After hefty gains in recent months, including September’s 41.6% spike, Toyota sees U.S. sales rise just 15.8% in October.

The aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeastern U.S. on Monday, slowed auto sales in that region and probably equated to a 4,500-unit loss for Toyota and a 30,000-unit industrywide loss in October, says Bill Fay, Toyota Div. group vice president and general manager.

However, the strong year-ago comparison, when Toyota sales recovered after months of depressed inventory due to the Japan earthquake and tsunami, likely played a larger role in the more modest monthly gain. There were 26 selling days both this October and last.

There were roughly 4,000 Toyota, Scion and Lexus vehicles at the Port of Newark in New Jersey when the storm struck, and Toyota still is assessing the damage, Fay tells media today in a conference call.

However, for the remainder of the year the auto maker “sees continued stability in the marketplace, as we kind of pick up the pieces from the hurricane.”

Driving this optimism is late-October inventory of 300,000-325,000 Toyota and Scion models at dealers or at port. Fay calls it “probably the best inventory” in late October Toyota has had in many years.

Lexus inventory of just under 40,000 units, is a 45-day supply, says Tim Morrison, vice president-sales for Lexus in the U.S.

To help those affected by Sandy, Toyota is deferring by 90 days payments for current vehicle owners in the storm zone who financed their purchase through Toyota’s captive finance arm. New-car buyers living in designated disaster areas also can defer their first payment by 90 days, Fay says.

Toyota and Lexus begin their annual holiday marketing campaigns in mid-November.

Toyota’s “Toyotathon” will kick off in certain regions of the country, offering 0% financing on nine models and low leases, including an under-$200-per-month deal on the Camry. Lexus’ “December to Remember” promotion also starts up in two weeks in select markets.

As in most months of this year, Toyota’s traditionally highest-volume models drove its October gains. Sales of the gasoline-only Camry midsize sedan jumped 24.1% to 26,940 units, while the hybrid model surged a whopping 796.7% to 2,986.

Toyota says high gas prices, particularly in California, drove its total hybrid deliveries up more than 70% vs. year-ago. The Prius saw another month in the black, but 8,788 liftbacks and 2,769 V wagons sold represented a modest 5.0% increase from like-2011. The Prius C’s 3,328 sales was the subcompact’s second-lowest total this year.

Most Toyota light trucks saw increases last month, including the RAV4, up 2.0%. Toyota delivered 47 copies of the all-electric, California-only RAV4, as well.

Lexus car sales rose 15.2% on strong GS results, while the ES also registered a gain. Both cars have been redesigned over the past year.

CT 200h hybrid deliveries plunged 20.7% to 1,199 in October. Sales to date, however, of 14,811 units represent a 42.9% gain over like-2011.

All Lexus light-truck deliveries increased for the GX SUV, down 11.1%.

Lexus’ best-seller, the RX cross/utility vehicle, saw improved sales of its gas and hybrid models. The former rose 1.7% from last year and the latter 15.8%.

Deliveries of Scion models spiked 49.0% over October 2011. The new iQ minicar, with 808 units, and the FR-S sports car, with 1,107 units, plus increases in xB and xD sales, more than offset a 14.2% decline in tC deliveries.

Year-to-date, the FR-S, a virtual clone of the Subaru BRZ, has handily outsold that model, with 8,572 units compared with the BRZ’s 3,120.

With just two months left in 2012, Toyota sales are running 30.0% ahead of year-ago, at 1.726 million units.

Fay says Toyota sees the industry achieving a 14.3 million seasonally adjusted annual rate for October, making it the best October since 2007. The auto maker also predicts a SAAR of roughly 14.3 million for 2012 U.S. sales.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com