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Storm slows strong October sales for automakers

A shopper checked a Kia Optima at a Kia dealership on Friday in Elmhurst, Ill. Auto sales have been crisp this year.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

A shopper checked a Kia Optima at a Kia dealership on Friday in Elmhurst, Ill. Auto sales have been crisp this year.

DETROIT — Major automakers reported that vehicle sales in October were depressed in the month’s final days when Hurricane Sandy forced hundreds of dealerships to close and consumers delayed car purchases in New York, New Jersey, and other areas in the storm’s path.

Sales in October had been running at a strong pace until the storm. Analysts had been predicting an annual sales rate of about 14.7 million vehicles for the month but now say the rate will fall about 300,000 short of that.

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Still, most car companies reported increases for the month overall, an indication the industry’s slow but steady recovery is continuing.

Sales at General Motors, the largest US automaker, rose 4.7 percent during October to 195,000 vehicles.

Ford said its sales edged up 0.4 percent during the month to 168,000 vehicles, while Chrysler reported a 10 percent increase to 126,000 vehicles. Both companies reported big gains in the sales of their smallest, most fuel-efficient passenger cars.

A GM executive said the company was still trying to assess the effect of the storm.

‘‘There’s no question that it had an impact,’’ said Kurt McNeil, GM’s head of US sales. ‘‘A large number of vehicles were damaged, dealerships are under water, there’s no power. There are some real horror stories out there.’’

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McNeil said that consumers usually returned to the marketplace within a month after a natural disaster. But he said the recovery from this storm could take longer because of the large population areas that were affected.

“Probably half of our dealerships in the state of New Jersey are still without power,’’ he said.

Estimates varied on how many actual sales were lost because of the storm, which affected a geographic area that represents 20 percent to 25 percent of national sales. The automotive research website Edmunds.com­ forecast a loss of about 30,000 sales in the final days of the month, while Ford said it could be as low as 20,000.

The larger question is how long it will take for dealerships to reopen and for consumers in the affected areas to return to the market.

“In some areas it’s going to take longer than a month,’’ McNeil said.

Toyota continued its rebound in October from last year’s supply disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It said its sales in October increased 15.8 percent to 155,000 vehicles.

The German carmaker Volkswagen also kept up its strong results so far this year, reporting a 22.4 percent increase in October to 34,000 vehicles.

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