TORONTO - Canadians are poised to buy more vehicles this year than they have since 2002, an economist said Wednesday, after data from June showed sales inched 1.3 per cent higher.
"We're basically on pace to have a record year," said Carlos Gomes, an economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS).
He predicts 1.72 million light vehicles will be sold in Canada by year's end, with pickup trucks and crossover vehicles, such as small SUVs, continuing to drive sales due to their practicality and good fuel efficiency.
"On the pickup truck side, it's really more of a business product," said Gomes. "You're seeing contractors and businesses renewing their fleet, which they haven't done for a long time."
On Wednesday, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants reported that strong demand for trucks have driven auto sales higher in June, even as sales of passenger cars hit the brakes compared with a year ago.
Sales of light vehicles totalled 171,608 last month, compared to 169,459 vehicles sold in June 2012.
While light truck sales climbed 6.7 per cent to 96,587 and passenger car sales fell by 4.9 per cent to 75,021.
It said that last month was the "best June yet seen in Canada" for auto sales.
"The Canadian vehicle market inched upwards from last year's chart-topping June sales to set another monthly record in June 2013," DesRosiers said in a statement.
However, DesRosiers also noted that sales results were "inconsistent" as Ford Motor Co. of Canada came in as the top seller in June, even though the automaker saw its sales decline by six per cent compared to a year ago.
Ford said it sold 28,713 vehicles last month, down from the 30,543 it sold in June 2012. Truck sales climbed 1.1 per cent to 21,284, while sales of passenger cars slid by 21.7 per cent to 7,429.
Ford said year-to-date, sales were up by 3.2 per cent to 146,700 total vehicles.
The Canadian auto sales data followed a similar trend in the U.S., which recently reported the highest level of sales since the recession, bolstered by growing consumer confidence.
Sales in the U.S. from January to June topped 7.8 million, while June sales were 1.4 million, up nine per cent compared to last year, according to figures released Tuesday.
The upswing in the U.S. is much more dramatic because sales north of the border are already at record highs, said Gomes.
"The increase that you're seeing is not as large as the gains in the United States, and that's because they're still way below what was normal over the past decade," he said.
Chrysler Canada and GM Canada both saw improved sales last month compared to June 2012.
Chrysler sold 26,222 vehicles last month, helped by strong demand for its passenger cars and Jeeps.
That's 11 per cent higher than the 23,705 vehicles it sold in June 2012.
Chrysler said passenger car sales rose 46 per cent to 5,458, while sales of trucks, which typically have higher profit margins for automakers, edged up four per cent to 20,764.
Year-to-date sales were up 6.9 per cent to 139,234 vehicles.
"2013 marks the best half-way point in the year for Chrysler Canada since 2000," said chief operating officer Dave Buckingham.
"With the record growth we are experiencing on the car side of our business, we’ve really rounded out our portfolio and established ourselves nicely in all vehicle segments."
GM Canada's sales for June totalled 24,707 vehicles, an eight per cent increase from the 22,869 it sold a year ago.
GM has sold 121,398 vehicles year to date, up 3.6 per cent compared to a year ago.
Meanwhile, Kia Canada Inc. said it sold 7,775 vehicles last month, down from 7,782 in June 2012.
Toyota Canada Inc. also reported a decline in sales compared to a year ago. The automaker said it sold 18,338 vehicles in June, down four per cent from June 2012.
But the company said truck sales increased by 12.6 per cent to 8,716 in June.
Honda Canada Inc. saw its June sales climb 10 per cent to 14,971 vehicles, while Nissan's sales slid 10 per cent lower to 8,889 vehicles.