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Chrysler says October car sales best in five years

Clouds are reflected on a Chrysler PT Cruiser at a Chrysler dealership in Rome April 30, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Clouds are reflected on a Chrysler PT Cruiser at a Chrysler dealership in Rome April 30, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

(Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC said Thursday that October car sales were the best in five years.

Chrysler, an affiliate of Italy's Fiat SpA and the first of the major automakers to report, said October sales of 126,185 were up 10 percent from 114,512 a year ago.

Chrysler said it was the 31st consecutive year-to-year increase in its monthly sales. Four of the company's five brands -- Chrysler, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat -- saw sales gains in October. Jeep sales fell 5 percent.

U.S. auto sales are expected to show a rise of 11 percent for October, led by Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Honda Motor Co <7267.T>, which benefited from increased demand for compact cars, as gasoline prices remained high across the country.

The annual sales rate is expected to be 14.9 million vehicles for the second straight month, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

"This stability at a higher level is taking the edge off the risk factors for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013, as the U.S. economy wrestles with the European crisis," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.

Rising home prices, attractive vehicle financing options and Americans' growing need to replace their aging cars also spurred more consumers to showrooms.

Disruptions from Hurricane Sandy, which hit the U.S. East Coast on Monday, likely cut about 100,000 vehicle sales, but that demand will come back in November, Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold said.

Over the last five years, the U.S. auto sector has undergone a wrenching overhaul that led to plant closures, job losses and the government-financed bankruptcy restructurings of General Motors Co and Chrysler in 2009. Ford Motor Co also overhauled its U.S. operations, but did not take a government bailout.

Auto sales are an early indicator each month of U.S. consumer demand.

An 11-percent jump in October sales would illustrate the continued recovery of the U.S. auto industry, which three years ago was in crisis mode as sales fell to the lowest point in nearly three decades.

The October sales report will be the last before Election Day, marking the end of a contentious U.S. presidential race that has repeatedly thrust GM and Chrysler into the spotlight in televised debates, stump speeches and campaign advertisements.

The sales report also caps a busy week for the U.S. auto industry, which saw third-quarter profit reports from all three Detroit automakers. [ID:nL1E8LV1YU] (Reporting By Paul Lienert and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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