General Motors Co. said Wednesday that strong demand for its pickups and wagons lifted October sales 3.5 percent and helped the automaker overcome weak car sales, good news as it prepared for an initial public offering expected later this month.
GM said shoppers are starting to feel more confident, which bodes well for future auto sales. October's results indicate demand for cars and trucks may be rebounding in earnest after a bumpy year. Analysts expect last month to be the best October for the industry in three years.
Sales of GM's SUVs and wagons were strong, up 36 percent for October and up 64 percent year to date. Sales of the automaker's most popular wagons - the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX - jumped 58 percent compared with last October. Truck sales also rose, spurred by the newly launched Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, which posted sales increases of 12 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively.
"Consumers are beginning to believe that they've already weathered the worst," said Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operations for GM. The economy is showing "signs of a steady recovery, and we do believe they will bode well for the auto industry."
The industry sales rate should hit its strongest point of the year, Johnson said. Sales could hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12 million, up from a low of 10.5 million in February.
Car sales were a bit weaker. Sales of the Chevy Cobalt were down nearly 60 percent, and Camaro sales fell 36 percent.
Sales to corporate customers made up a large chunk of GM's October sales, accounting for 26 percent of monthly volume. In the past, automakers have used fleet volume to boost monthly sales numbers by pushing weak selling models into rental company fleets, often losing money on the deals. GM said the automaker's fleet sales are now healthy, because vehicles are going primarily into profitable corporate and government fleets.
Most automakers were reporting U.S. auto sales Wednesday, but several reported results Tuesday. Among them:
-- Hyundai said its October sales jumped 38 percent as sales of the new Sonata midsize sedan more than doubled.
-- Subaru sales rose 25 percent for the month on strong sales of the Outback and Forester wagons.
-- Volkswagen sales rose 18 percent with a boost from sales of the new Jetta. Jetta sales were up 32 percent over last October.