Gene J. Puskar, File, Associated Press
DETROIT — Chrysler's October U.S. sales rose 11 percent from a year ago as buyers shook off the 16-day partial government shutdown and returned to showrooms during the last two weeks of the month.
The increase is a strong sign that the U.S. auto industry made it through the shutdown relatively unscathed. Chrysler predicted stronger industry sales than most analysts, and a strong recovery from a lackluster September. All automakers report October sales on Friday.
"After a choppy start to the beginning of the month, Chrysler Group sales accelerated in the second half of the month with renewed consumer confidence," Reid Bigland, the company's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement.
Chrysler says it sold 140,083 cars and trucks last month, up from 126,185 in October of 2012. It was the company's best October in six years, and its 43rd straight month of year-over-year sales gains.
Chrysler was led by its two most profitable vehicles, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV and the Ram pickup. Grand Cherokee sales were up 20 percent, while Ram pickup sales rose 18 percent. But sales of the tiny Fiat 500 dropped 36 percent as gas prices fell during the month.
The company sold 579 new Jeep Cherokees in October. Sales of the small crossover SUV had been delayed as Chrysler smoothed out its rough-shifting transmission. The company began shipping Cherokees on Oct. 22.
Industry analysts predict an 8-to-13 percent sales gain for October, with sales running at an annual rate of about 15.4 million for the month. But Chrysler said its calculations show a 15.7 million annual rate, one that would make October the fourth-best month of the year.
The increase follows a 4 percent drop in September because Labor Day weekend was counted in August figures this year.
Analysts say the 16-day government shutdown in early October kept buyers out of showrooms early in the month, but that apparently was just a temporary slowdown.
"It looks like the government shutdown ended just in the nick of time," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at the Edmunds.com auto website. "Consumers started to get jittery by the middle of the month. But with the government back to work, most lost sales should be made up in the latter half of the month."
Auto sales have consistently been a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Sales are running at an annual rate of around 15.5 million this year, far above the 2009 trough of 10.4 million and closing in on pre-recession sales exceeding 16 million.
October likely saw a big battle over pickup truck sales, with General Motors raising prices on its reworked Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Ford and Chrysler offering discounts to clear out 2013 models.
Buckingham Research analyst Joseph Amaturo wrote in a note to investors that Ford sales should be up 14 percent compared with October of 2012, while GM's sales will rise 8 percent "due to the competitive selling environment related to Ford's aggressive incentive spending, particularly full-size pickup trucks."
Edmunds expects GM sales to rise 10 percent from a year ago, while Ford should be up more than 15. Nissan is expected to lead the way with nearly a 19 percent increase.
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