DETROIT -- U.S. auto sales in October rose 6.1 percent from a year ago to 1,217,689 units as General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Nissan North America all posted gains.
DaimlerChrysler and American Honda Motor Co. saw sales drop during the month, although American Honda's decline was a slight 0.2 percent from last year.
After 10 months, U.S. auto sales this year are down 2.9 percent from the same period last year to 13,928,582 units. Of the top six automakers, only Toyota Motor and American Honda have gained sales this year.
Sales at GM in October were up 17.3 percent from a year ago, while sales at Ford Motor were up 8.0 percent. Both automakers were helped by comparisons with year-ago sales. Last October sales were down markedly in the wake of incentive-fueled big summer sales and high gasoline prices after hurricane Katrina.
DaimlerChrysler sales were down1.6 percent from October 2005 to 180,209 units.
Toyota Motor's October sales were up 9.2 percent from a year ago to 189,011 -- a record for the month, Toyota said.
Meanwhile, Nissan North America's U.S. sales in October rose 3.9 percent from a year ago to 75,095, helped by the Nissan Versa small car and redesigned Sentra. It was the third month this year the automaker has seen a sales gain.
Automakers said lower gasoline prices drove a rebound in sales of some trucks and SUVs -- pricey vehicles that were shunned by American car buyers earlier this year when fuel prices spiked and that remain a mainstay of revenue for Detroit.
"The real pressure point we saw in April, May has eased," GM sales analyst Paul Ballew said. "We have at least taken the real intense pressure off on those categories that we saw when the gas price was around $3 a gallon."
INVENTORIES IN FOCUS
The Detroit 3 - the domestic brands of GM, Ford and the Chrysler group -- have been struggling to manage inventories of unsold 2006 models under pressure from their dealers, who have slowed orders because of the higher cost of financing unsold vehicles.
Ford Motor said discounts on its 2006 models combined with steep production cuts drove down its inventory in October, particularly for pickups and SUVs such as the Ford Explorer and Expedition.
Inventory for Ford Motor's mass-market brands -- Ford, Lincoln and Mercury -- dropped by 30,000 units in October from September to reach 622,000 units. Of that total, 69 percent were trucks, and 76 percent were 2007 models, the company said.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas said: "Obviously it's been painful these last few months -- in the second quarter and third quarter --to see such a reduction in SUV sales; but I do think we have our inventories more aligned with demand, and that's a positive thing as we head into 2007."
GM said its own inventory was near 1 million units, including about 125,000 large SUVs and 250,000 pickups.
Ballew said the inventory was too high for the large SUV category and production would be cut accordingly. The segment has been an area of strength for GM this year, based on the launch of new models such as the Yukon.
GM and Ford both pulled back on sales incentives in October, while the Chrysler group increased its discount offerings slightly in a bid to clear inventory, according to an analysis by auto tracking Web site Edmunds.com.
The Chrysler group spent an average of $4,214 per vehicle in October, compared with $3,278 for Ford and $2,497 for GM, Edmunds.com said today.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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