04/26/2012 02:16 EDT | Updated 06/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Sales of gas guzzlers rise despite high pump prices

Sales of the least fuel-efficient vehicles grew by more than any other segment last month, even though gasoline prices were near record highs in many parts of Canada.

Sales of large, luxury and sport utility vehicles in March rose 8.6 per cent over the same period last year, according to figures from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. Year-to-date, the segment's sales are 17.3 per cent ahead of last year's pace.

At the same time, sales of small, entry-level fuel sippers were basically flat in March, and year-to-date are up 6.9 per cent.

"We hear every day that gasoline prices are escalating. It doesn't show in the sales numbers," noted Dennis DesRosiers, president of the firm that carries his name.

"Some of the least fuel-efficient vehicles are in the luxury/large/sport segments. So much for gas prices."

Prices at Canadian pumps averaged between $1.27 and $1.31 a litre in March, according to

The data show that most passenger car types saw sales increases in March as consumers felt more comfortable committing to big-ticket purchases. Total sales of passenger cars last month rose 6.5 per cent. Sales of light trucks in March slipped 0.3 per cent.

Sales of compact cars slumped four per cent last month. DesRosers says that's because buyers are increasingly "moving further downmarket" to the subcompact segment, where sales jumped 20 per cent.

The Honda Civic continues to be the bestselling passenger car in Canada, with 6,037 sales last month. It hung on to its first-place position despite selling almost 2,000 fewer vehicles than it did in the same month last year. Year-to-date, the Civic remains the top seller.

Ford's F-Series continues to be the bestselling light truck and the bestselling vehicle overall.

Total vehicle sales in March rose 2.8 per cent over last year to 157,750. For the first three months of 2012, vehicle sales are up 8.4 per cent to 361,959.