Automakers in Canada had their best October ever, pushing industry sales up nearly seven per cent from a year ago and putting sales on track for what could be a record year.

Overall vehicle sales in Canada rose 7.8 per cent year-over-year last month to 135,476, compared with 125,680 in October 2011, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

"Indeed, this is the best October ever, beating the previous record from 2002 when sales climbed to 134,694 units," Dennis DesRosiers said in a commentary.

"This positive performance pushed the (seasonally-adjusted annual rate) up to 1.78 million units, setting up Canada to see as many as 1.7 million units sold on a full-year basis."

DesRosiers notes that sales have only broken the 1.7 million mark in one other year, 2002, when about 25,000 of those vehicles were sold to Americans buying because of favourable exchange rates.

"If you take these export volumes into account, 2012 could be the best year ever," he said.

Gas prices have been a key concern for cost-conscious buyers and that's helped push growth in the smaller, more fuel-efficient car category higher than in the truck segment.

Car sales were up 16.3 per cent in October, while truck sales grew at a slower 1.7 per cent pace. For the year, car sales were up 10.1 per cent, compared to 4.1 per cent for trucks. Still, more trucks have been sold than cars so far this year and truck sales comprise 54.4 per cent of the market.

Ford Canada claimed the title of Canada's top-selling automaker for the month and for the year so far, taking about 17 per cent of the market share year-to-date.

The Canadian division of the U.S. automaker said Thursday its overall sales grew seven per cent to 20,565 vehicles from 19,190 in October 2011, largely driven by a 17 per cent jump in car sales.

Focus sales strong

Truck sales were also up, with a five per cent increase over last October.

Among Ford's best-selling vehicles were the Focus, which marked its best October since 2004 with sales up 50 per cent, and the sporty Mustang, which saw sales more than double.

"The auto industry is a key engine driving the Canadian economy and it is showing strong, sustainable growth," said Dianne Craig, president and CEO, Ford of Canada.

"Fuel economy continues to be a key purchase consideration for consumers and we are offering them the power of choice with the EcoBoost engines, hybrid vehicles and plug-in hybrids," she said.

Since January, Ford's sales are up just slightly, 0.5 per cent over last year's sales to date.

Meanwhile, rival Chrysler Canada said sales increased 2.7 per cent in its best October since 2002, also marking its 35th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth.

Chrysler said vehicle sales totalled 17,504 last month, up from 17,049 in October 2011.

Increases in passenger car sales drove the growth, up 15 per cent, whereas truck sales rose less than one per cent.

"Chrysler Canada has experienced tremendous passenger car sales growth throughout 2012," said chief operating officer Dave Buckingham.

Meanwhile, DesRosiers reports that sales at General Motors fell 4.6 per cent to 18,651 vehicles sold, leaving it the only one of the big U.S. automakers with slower sales this year. Still, it managed to squeeze out Chrysler as the number two player in the month, though Chrysler still claims that spot on a year-to-date basis.

'2012 could be the best year ever.' —Dennis DesRosiers, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants

Meanwhile, foreign nameplates continue to gain traction against the Detroit players and now hold about 55 per cent of market share.

Sales at Japanese automakers ramped up as they continue to benefit from a return to full inventory after months of playing catch-up following the earthquake and tsunami last year.

Toyota Canada said preliminary estimates indicate sales jumped 11 per cent from last October and sales of its luxury Lexus vehicles were up 23 per cent.

And Honda Canada Inc. has reported a 20 per cent increase in vehicle sales in October compared with a year ago, led by a 28 per cent increase in its Acura luxury division.

The Honda division reported October sales of 11,590 units, up 19 per from last year, while the Acura division saw sales increase to 1,887 units.

DesRosiers pointed out that 13 automakers saw double digit increases last month with some of the biggest growth coming at Kia, which was up 24.1 per cent, Subaru, 31.2 per cent higher, Suzuki, up 25.3 per cent and Volkswagen, where sales grew 24.8 per cent.

