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U.S. auto industry headed for record sales in 2015 -GM

Vehicles sit parked in a lot at a General Motors vehicle factory in Sao Jose dos Campos near Sao Paulo, February 23, 2015. REUTERS/Roosevelt Cassio

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - The U.S. auto industry is on track for a record year of annual sales, General Motors Co (GM.N) said on Tuesday, as the top U.S. automaker and its rivals reported October sales that far exceeded expectations.

GM said U.S. auto sales are on pace to end 2015 topping the 1999 record of 17.8 million vehicles sold.

At a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, October sales were 18.24 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp, which is the highest October level since 2001, when automakers offered zero percent financing in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the company said.

In 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession, U.S. auto sales dipped to 10.4 million vehicles.

U.S. October auto industry sales rose 13.6 percent from a year ago. Analysts had forecasted October sales to be 8 to 12 percent higher than last year. A Reuters poll of 45 economists showed expectations of a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 17.7 million vehicles for last month.

"October was a huge month for the industry, smashing expectations and continuing its hot streak," said Bill Fay, Toyota's U.S. general manager.

The booming October sales materialized despite concerns about a slowdown in consumer spending and stagnant wages.

U.S. economic data suggests consumer spending lost momentum at the end of the third quarter, with consumption in September posting its smallest increase in eight months. Personal incomes also barely rose that month.

GM said its sales rose 16 percent to 262,993 vehicles last month, marking its best October since 2004.

Ford Motor Co (F.N), No. 2 in the U.S. auto market by sales, reported it sold 213,938 vehicles last month, a 13 percent rise from the same period last year. Ford's U.S. sales chief, Mark LaNeve, said the company commanded record average selling prices for its vehicles, at $34,600 per vehicle.

Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) sales were essentially unchanged, well below the overall industry, as it feels the sting of a diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen sold 30,400 vehicles in the United States last month.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU.N) (FCHA.MI) reported its 67th straight month of year-over-year gains, selling 195,545 vehicles in October, up 14.7 percent from a year earlier.

Toyota Motor Corp (TM.N) said it sold 204,045 vehicles in October, up 13 percent.

Honda Motor Co sales rose 9.3 percent to 131,651 vehicles.

Nissan Motor Co said its U.S. sales rose 12.5 percent to 116,047 vehicles in October.

(Editing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis)