Auto sales: General Motors stalls in an otherwise strong October


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October was one of the auto industry’s best sales months in years.

General Motors Co. said its U.S sales rose only a modest 2%, to 186.895 vehicles, compared with October of 2010.

But Chrysler Group said its sales rose 27% to 114,512 vehicles, its best October since 2007.


“In what is turning out to be a strong new vehicle sales industry we continued to outperform” the industry, said Reid Bigland, the automaker’s sales chief.

He said consumers were behind Chrysler’s big gain. The automaker’s retail sales -- after subtracting out the vehicles that go to rental car companies, governments and commercial users -- rose 40% over the same month a year earlier.

And other automakers were expected to do well.

Volkswagen said its sales rose 40% to 28,028 vehicles, its best October since 2001. The results did not include the company’s Audi brand.

“As the all-new Passat and Beetle start to enter the marketplace, demand for Volkswagen vehicles has already exceeded last year’s annual volume in the first 10 months of the year, “ said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America,

By the time all the carmakers report, auto information company estimates an annual sales pace of 13.4 million. Other estimates come in lower but almost all are above the 13-million mark.

“The relatively strong selling rate seen again in October suggests that the fourth quarter may close stronger than previously expected,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst at J.D. Power and Associates. “Recent bright spots in the economy may also help calm nerves and support stable vehicle sales, but risks remain and consumer confidence is still low, tempering the outlook for 2012.”


There is some division in the industry as to whether the stronger sales rate in October was an indicator of stronger economy -- ot withstanding recent negative consumer confidence measures -- or a byproduct of lost sales earlier this year resulting from an inventory shortage caused by the Japanese earthquake.

Shoppers may have delayed purchases until brands such as Toyota and Honda had a better supply of vehicles to choose from.

The Japanese automakers have been building back their inventories in recent weeks. But now flooding in Thailand threatens their recovers. Honda plans to cut North American production back by at least 50% in early November because it can’t get certain electronics parts out of Thailand. Toyota said it is limiting overtime and also ratcheting back some production.


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-- Jerry Hirsch