Chrysler gained more ground on its rivals in October with a 27 percent rise in US auto sales, outpacing single-digit growth at Ford and General Motors, industry data showed Tuesday.
The gains come as overall industry sales continued to strengthen now that supply shortages and price increases caused by the deadly Japanese quake and tsunami earlier this year have eased.
"The performance over the past few months is not the start of a trend. It is more of a mini-bubble," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of the automotive website Edmunds.com.
Anwyl estimates that people put off buying at least 200,000 vehicles because of the shortages and high prices that began in late April and didn't ease until September.
That should help boost sales for the remainder of the year, but Anwyl cautioned that industry sales remain at historically low levels as a result of the deep economic downturn, with a full recovery still far from sight.
"There are a growing number of consumers for whom a new vehicle is becoming a necessity, but I expect the slope of this underlying trend to remain modest," Anwyl said.
GM said it expects sales to continue to gradually improve and forecast that total industry sales will hit somewhere in the low end of 13 to 13.5 million vehicles in 2011.
"Despite the volatility that continues in the market, we continue to believe that the US economy will grow slowly, with pent-up demand created by four years of below-trend sales," Don Johnson, who heads GM's US sales, said in a conference call.
Johnson noted that GM's comparatively weaker performance this month -- with sales up just two percent at 186,895 vehicles -- was due in part to the fact that it performed so well in October 2011.
Its sales for the year to date were up 15.4 percent at nearly 2.1 million vehicles.
"The evidence of September and October is that there is a strong foundation in the US-based automobile industry," said Ken Czubay, who heads Ford's US sales.
"Our dealers are telling us that consumers are coming in with some of their oldest aged and highest mileage trades and the scrappage rate has been very low in the last few years," Czubay said in a conference call.
"Customers are saying it is time to get a new vehicle."
Ford's October sales rose 6.2 percent in October to 167,803 while sales for the year to date were up 10.9 percent at nearly 1.8 million vehicles.
Chrysler attributed its strong performance to its revitalized product line.
"In what is turning out to be a strong new vehicle sales industry we continued to outperform," Reid Bigland, who heads Chrysler's US sales, said in a statement. "The month of October also marked our 19th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains."
October's 27 percent gain to 114,512 vehicles helped boost sales for the year to date by 23 percent to 1.1 million vehicles.
Nissan, which unlike Japanese rivals Toyota and Honda did not face major supply shortages in the wake of the March quake, continued to post strong gains.
October sales were up 18 percent to 82,346 vehicles while sales for the first 10 months of the year were up 15.2 percent at 856,425.
Toyota, however, continued to struggle as it once again faced supply shortages due to flooding at suppliers in Thailand.
Toyota's October sales fell 7.8 percent to 134,046 vehicles while sales for the year to date were down 8.8 percent at 1.3 million vehicles.