand for light trucks and SUVs. Sales within the company's Lexus luxury-car division also rose 8% overall.

Among its most popular models in the U.S., Toyota reported sales of Corolla compact sedan fell 27.5%, while those of the Camry, perennially one of the nation's top selling cars, dropped 17% and the Prius slipped 13%. Overall, Toyota sold 145,474 vehicles, down from 152,165 a year ago, and making October the seventh straight month the Japanese automaker was outsold by Ford in the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, Chrysler Group joined GM and Ford in reporting higher sales. Chrysler, run by Italy's Fiat, said sales surged 37% in the month, also on higher demand for trucks and SUVs. The company said demand for its recently revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee soared nearly 300% for a total 12,721 units for the month. Other popular models included the Jeep Compass and Patriot and Ram brand pickup trucks.

Popular Chrysler models included the discontinued PT Cruiser wagon, up 386%, and the full-size 300 sedan, sales of which rose 79%. Among Dodge-brand vehicles, the Caliber, Challenger and Nitro all proved more popular with car buyers.

Sales at the nation's fourth-largest automaker, Honda Motor (HMC) reported sales rose nearly 16% in part on strong demand for its newly restyled Odyssey minivan. "The all-new Odyssey is off to a strong start in its first full month on the market," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at Honda's U.S. sales arm.

Honda said it sold nearly 10,000 Odysseys in the month, a 47% improvement compared to October 2009. The Pilot midsized SUV and compact Element crossover vehicle also recorded sizeable sales gains. In total Honda sold 98,811 vehicles in the U.S. during October, helping it to surpass the 1 million-vehicle sales mark for the year.

Driven by increased demand for trucks, sport-utility vehicles and its high volume Altima midsized sedan, Nissan Motors (NSANY) recorded a 15.2% increase. "October marks another month of sales growth for Nissan," said Al Castignetti, Nissan division vice president, noting that stable fuel prices helped drive sales of the company's larger vehicles.

Among other makes, Mazda Motor, BMW and Mercedes-Benz each reported higher U.S. sales for October.

Most automakers released U.S. auto sales figures Wednesday, but several reported results Tuesday. They included Hyundai Motor (HYMTF) and Kia Motors (KIMTF), which reported record sales for the month with sales advancing 38% and 39%, respectively, and BMW.

Japan's Subaru, with a 25% rise in sales, also reported an October record, while Volkswagen (VLKAY) said its sales rose 18%, helped by increased demand for its newly redesigned Jetta compact sedan.

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