Auto sector beginning to stabilize

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DETROIT --- After months of roller coasterlike sales, the auto industry offered signs of recovery from its yearlong slump Tuesday, as most automakers reported higher levels of U.S. sales in October.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, reported its first monthly sales gain in almost two years, while Hyundai and Subaru were huge winners thanks to their popular models and fuel-efficient sedans. Other top automakers -- Toyota, Ford, Nissan --also posted higher sales.

The mood contrasts a year ago, when consumers were frightened by the early effects of the financial meltdown, plunging stock markets and credit freeze.

Automakers had said October would be a test of the strength of the auto market after the volatile effects of the government's Cash for Clunkers program. The industry staggered through a tough September after the summer's clunker-fueled sales surge.

The industry still has to see its way through a number of economic challenges, said Bob Carter, a Toyota vice president. Americans remain anxious about high unemployment, while consumer confidence remains dampened.

"We expect the recovery to be very gradual, extending into next year and beyond," he said.

Demand for new cars and crossovers fueled the better October sales for General Motors Co. and Detroit rival Ford Motor Co.

GM's sales rose 4.7 percent, while Ford notched a 3-percent gain. Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. said its sales edged up less than a percent. Less rosy news came from Chrysler Group LLC, whose sales fell 30 percent, though they improved from September.

GM DECIDES TO KEEP EUROPEAN OPEL UNIT

DETROIT --- General Motors Co. said Tuesday it will keep its European Opel unit and restructure it instead of selling a 55 percent stake to Canadian auto parts maker Magna International and its partner, Russian lender Sberbank.

GM's board of directors made the decision at a daylong meeting after determining that a $4.43 billion restructuring plan was significantly lower than bids submitted for the division.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson noted that Europe's business environment and GM's overall health have both improved since it put the division up for sale.


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