October US light vehicle sales were up 11.6% compared to the same month in 2010; the seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) came in at 13.26m on just over 1m sales. That’s not only better than last October’s 12.18m SAAR, it’s the highest since February’s 13.29m and the second-highest rate since August 2009.

GM came in with a 5.7% gain, the smallest of the Detroit Three. Chevrolet was the only GM brand to finish the month in the black thanks to the Cruze and a good start for the new Sonic, both built in the US. The range extender Volt had its best sales month ever, outselling the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

A 224.7% explosion in Explorer SUV volume helped fuel a 10.8% boost at Ford. The larger Expedition and Edge crossover both posted improvements over 30%. Passenger car sales were a bit soft, aggravated by the dwindling supply of now-discontinued Ford Crown Victorias and Lincoln Town Cars.

Chrysler racked up the best numbers. Sales rose 31.9%, propelled in large part by a 66.2% increase in car sales; market share increased to 11.2%, up from 9.5% last October. The Chrysler brand posted the largest improvement: the 200 sedan outsold its Sebring predecessor by nearly 424% and came in second only to the Ram pickup in sales volume.

Toyota sales fell again as supplies of some vehicles, like the Camry, continued to be tight. The redesigned Yaris has reached the US and October sales of the subcompact jumped 160.6%. The US-only Scion continues to be a problem as even the tC coupe failed to match its year-ago numbers. Lexus also fell short; it’s now far behind BMW and Mercedes in the battle for the lead in the luxury segment.

Honda sales improved slightly, though actual volume fell 0.5%. The Accord was the best-selling car for the month and sales of the Odyssey were up 8.6% as the ever popular minivan took the top spot in the segment for the month.

Nissan enjoyed a good month, up 22.6% with equal contributions from cars and light trucks. Big gains posted by the Versa, Sentra and Pathfinder were the principal drivers.

Mazda sales also improved but other Japanese automakers ended October in the red including Subaru, which now finds itself in the unusual position of having a year on year deficit.

The Koreans had another excellent month. Hyundai YTD volume has already beaten its best previous full year and Kia came in with another monthly record, breaking the 400,000 sales mark for the first time.

Volkswagen had its best October since 2001. Sales rocketed 44.9% with almost every model line showing significant increases. Audi set another new sales record.

A boom in C-Class sales helped Mercedes to a 30.6% gain while SUV sales drove BMW up 22%. Volvo was up nicely as was Jaguar Land Rover. Not surprisingly, Saab sales were way off.

While total industry sales improved, they didn’t blow past the market’s expectations. This has put a damper on some of the industry optimism though it still looks like the year will finish above 12.6m and 2012 will be even better.

See also: ANALYSIS: US car market growth no surprise, but don’t cheer too loudly