U.S. Auto Sales Jump in October

StocksDow Jones Newswires

Auto makers in the U.S. said car sales rose by a double-digit percentage in October, driven by the month having five weekends and continued strong demand for larger vehicles amid low oil prices. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its sales jumped 14.7%, while General Motors reported 16% growth--both better than expected. Ford Motor's 13% gain, however, fell short of views. Overall, car sales are on track to reach their highest October sales volume since 2001. GM said the seasonally adjusted annual selling rate for light vehicles reached an estimated 18.2 million units in October. Fiat Chrysler--which recorded its best sales for the month since 2001--sold 195,545 vehicles, compared with 170,480 for the month last year, extending the Italian-U.S. company's sales-gains streak to 67 months. Jeep brand sales spiked 33%. Eight Fiat-Chrysler vehicles posted their best October ever: Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Journey, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Wrangler and Ram ProMaster. Car researching firm Edmunds.com had projected a 14% sales jump for Chrysler. Car shoppers continue to drive away in larger, pricier vehicles amid low interest rates, cheap fuel and a stronger economy. The October numbers also were helped by another weekend in the month versus last year. Overall, U.S. auto sales are expected to increase 12% year-over-year to 1.43 million vehicles, according to Kelley Blue Book. Compact utilities are expected to hit their third month as the top segment with 40% growth. "Exploding popularity" of small utility vehicles means small and midsize cars are losing market share, Kelley Blue Book says. The firm estimates market share for both smaller-car segments will drop more than a full percentage point. The average new vehicle transaction price is expected to hit $34,023, a $458 or 1.4% climb from a year earlier. WardsAuto is calling for U.S. light vehicle sales to reach a 17.5 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate, higher than the 17.2 million recorded year-to-date through September and an 11-year peak for the month. It also would make October the sixth consecutive month above the 17 million mark. As many auto makers are expected to roll out double-digit sales gains, Volkswagen is widely seen as a black mark on the month following fallout from its emissions scandal. Edmunds.com forecasts Audi will buoy the auto maker's growth as its Volkswagen brand sales-- which rose less than 1% in September--remain flat. October could be the last month Volkswagen's Audi sales remain untainted. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency slapped additional Clean Air Act violations on the German auto maker, widening the scandal to thousands of more diesel-powered vehicles, including multiple Audi models. "In this year of booming auto sales, no auto maker should be relieved to see flat year-over-year performance, but this may be the best that Volkswagen can hope for this month," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. "Until VW starts down a road to recovery by informing owners of a specific fix to their diesel vehicles, the company is likely to make far fewer sales than this surging market would otherwise deliver to them." Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com

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