Hurricane Sandy took what should have been a 55-month high for U.S. sales and knocked an estimated 5% to 6% of volume off October’s results.

Tearing into the East Coast, impacting huge light-vehicle markets such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and causing power outages as far west as Illinois, Sandy shut down a spate of dealerships at the worst time, the end of the month when daily volumes are at their highest.

October’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of 14.2 million vehicles kept pace with the year-to-date total through September but was well below the 15.0 million WardsAuto had forecast for the month. The SAAR easily outpaced year-ago’s 13.3 million, however.

Effects from the hurricane will dent early November deliveries as well, although replacement sales from totaled vehicles and delayed purchases due to the storm will make up for that at the end of November and December.

Hit hardest by the storm were 13 states spanning from North Carolina to Maine, including West Virginia and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia, which together account for an estimated 20% to 25% of the U.S. LV market.

October sales totaled 1.09 million units for a daily selling rate of 41,821, 6.8% above year-ago’s 39,151 units – 26 selling days both periods. It was the 26th consecutive year-over-year increase and brought year-to-date sales to 11.950 million, 13.8% above 10-month 2011’s 10.504 million.

The small and midsize car segments were particularly strong in October.

Sales of small cars increased 20.8% from year-ago and accounted for a 19.0% market share, up from 16.9% in October 2011.

A Ford analyst notes the strength in small cars may result partially from a spike in gasoline prices to $5 per gallon in California, the largest market in the U.S. and where small cars account for about 30% of sales vs. 20% nationwide.

Midsize cars recorded a 15.2% increase and market penetration of 20.5%, up from 19.2% a year ago.

Among truck segments, large pickups, gaining 9.0%, and minivans, up 11.5%, also jumped noticeably from year-ago levels.

Nearly all manufacturers reported increases in total LV sales in October over like-2011.

Among the top six manufacturers, bellwether General Motors reported a 4.7% sales increase over prior year, but market share fell to 18.0% from year-ago’s 18.4%. It was the 13th straight month GM’s share declined. It recorded gains in small cars, midsize cross/utility vehicles and luxury cars, while its midsize cars and large CUVs and SUVs struggled.

Ford’s sales fell slightly below year-ago as a result of the storm. But the auto maker did retake second place after Toyota outsold it in September.

Ford deliveries also were somewhat limited by lack of inventory of the all-new Fusion midsize car and, although it had strong results compared to year-ago, the redesigned Escape CUV.

However, Ford’s share of 15.1% was well below year-ago’s 16.2% and marked the eighth straight month of decline.

Toyota fell back to third place while still enjoying a 15.8% increase over year-ago and its seventh straight rise in market share. Toyota’s October penetration of 14.3% brought its to-date share to 14.4% vs. like-2011’s 12.6%. Its year-to-date sales are a whopping 30.0% above year-ago.

Chrysler recorded its 31st straight increase with deliveries up 10.2% from October 2011. Robust results for the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country led the rise in the small van segment. A hefty 20.0% gain for the Ram pickup also helped spur Chrysler’s sales and lift industry sales for large pickups.

Nissan was one of the few companies to record a decline from year-ago, as sales fell 3.2% and demand for its small cars was sluggish. Its two highest-volume small cars, the Versa and Sentra, posted declines of 6.5% and 32.9%, respectively.

Among the remaining auto makers, Volkswagen, including Audi, roared to a 20.2% gain and its year-to-date sales soared 31.0%. VW finished ahead of Kia for the eighth slot in October, though it slightly trails the Korean brand for the year.

Kia recorded a 12.6% increase, its 25th in the past 26 months.

Other auto makers recording October increases included BMW (18.5%), Daimler (9.0%), Isuzu, (6.0%), Mazda (1.6%), Porsche (41.5%), Subaru (30.1%) and Suzuki (4.7%).

Hyundai, on a decline of 4.1%, suffered its first year-over-year loss since August 2010. Also reporting declines were Tata and Mitsubishi.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com