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Volkswagen employees work around vehicles moving down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

J. Rod Williams said Wednesday the next vehicle he buys will be an SUV, and he's willing to look at the Chattanooga-made Volkswagen Atlas.

He already likes the VW Touareg, which was the largest SUV the German automaker made before the three-row Atlas.

"I'm an outdoorsman. I need the extra space," the Chattanooga man said.

SUVs helped push U.S. auto sales higher last month for most carmakers as well as VW's October numbers, which rose 11.9 percent over a year ago.

For Volkswagen of America, SUVs accounted for more than 32 percent of sales in the month.

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An all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL premium V6 SUV made in Chattanooga is taken on a test drive near the factory.

Hamilton County sales

New cars and trucks titled in Hamilton County in October fell to 1,073, down 2 percent from a year ago. But for the year, registrations of 11,089 are 2 percent above 2016, according to the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office.

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The Atlas posted sales of 3,664, while the all-new 2018 Tiguan hit 3,848. The existing Tiguan, which is smaller, recorded 1,263 sales in the month for VW. Some 252 units of the Touareg, which is being phased out in the U.S., were sold in October, according to VW.

Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota joined VW in reporting gains for October, defying expectations that buyers would pull back and that fewer people than expected would replace hurricane-damaged vehicles. Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Hyundai reported declines.

Most industry analysts expected October sales to fall after a big increase in September. But stronger than expected demand for pickups and SUVs, bigger incentives such as cash rebates, and higher sales to big fleet buyers drove the increase, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for the LMC Automotive consulting firm.

Analysts said that even a strong finish to the year won't be enough to match last year's record sales of more than 17.5 million. Still, the industry should finish 2017 close to the record at around 17 million vehicles.

Michael Harley, group managing editor for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said VW has done "an excellent job" positioning itself for the future with product in the wake of the diesel emission scandal. He cited the Golf Sportwagen, which is competing with Subaru.

Also, the Atlas lets Volkswagen buyers finally embrace a three-row SUV, Harley said.

"I think it will turn out to be a best-seller," he said.

In addition, sales of the Jetta compact sedan were up 14.2 percent in the month, its best October since 2014, VW reported.

But sales of the Passat midsize sedan, also made in Chattanooga, fell to 3,937, down 36.8 percent last month from a year ago. Its sales are off 8 percent for the year.

Year to date, Volkswagen of America sales totaled 280,188, an increase of 9.4 percent over 2016, the company reported.

New vehicle sales overall also got a bump from replacement of hurricane-damaged vehicles, although Schuster said it wasn't as large as expected because many people bought used vehicles.

Based on data for the first three weeks of October, sales in Florida rose 5 percent as shoppers finished purchases delayed by Hurricane Irma. In Houston, they rose only 3 percent as the recovery from Hurricane Harvey wound down.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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