Sales of new cars and trucks in August were up from a year ago with the Big Three automakers from Detroit posting strong gains amid uncertain consumer confidence and a fragile economic recovery.
Overall in Canada, sales of cars and light trucks in August were up 3.2 per cent from a year ago at 140,361 compared with 136,069 in August 2010, according to data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.
The gains were driven by sales of light trucks, which totalled 79,589 up 5.8 per cent from a year ago at 75,258, while car sales slipped to 60,772, down 0.1 per cent from 60,811.
Dennis DesRosiers noted it has been an unusual year for the auto industry with the Japanese automakers hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami that disrupted their manufacturing and caused shortages for dealerships.
"The Japanese have had serious availability issues post the tsunami and you have to believe that they will rebound, at least to a degree, as their supply of vehicles get back to more normal levels," DesRosiers wrote in a report.
He noted that although the Canadian economy remains stronger than the United States, troubles remain at the low end of the market.
"So although the trends emerging this year are very real and can be well documented I think we need to wait another year or maybe two to see whether they are sustainable in the medium to long term," DesRosiers said.
Ford Canada chief executive David Mondragon noted that the Canadian economy is still in a period of economic recovery.
"Despite the challenges, the auto industry in Canada is still on a path of moderate growth in 2011 with Ford maintaining its leadership position for the second consecutive year," Mondragon said.
Ford, Canada's top-selling automaker, sold 25,927 vehicles in August, its best results for the month in 23 years and up eight per cent from a year ago.
Car sales were up 18 per cent to 6,898 units in August, while truck sales grew five per cent to 19,029.
Meanwhile, General Motors Canada took the No. 2 position, with 25,045 vehicles sold — a seven per cent increase from the month last year.
It said demand for its fuel-efficient cars and crossovers grew across the lineup, with sales of its Cruze, Malibu and Equinox leading the way.
Chrysler Canada saw the biggest percentage increase in sales among the so-called Detroit Big Three automakers, driven by a doubling in car sales. An 18 per cent increase in Jeep sales also helped the company.
Sales increased 16.6 per cent to 18,816 vehicles from 16,144 over the same month in 2010. Car sales grew to 1,736 for the month, 53.2 per cent higher than a year ago, while truck sales were up 13.8 per cent at 17,080 vehicles from 15,011 a year ago.
David Adams, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada, noted the growth in sales came as consumer confidence slipped.
"Despite sales growth compared to last year, August represents the fifth month so far this year where monthly sales have been below the five year average. That said, the August results are encouraging," Adams said.
In the U.S., automakers reported surprisingly strong sales with GM's sales up 18 per cent and Chrysler's climbing 31 per cent.
Industry analysts had expected a weaker month because of consumer anxiety about the economy and bad weather on the East Coast.
Auto sales had been a bright spot for both the Canada and U.S. through May, but began sputtering in the summer as consumer confidence waned and a March earthquake in Japan caused shortages of Honda and Toyota models.
But Toyota sales rebounded last month, up 10.3 per cent to 12,806 vehicles, up from 11,609 units in the month last year.
Honda sold 8,060 vehicles in August, down 30 per cent from last year, while its luxury Acura banner totalled 1,449 vehicle sales, helped by strong results for its MDX sport-utility vehicle.
Meanwhile, Hyundai said it sold 11,507 vehicles in Canada in August, up 0.9 per cent from a year ago and Kia Canada reported 5,804 new vehicles sold, up 6.9 per cent.
BMW Group Canada had sales of 2,844 vehicles in August, including both its BMW and Mini brands, up 4.1 per cent over August 2010.
Helped by a new version of its popular Jetta, Volkswagen Canada sold 4,302 vehicles in the month, up 28 per cent from 3,369 a year ago.