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Auto sales: GM and Ford lead the pack

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Auto sales were stronger in October as consumers appeared to be more willing to spend, but recall woes continued to haunt Toyota.

According to sales tracker Autodata, U.S. new vehicle sales rose more than 13% last month versus September. At the October rate, sales would equate to an annual sales pace of about 12.3 million.

GM and Ford led the improvement in October sales, with both automakers reporting better-than-expected results. However, sales at Toyota fell last month, while Chrysler posted weaker-than-expected growth.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of auto trends at TrueCar.com, said consumers are getting tired of delaying big-ticket purchases and are responding to new product offerings at GM and Ford.

"The pent-up demand over the last few years is forcing some consumers to buy now," he said. "It's not a flood, but demand is certainly better than last year."

Looking ahead, Toprak said he expects November sales to be "decent," while year-end incentives could make December the best month of the year for auto sales.

GM said sales of its core brands -- Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac -- rose nearly 4% in October versus the year before. Sales excluding discontinued brands such as Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn, and Saab were up 13%.

The increase in GM sales topped forecasts from sales trackers Edmunds.com and TrueCar, which had expected total sales to fall in the month.

GM said year-to-date sales of its core brands increased 22% through October.

Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales, said in a statement that he expects the company to have gained market share last month. "Our sales are up more than double the industry's increase through October," he said.

The increase could bode well for GM as it prepares to offer shares to the public. The company, which is majority owned by the U.S. government, is widely expected to announce details of its IPO sometime this week.

"Outperforming expectations for October will help the GM IPO for sure," Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Edmunds.com, said in a statement. "The GM sales pace seems to have doubled in the last days of the month."

Separately, Ford (F, Fortune 500) said October sales were up 15% from last year. The increase topped analysts' expectations, according to estimates from Edmunds.com and TrueCar.

Sales rose 19% excluding the Volvo unit that Ford sold to Chinese automaker Geely since the year-ago sales period.

Ford also said it is on track to gain market share in October, driven by strong demand for its fuel-efficient vehicles. The company said it could gain share for the second year in a row, a feat it has not achieved since 1993.

"We continue to see steady improvement in consumer demand, albeit at a modest rate," said Ford sales analyst George Pipas, on a conference call. "The October results suggest that trend could continue in the fourth quarter."

Investors cheered Ford's sales growth, driving the company's stock to a 6 year high. Ford gained over 5% to close at $15.19 per share, the highest level since July 2004.

But the outlook for Toyota is less cheery, as the Japanese automaker continues to struggle with fallout from a series of massive recalls.

"For Toyota, the black cloud of the recall mess continues to hang over the company," said Toprak. "That's limiting their recovery in sales and market share."

Toyota (TM) said sales fell 4.4% in October as demand for small cars deteriorated. But the decline was smaller than expected, according to estimates from Edmunds.com and TrueCar.

Sales at Chrysler increased in October, but came in weaker than expected. The privately held automaker said October sales were up 37% versus last year. Analysts had expected sales to increase more than 40% in the month.

Honda (HMC) said total sales rose 16% in October, which was roughly in line with estimates from Edmunds.com and TrueCar.

On Tuesday, automakers including Hyundai and Subaru reported record sales gains for October. The major automakers delayed the release of their sales figures by one day because of the U.S. midterm elections. To top of page

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