Overall vehicle sales in Canada were up 17.9 per cent to 175,716, compared to 149,034 during May of 2011, according to data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. It reported car sales were up 21 per cent and truck sales jumped 15.2 per cent.
The numbers suggest pent-up demand appears to be overshadowing any fears about making a big ticket purchase in a shaky economy.
Several big name companies reported double digit increases in a month that compared very favourably on a year-over-year basis, when last March's earthquake in Japan slowed production at Honda and Toyota factories, and dealers ran short of cars by May.
Despite faltering stock markets and consumer confidence, drivers are also buying in droves to replace aging vehicles, shopping trips that were delayed during the recession.
"Following a brief lull in April, the Canadian light vehicle market rebounded last month ... May 2012 was a strong month for most players," said Dennis DesRosiers.
Ford of Canada reported its best May since 1997, helping it to surpass Detroit Big Three rival Chrysler to regain the position of Canada's top-selling automaker both for May and the year so far.
Ford Canada saw May sales jump 27 per cent to 32,338 vehicles from 25,448 in the same month of 2011.
The automaker said overall car sales rose 31 per cent, driven by strong demand for fuel efficient vehicles. Full-sized pickups saw a 46 per cent increase, powered by sales of its F-150, which saw a 52 per cent jump.
"May was a good growth month for Ford of Canada, with strong sales across the entire lineup of cars, utilities and trucks," said Dianne Craig, president and CEO of Ford of Canada.
Still, Chrysler Canada said it enjoyed its 30th consecutive year-over-year increase in May, with sales rising seven per cent to 26,218 vehicles from 24,406 in May 2011.
"There have only been three months in the last 10 years that have hit the 26,000 sales mark and I’m thrilled to count May 2012 among them," said chief operating officer Dave Buckingham.
The increase in vehicle sales in May gave Chrysler its best retail sales numbers for the calendar year to date since 2002, the company said in a release.
GM Canada, which has been struggling with sales growth as of late and announced Friday it will close an auto plant in Oshawa, Ont., reported a 1.3 per cent increase in sales at its Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealers to 23,287 vehicles.
In line with a recent trend, import nameplates sold better than domestic counterparts, with sales up 23.2 per cent to 94,837, while domestic sales were up 12.3 per cent at 80,879 units.
Japanese automakers seemed to rebound thoroughly from supply challenges faced since the country's massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
Toyota Canada Inc. said it has regained momentum from "post-tsunami" challenges and saw sales jump to 19,810, a 64.7 per cent increase over May 2011. Sales of its Prius family of hybrids were especially strong, seeing a whopping 804 per cent increase over last May.
Nissan Canada Inc. said it sold 9,204 units, an increase of 36.9 per cent over May 2011.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. recorded a two per cent increase in May sales to 14,249 vehicles from 13,967, its best May ever and 41st consecutive year-over-year monthly increase.
So far in 2012, Hyundai sales are up 4.7 per cent at 57,881 vehicles from 55,286 by this time last year.
"As proud as I am of our continued strong performance, I'm particularly optimistic looking ahead to the second half of the year," said Steve Kelleher, president and CEO of the South Korean-based automaker, which plans to introduce new models in the second half.
Meanwhile, another Korean-based auto company, Kia Canada Inc., reported its second-straight best month ever with 8,460 new vehicles sold, a 22.1 per cent increase over May 2011.
That translated into a 21.1 per cent increase in sales to date in 2012 or 31,516 vehicles sold.
It was a mixed month for luxury automakers with BMW sales up 13.9 per cent to 3,203, but Mercedes-Benz sales down 6.2 per cent to 3,082 units.
Small car manufacturers reported double digit increases with Smart car sales up 20.5 per cent to 323 units and Mini sales up 28 per cent to 708 vehicles.