According to data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., car sales totalled 759,795 for the year, while light truck sales amounted to 915,880.
The results compared with 693,735 cars and 891,784 light trucks in 2011.
DesRosiers said the results fell short of the 1.7 million vehicles sold in 2002, but noted that sales that year were boosted by Americans taking advantage of a strong U.S. dollar and buying cars in Canada.
"Most importantly, the Canadian market still hasn't reached its potential," the automotive consulting firm said in a analysis of the sales results.
"We believe that 2013 should see increased light vehicle sales, potentially surpassing the export-inflated 2002 high water mark. All that's needed is a two or three per cent increase, which could be provided by a combination of pent-up demand from the recessionary markets of 2009-11 plus regular growth in the market's absolute size."
However DesRosier noted the weak finish to 2012 raised some concerns.
The industry saw 156,852 sales in December, up from 150,053 a year ago, as a 0.2 per cent drop in car sales was more than offset by an 11 per cent gain in light truck sales.
However, several automakers reported weaker sales in December compared with a year ago including Ford, General Motors and Toyota.
The Big Three U.S. automakers accounted for about 44 per cent of the 2012 sales, down from about 47 per cent in 2011.
Ford Motor Co. of Canada claimed the top sales in December, capping a third consecutive year as the best selling automaker in the country.
The U.S. automaker said it sold 16,874 vehicles in December, down from 19,381 in the final month of 2011, but enough to make it the best selling brand for the month.
For the full year, Ford sold 276,068 vehicles, up slightly from 275,978 in 2011.
"We are optimistic as the Canadian industry continues to grow," said Dianne Craig, president and CEO at Ford of Canada.
"Ford has invested heavily in fuel-efficient gas engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicle technology, so our customers are given the power of choice."
Meanwhile, Chrysler Canada said Thursday that it sold 14,756 vehicles in December, up one per cent from the 14,628 vehicles it sold in December 2011. Sales for all of 2012 rose six per cent to 243,845 vehicles from 230,992 in 2011.
Chrysler credited strong car sales for much of its success, especially in December when sales in that segment more than doubled compared with a year ago to 2,827 vehicles from 1,394. For the full year, passenger car sales were up 33 per cent at 42,509.
"2012 marked Chrysler Canada's best retail sales results since the year 2000," Chrysler Canada president and CEO Reid Bigland said.
General Motors Canada rounded out the big U.S. automakers with 14,623 vehicles sold in December, down from 18,282 a year ago. Sales for the year totalled 226,825, down 242,830 in 2011.
Toyota Canada Inc. led the Japanese automakers in Canada as it reported sales, including its Lexus and Scion brands, totalled 12,204 for December, down from 13,706 a year ago. However sales for the full year totalled 192,058, up 18.4 per cent from 162,260 in 2011.
Combined Honda and Acura sales for December amounted to 13,208 vehicles, up 19 per cent from a year ago. For the year, the combined sales totalled 148,712 vehicles, up 21 per cent from 2011 and the company's best yearly sales results since 2008.
Combined Nissan and Infiniti sales for December came in at 4,909, down 26 per cent year over year. For the year, the combined sales totalled 82,194, down 2.9 per cent from 2011 — although the Infiniti brand saw one of its best years with 7,993 units sold, up 15.2 per cent over 2011.
Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. reported December sales up 21.2 per cent from year ago to 7,863 vehicles, while it grew sales 5.4 per cent for the year to 136,283, a new record for the company.
Kia Canada Inc. also ended 2012 with a strong December, as sales rose 15.8 per cent to 3,960 vehicles.
That drove full-year sales of Kia vehicles to 77,800, a record for the company since it set up in Canada 13 years ago and a 19.5 per cent increase over 2011 sales.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen Canada also closed out a strong year with record December sales of 3,777 new cars and light trucks, a figure six per cent higher than in 2011.
For the full year, Volkswagen said sales totalled 59,132, beating last year's record sales 52,604 by more than 12 per cent.
"This is quite a significant milestone," said John White, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada, who noted that the sales growth was double that of the industry as a whole.