U.S. auto sales jump in October

DETROIT — General Motors’ October U.S. sales rose 16 percent; Ford’s jumped 14 percent, and Chrysler’s climbed up 11 percent from a year earlier as consumers remained undaunted about borrowing to buy new wheels.

Nissan’s U.S. sales increased 14 percent in October, Toyota was up almost 9 percent, and Honda was up 7 percent while Volkswagen’s sales fell 18 percent.

Industry sales increased about 13 percent last month, despite a more than two-week U.S. government shutdown that slowed sales in early October, according to three automotive forecasting companies.

General Motors Co. saw sales of its new full-size pickups surge 62 percent. By brand, Buick was up 31 percent for the month; Cadillac, up 10 percent; Chevrolet, up 15 percent; and GMC, up 16 percent.

“Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick-GMC all performed well in the month, and the sales tempo really picked up after the government shutdown ended,” said Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations. “We are particularly pleased with our truck momentum.”

Ford Motor Co. sold 191,985 vehicles last month, with car sales rising 19 percent, trucks gaining 14 percent, and utility vehicles up 9 percent from October 2012. The Ford brand carried the load with a 13 percent increase. Lincoln sales increased 38 percent as the MKZ gained traction.

“October was simply an outstanding retail performance, as consumers continued to choose Ford for great fuel efficiency, styling and value at all levels of the market,” said John Felice, Ford head of U.S. marketing, sales and service. “The combination of great new products, such as Fusion and Escape, along with the strength of our dealers helped us achieve our best October retail sales month since 2004.”

Ford ended the month with a 91-day supply of vehicles on dealer lots, a big change from this summer, when Ford could not make enough of some models such as Fusion and Escape. Ford started building Fusions at its Flat Rock, Mich., plant last month and the midsize sedan had a 71 percent increase in sales.

Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said the inventory build-up “is not just about trucks,” which have heavy sales in the final two months of the year.

On the car side, Focus sales slipped 18 percent. Ford is idling the Wayne, Mich., plant that assembled Focus for two weeks in the remainder of this year. Merkle said no further production cuts have been announced. But he said some small car buyers are shifting to small utility vehicles, which now account for about 15 percent of U.S. sales as a segment.

Fuel prices are not affecting sales of small cars or hybrids, Merkle said, adding the automaker’s plug-in hybrids had a strong month.

Chrysler Group LLC sold 140,083 new cars and trucks in October. Chrysler brand sales increased 6 percent; Ram trucks rose 22 percent; and Jeep increased 7 percent. Fiat sales fell 1 percent.

“After a choppy start to the beginning of the month, Chrysler Group sales accelerated in the second half of the month with renewed consumer confidence and the launch of our all-new Jeep Cherokee,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales.

Industry analysts say industry sales were sluggish during the first half of the month during the 16-day U.S. government shutdown, but rebounded during the last two weeks.

“The week-by-week data suggests that consumers started to get jittery by the middle of the month,” Jessica Caldwell, senior sales analyst for Edmunds.com, said in a report.

LMC Automotive said retail vehicle sales rose only 1.6 percent during the first two weeks of October. That pace accelerated to a 7.7 percent increase during the third week of October.

“The government shutdown clearly had an impact on retail sales through government employees directly affected by the shutdown, vehicle shoppers involved in businesses impacted by the shutdown and its impact on consumer confidence,” John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power said in a recent report. “However, sales in the third week of the month strengthened.”

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