October Was a Treat for Chrysler and General Motors, Despite Sandy's Trick

Several automakers already have launched incentive programs aimed at helping storm victims replace their damaged vehicles at a lower cost. But while those replacements could result in a brief uptick, automakers said the real growth is coming from an improving economy and pent-up demand.

Chrysler and General Motors posted their best October numbers since the 2008 financial crisis as U.S. auto sales extended their steady gains Thursday despite taking a hit from Hurricane Sandy.

Total U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 6.9% from October 2011 and set an adjusted annualized pace of 14.3 million units, down from 14.9 million units in September, according to Autodata.

Ford Motor Co. estimates that the deadly storm prevented dealers across the industry from selling about 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles in the final days of the month and knocked about 300,000 units off the annualized pace.

Those sales will likely simply be postponed, not lost, and sales will climb even further as people replace vehicles damaged in the storm, Ford sales chief Ken Czubay said.

"I would expect we'll see a lot of them in November as people quickly need to get back on their feet," Czubay said in a conference call.

Several automakers already have launched incentive programs aimed at helping storm victims replace their damaged vehicles at a lower cost. But while those replacements could result in a brief uptick, automakers said the real growth is coming from an improving economy and pent-up demand.

"Economic fundamentals are pointing to modest economic growth with signs of a better housing recovery ahead," Ford economist Jenny Lin said.

That's good news for the auto industry, GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said.

"Year-over-year, the light-vehicle selling rate has increased for eight consecutive quarters without a tailwind from the residential housing sector, but that is starting to change," McNeil said.

"If these trends continue, housing may be the final piece of the puzzle that lifts sales above 15 million units on an annual basis just as GM prepares to launch even more new cars, crossovers and trucks."

Ford sales were up 0.4% at 168,456 vehicles in October and have climbed 5% for the year to date to 1.9 million vehicles.

GM posted its best October since 2007 as sales rose 5% to 195,764, pushing sales for the first 10 months of the year up four percent to 2.2 million vehicles.

Toyota said its sales rose 16% to 155,242 vehicles in October with sales up 30% for the year to date at 1.7 million vehicles.

"Despite the impact of Sandy, October was a solid month for Toyota and the industry, and we look for the market to remain strong in the months ahead," said Bob Carter, head of U.S. automotive operations at Toyota.

Chrysler's sales rose 10% to 126,185 vehicles and are up 23% to 1.4 million for the year to date.

"In spite of Hurricane Sandy, Chrysler Group posted its best October sales since 2007 and we achieved our 31st consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.

Honda's sales rose 9% to 106,973 units and were up 23% for the year at 1.2 million.

Nissan sales fell 3% to 79,685 in October but are up 11% so far this year. Hyundai's sales dropped 4% to 50,271 but increased 8.2% for the year. Kia saw sales rose 13% to 42,452 and jump 18% for the year.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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