U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 13 percent to the highest monthly selling rate of the year in October.
Every major player except Toyota Motor Sales posted increases as volume rose to 950,291 vehicles, exceeding analysts' expectations. For the first 10 months, the market is 11 percent higher, at 9.6 million.
The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate for October was 12.3 million, according to AutoData Corp. That was the highest SAAR since the government cash-for-clunkers incentives in August 2009.
“The recovery is in place,” said analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com. “It's slow, but we're moving in the right direction.”
Toprak expects a 12 million selling rate in November, “but it could be 12.5 million or higher in December.”
He forecasts full-year U.S. sales of 11.5 million, rising to 12.6 million in 2011.
Big 7 performance mixed
October sales performance split the major players.
At the top end of the spectrum, both Chrysler Group and Hyundai-Kia Automotive jumped more than a third. Hyundai-Kia advanced 38 percent, and Chrysler gained 37 percent.
Bunched in the middle and slightly higher than the industry's 13 percent increase: American Honda Motor Co. and Nissan North America, both up 16 percent; and Ford Motor Co., 15 percent higher.
General Motors Co. gained 4 percent, while Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. declined 4 percent.
Smaller automakers thrive
Virtually all smaller automakers increased U.S. sales in October.
Subaru of America's sales jumped 25 percent from a strong October last year. The Japan-based automaker said it set a record for any October while surpassing last year's 12-month total -- with two months left in this year. Subaru is up 23 percent for the first 10 months.
Mazda rose 20 percent in October.
Volkswagen of America gained 16 percent, Porsche 61 percent, BMW 13 percent and Jaguar Land Rover 40 percent.
Even automakers that have had tough years did well. Mitsubishi sales jumped 32 percent. That was almost enough to pull it even through 10 months -- its 46,503 sales only 203 units below last year's January-October mark.
Suzuki also rose in October, up 17 percent in its first monthly advance in more than two years. That cut its 10-month decline to less than 50 percent.
The only small-automaker decline came with an asterisk. Volvo Cars North America sold 3,996 vehicles last month. That's down 10 percent from last year's tally, when it was under Ford ownership.
Fellow Swedish automaker Saab, also under new ownership, sold 741 units in October. That's up from 513 units sold a year earlier when it was part of GM.
Hyundai-Kia widens lead over Nissan
In the seesaw battle for the No. 6 U.S. sales position, Hyundai-Kia remains in the lead after outselling Nissan North America in October.
Hyundai-Kia sold 73,855 vehicles last month, 4,082 more than the Nissan group. That widens its year-to-date lead -- 751,926 to 743,474 after 10 months.
A year ago, Nissan led by 6,129 after 10 months and finished 2009 almost 35,000 ahead of its Korean competitor with 770,103 sales.
Led by the new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Soul models, Hyundai-Kia sales have surged 19 percent this year.
Nissan has done well with its high-volume Altima, Sentra and Versa cars and Rogue crossover but hasn't had a breakout model. Its sales are running 16 percent higher through 10 months.
Pickups are hot again
Full-sized pickups -- often considered an early indicator of an economic recovery -- are hot again.
Led by the Ford F series and Ram pickup, October sales of large pickups rose 17 percent to 122,774 units, ahead of the overall market's 13 percent gain. For the first 10 months, pickup sales are up 30 percent to 1.1 million.
Last month, Ford sold 49,041 F-series trucks, up 24 percent from a year earlier, cementing its typical spot as America's best-selling vehicle. Chrysler's Ram was up 41 percent.
GM's twins -- the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra -- combined for 47,266 units, up 8 percent. The Nissan Titan also gained 16 percent. Toyota sold 7,187 Tundras, down 5 percent.
The six large pickups are on pace to sell more than 1.3 million units this year -- above the 1.2 million sold last year but below 2008's 1.6 million.
Mustang outsells Camaro
It's still a race. In October, the Ford Mustang outsold the Chevrolet Camaro for only the fourth month since GM re-introduced its pony car in April 2009.
The Mustang's narrow 5,317 to 5,013 victory last month didn't cut the Camaro's year-to-date lead by much, but the Camaro hasn't completely locked up the 2010 sales title yet.
Mustang sales have picked up since Ford introduced the re-engineered coupe and convertible in May as a 2011 model.
The Camaro coupe won 11 straight head-to-head monthly sales battles starting in June 2009. Despite having only eight full months of sales, it finished 2009 less than 5,000 units behind the Mustang and leads this year by 7,350 units.
But since its re-engineering and new V-8 and V-6 engines, the Mustang has tightened the race again. It beat Camaro sales in May, June -- and again by 3 units in July -- before falling behind against in August and September.