) -- Auto sales continued to be a bright spot in the economy in October, even though Hurricane Sandy likely diminished sales in the Northeast in the last few days of the month., LMC Automotive and were all forecasting October light-vehicle sales around 1.1 million units, up between 11% and 12% from the same month a year earlier. TrueCar said the seasonally adjusted annual light-vehicle sales rate is expected to total 14.8 million, the best October rate since 2007, when the rate was 16.1 million vehicles. The SAAR dipped slightly from its 14.9 million rate in September, TrueCar said.

"It is becoming clear that the U.S. automotive market is finally approaching a stage of a more natural level of demand, which has been accelerated by increasing consumer confidence and a need to replace aging vehicles," said LMC analyst Jeff Schuster, in a prepared statement. "This stability at a higher level is taking the edge off the risk factors for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013, as the U.S. economy wrestles with the European crisis."

Added TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak: "New car sales are on automatic pilot.

"October was a robust start to Q4 sales with most manufacturers posting double digit gains while continuing to lower incentives spending," Toprak said, in a prepared statement. TrueCar said industry average incentive fell 2.9% from September and 5.6% from the same month a year earlier. also projected an October SAAR of 14.8 million. But Edmunds said Hurricane Sandy likely is impacting auto sales in the Northeast, which accounts for about 20% of all U.S. auto sales.

"The storm likely will have an impact on October sales, especially since it comes at the end of the month, but those sales won't disappear altogether," said Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell, in a prepared statement. "If anything, it'll make November an interesting month to watch, not just for the deferred sales, but also because hurricane-damaged vehicles could unexpectedly force several buyers back into the market."

Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold estimates that roughly 100,000 sales could be lost this month due to Hurricane. "These should return in November," he said.

What brands could be affected by the hurricane? Luxury brands are popular in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, Edmunds said. The three markets accounted for 25% of Acura sales, 24% of Mercedes-Benz sales, and 23% of BMW, Inifinti and Volvo sales.


(HMC) - Get Report

is the most popular brand in New York, with 14% of the market's new car registrations this year;


(F) - Get Report

is most popular in Philadelphia, also with 14% of new car registrations, and


(TM) - Get Report

is most popular in Washington with 16% of new car registrations.

TrueCar projected that


(GM) - Get Report

sales will increase 7% in October, while Ford sales will increase 5% and Chrysler will increase 15%. Toyota is projected to gain 22%, with Honda and Hyundai Kia both up nearly 14% and



up 5%.

Pickup truck sales are expected to gain about 6% in October, helping the Detroit Three, as a result of the improving house market. "Tightening supply and growing demand for new homes are breathing new life into the construction industry, boosting truck sales as construction workers come back to market and finally replace their aging vehicles," said analyst Lacey Plache.

Follow @tedreednc

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Ted Reed