Most luxury automakers did well last month, with Porsche sales up 116.7 per cent, Audi sales growing 37.6 per cent and BMW sales up 14 per cent.

Some exceptions to the overall positive sales momentum aside from GM included Volvo, down 32.2 per cent, Mercedes Benz, off 9.2 per cent, Mazda, 5.6 per cent lower and Jaguar, which saw sales fall 28.3 per cent, according to DesRosiers.

In the U.S., most major automakers reported sales increases in October despite some losing at least three days of business to the punishing rain and wind from superstorm Sandy.

Toyota said its sales rose almost 16 per cent for the month, while Volkswagen reported another strong month with sales up 22 per cent. Honda sales slowed from double-digit growth earlier in the year to 8.8 per cent, while Chrysler sales rose 10 per cent, General Motors was up five per cent and Ford rose slightly.

U.S. automakers lose 3 days of sales to Sandy

Most major automakers reported sales increases in October despite losing at least three days of business to the punishing rain and wind from Superstorm Sandy.

Toyota said its sales rose almost 16 per cent for the month, while Volkswagen reported another strong month with sales up 22 per cent. Honda sales slowed from double-digit growth earlier in the year to 8.8 per cent, while Chrysler sales rose 10 per cent, General Motors was up 5 per cent and Ford rose slightly.

Of major automakers, only Nissan reported a decrease, 3.2 per cent, as Sandy pounded the Northeast, the company's top-performing region.

Yet the results show that Americans continue to buy new cars and trucks at a strong pace. Chrysler predicted an annual sales rate of 14.7 million for the U.S. industry in October, making it one of the year's strongest months. Auto sales ran at an annual rate of 14.3 million through September.

Industry analysts estimated that the storm cut U.S. sales by about 20,000 cars and trucks in October as buyers hunkered down for the storm. But the Nissan brand, which gets 27 per cent of its U.S. sales from the Northeast, was hit particularly hard.

"It is absolutely a hurt on us," said Al Castignetti, vice-president of the Nissan division. As of Wednesday, 65 Nissan dealers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were closed due to lack of electricity, and they account for 40 per cent of the region's sales, Castignetti said.

Ford said Sandy probably cost the industry 20,000 to 25,000 sales for the month as buyers in the Northeast hunkered down for the storm at the end of the month.

In past storms, sales were postponed, but they typically recover quickly after people's lives stabilized, said Ford U.S. sales chief Ken Czubay.

He also said there were a "significant number" of vehicles damaged by flood waters, and that could also boost sales in November. "Typically after the insurance companies come in, people use those proceeds to buy new vehicles, which they need to get back and forth to continue their lives," Czubay said.

Small car sales help GM

Volkswagen said one-quarter of its dealerships were affected by the storm, but it still delivered its best October in nearly 40 years at just over 34,000 vehicles. Sales were led by the Passat midsize sedan, which was up 66 per cent.

Chrysler said it sold 126,000 cars and trucks for the month, led by the Ram pickup, which was up 20 per cent, and the Dodge Caravan van, which saw sales rise 49 per cent.

At Ford, sales increased only 0.4 per cent to 168,000 cars and trucks. The company said F-Series pickup trucks, the most popular vehicle in the nation, had their best October in eight years.

At GM, sales rose to nearly 196,000 vehicles for the month, led by the Cruze and Sonic small cars. Cruze sales were up 34 per cent, while Sonic sales rose 43 per cent.

Toyota said its sales rose to 155,000 vehicles. It will release more data later in the day.

At Nissan, the company said October ended on a down note with Sandy causing major disruption in an area where it has 225 dealers. The company's Nissan and Infiniti brands sod nearly 80,000 cars and trucks, down from just over 82,000 a year earlier.

Industry analysts were expecting an annual sales rate in October of 14.7 million to 14.9 million, but that was before Sandy hit Monday.

The storm could cut sales by one per cent to three per cent, or about 20,000 vehicles, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice-president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Schuster said any lost sales would likely shift to November, boosting totals for that month.

With files from The Associated Press