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Automakers post big Oct. sales gains; record year in sight

DETROIT — Most major automakers reported double-digit U.S. sales gains for October, rolling along toward what could be a record year for the industry.

General Motors said that sales rose almost 16 percent in its most lucrative market, while Ford reported a 13 percent gain. Nissan sales rose 12.5 percent over a year ago, and Fiat Chrysler’s were up nearly 15 percent. Honda sales rose 8.6 percent, while Volkswagen, mired in an emissions-cheating scandal, posted just a small gain.

The car-buying site TrueCar.com predicted that October sales would rise 11.4 percent to 1.4 million. That would be the best October since 2001, when zero-percent financing offers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pushed sales to 1.6 million, according to the LMC Automotive forecasting firm. Toyota reports sales later Tuesday.

GM said sales have run at an annual rate of 17.8 million for the past six months, putting the year on track to break the annual record of 17.35 million set in 2000.

“It’s going to be hard not to hit that record at this pace,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of auto sales forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Schuster noted that the industry has roared back from weak sales in the early months of the year.

Sales have been greased by cheap financing, low gas prices and an improving economy. Automakers have induced buyers further by offering incentives on slower-selling models.

GM says it sold almost 263,000 vehicles last month, led by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup with a 10 percent increase to nearly 52,000. Sales of the Chevrolet brand rose nearly 18 percent for its best October in 11 years. GMC and Cadillac also posted double-digit gains, while Buick sales fell slightly.

Ford Motor Co.’s sales jumped to nearly 214,000. The recently updated Edge SUV saw big gains, while sales of the sporty Mustang more than doubled. Ford’s biggest seller, the F-Series pickup, rose 3 percent to 65,500. But sales fell 4.5 percent at Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand.

Volkswagen sold just 74 more cars in October than it did a year ago, for a gain of 0.2 percent. Sales of the Jetta Sedan and Golf, including gasoline and diesel models, each fell by more than 36 percent, offset somewhat by a 25 percent gain in sales of the midsize Passat.

VW has admitted that software on four-cylinder diesel engines turned on pollution controls during government tests and turned them off during on-road driving. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday accused VW of cheating on six-cylinder models as well, a charge that VW denies.

Last month was Fiat Chrysler’s strongest October since 2001 with sales of about 196,000, led by the booming Jeep brand with a 33 percent increase. Sales were just over 170,000 a year ago.

At Nissan, sales rose to just over 116,000 from 103,000 a year ago. Sales of the Nissan Rogue small crossover SUV jumped 70 percent to almost 25,000.

Overall, some of the gains were likely due to increased incentives as automakers tried to clear 2015 models off dealer lots. TrueCar said automakers spent 14.1 percent more than last October on cash-back promotions and other deals. Chevrolet was offering zero-percent financing for up to 72 months on a 2015 Camaro, while Toyota advertised $2,000 cash back on a 2015 Avalon sedan.

There were other favorable factors. Interest rates remained at record lows last month, and gas prices fell. The national average gas price reached an eight-month low of $2.20 per gallon in the last week of October, down 85 cents from the previous year. That’s putting a lot more money in car buyers’ pockets. Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, said U.S. motorists spent $27.8 billion on gasoline last month, down 29 percent from last October.

October sales also were boosted by five weekends instead of the normal four. Saturday is usually the biggest day of the week for auto dealers.

BY TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN, AP Auto Writers