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Chrysler U.S. September auto sales up 27 percent

Oct 3, 2011, 7:05 a.m.
A 2011 all-new production Jeep Grand Cherokee sits inside the atrium of the new body shop at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan May 21, 2010. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC's U.S. sales rose 27 percent in September as the No. 3 U.S. automaker had its best performance for that month since 2007.

Chrysler was the first automaker to report U.S. September sales, which are expected to be the strongest since April, industry analysts last week said.

Stronger showings by Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Honda Motor Co <7267.T> are expected, after the top two Japanese automakers in the U.S. market have returned to full production after having inventories slimmed after the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Chrysler's retail sales rose 50 percent from a year ago.

Chrysler's total U.S. sales were 127,334 new vehicles, led by a 45 percent gain by the automaker's biggest seller, Ram pickup trucks.

Chrysler is managed and primarily owned by Italy's Fiat SpA .

U.S. new light vehicle auto sales were averaging 13.1 million on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis in the first four months of the year. Supply of vehicles and auto parts began to cut sales beginning in May. Analyst Peter Nesvold of Jefferies & Co last week said that sales for September will be the first month since April not to be significantly crimped by the earthquake's effect.

J.D. Power & Associates as well as Edmunds.com forecast that September sales will be 12.9 million vehicles on the seasonally adjusted annualized basis the industry uses to monitor sales strength.

Auto sales each month are an early indicator of consumer demand.

Mike Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation Inc , the largest U.S. auto dealer group, said that pent-up demand will boost auto sales in the fourth quarter, beginning with the September results.

Jackson said that both Honda and Toyota will continue to replenish their inventory through the fourth quarter, but had not yet reached an inventory level seen before the earthquake. But he said he was pleased that both Japanese companies are now back to full production.

Before the industry downturn during the recent recession, U.S. also sales averaged nearly 17 million vehicles a year, but began to fall in 2008 and by 2009 hit the lowest level since the early 1980s, at 10.4 million.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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