TORONTO - Automakers sold 6.4 per cent more vehicles in Canada last month than they did a year ago, which should help boost the economy in the final month of the third quarter.
September auto sales climbed to 143,143 vehicles from 134,544 in month a year ago, according to figures from DesRosiers Auto Consultants.
Car sales rose 15 per cent, while truck sales were flat.
Auto sales have been a bright spot for the economy, especially as the other sector focused on big-ticket items — housing — has begun to slow. Vehicle sales in Canada are up 6.6 per cent for the year, as consumers continue to take advantage of ultra-low borrowing rates and consumer confidence gets a boost.
In September, Canadians were their most optimistic since July 2011, according to the Conference Board of Canada, making consumers more confident about making big purchases like vehicles.
Once again, foreign automakers saw a much bigger increase in sales, up 15 per cent overall, while the domestic automakers —Ford, GM and Chrysler — saw sales rise a modest 0.3 per cent.
The Japanese carmakers, hit hard last year in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that crippled production, saw some of the biggest gains and continued to report improved results.
But Ford Motor Co. of Canada managed to cling to the title of top-selling automaker in Canada, despite reporting an eight per cent dip in September sales to 23,600 vehicles from 25,656 a year ago.
Total sales of Ford cars slipped 11 per cent for the month compared with a year ago to 4,994 from 5,667, while truck sales fell 6.9 per cent to 18,606 from 19.989.
Its Detroit Big Three rivals, Chrysler and GM both reported increases in sales, claiming the number two and three spots.
Chrysler Canada reported its best September sales since 2000 as improved car sales more than offset lower truck sales, in a reversal of the trend reported at Ford.
Its total sales for the month rose to 1.6 per cent from a year ago to 19,555 vehicles. Chrysler said car sales were up 35.6 per cent compared with a year ago, while truck sales were down 3.9 per cent.
"Fuel efficient vehicles like the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500 helped grow our passenger car sales by 36 per cent in September," said Dave Buckingham, chief operating officer of Chrysler Canada.
"In addition, record sales of the Chrysler 200 have propelled Chrysler to be the number one seller of mid-size cars in Canada."
General Motors of Canada Ltd. reported sales of its Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac brands were up 12 per cent in September.
The increase came as Chevrolet sales were up 13 per cent on a 23 per cent increase in car sales and a six per cent increase in truck sales. Buick gained 31 per cent compared with a year ago, while GMC sales added 10 per cent.
The results follow the most recent round of contract talks between the U.S. automakers and the Canadian Auto Workers union that were completed without any strikes or lockouts.
The agreements saw the union accept no wage increases and lump sum payments instead of cost-of-living increases.
The new contract also set a lower starting wage for new employees and extended the time it will take them to reach the top of the scale.
Meanwhile, many Japanese automakers reported sales jumps of more than 10 per cent.
Honda Canada said combined September sales of its Honda and Acura brands totalled 12,911 vehicles, an increase of 16 per cent compared with last year.
Breaking down the sales, Honda sold 11,457 vehicles for the month, up 21 per cent from a year ago, helped by sharply higher sales of its Ridgeline pickup truck, while Acura sales totalled 1,454 vehicles.
Toyota said sales were up 21 per cent from a year ago as it reported its best September ever for sales of trucks and hybrids. Sales of Toyota's Lexus luxury brand were up 24.1 per cent from a year ago.
Suzuki sales were up 30 per cent to 558 vehicles from 429.
And Kia Canada, a subsidiary of the South Korean automaker, said it sold 7,030 new vehicles last month, up 10.1 per cent from a year ago, driven by its Forte family of cars.
Kia said the increase for the month was the latest in 45 months of continued sales growth.
European automakers also fared well last month, with quickly-growing Volkswagen sales up 18.1 per cent to 5,468 vehicles from 4,630.
BMW Group Canada reported sales of 3,944 vehicles under the BMW and Mini brands for September, up 19.9 per cent compared with September 2011.
BMW sales amounted to 3,331 vehicles for the month, up 18 per cent, while Mini sales totalled 613 units, up 31.8 per cent.
South of the border, Toyota saw the biggest sales increase.
Toyota sales rose 42 per cent from a year earlier, while Volkswagen jumped 34 per cent from September 2011.
Detroit didn't fare as well. Chrysler reported a 12 per cent increase, but General Motors and Ford sales were either up slightly or flat.