Sales of new cars and trucks in Manitoba increased at one of the fastest paces in the country last year, according to new Statistics Canada figures issued Tuesday.
The seasonally unadjusted sales data show Manitoba dealerships sold 48,546 new vehicles in 2011, including 3,859 in the final month of the year.
That's a seven per cent improvement over the 45,355 units sold in 2010 and three times the national average increase of 2.3 per cent. Only two other provinces -- Alberta and Saskatchewan -- saw bigger gains, at 9.6 per cent and 7.3 per cent, respectively.
And while it's early, the prospects for this year look good, as well.
Statistics Canada said preliminary data indicate Canadian sales jumped by 16 per cent in January, on the strength of a surge in car sales.
An auto-industry forecast Scotiabank issued last month also predicted Manitoba's new-vehicle sales will hit a 10-year high this year. And Manitoba Motor Dealers Association president Neil Metcalfe said Tuesday local industry officials are also anticipating another good year.
"I don't know if we'll see the kind of increases we saw last year," he said. "But we're still quite optimistic."
Metcalfe said many of the factors that helped to fuel sales in 2011 should still be in play in 2012. They include a stable Manitoba economy, which helps underpin consumer confidence; some attractive incentive programs from auto manufacturers; fuel-efficiency improvements for many newer models and low interest rates.
Another contributing factor last year was a surge in sales of fleet vehicles. Metcalfe said many companies that held off on upgrading their fleets during and immediately after the 2009 recession started revving up their purchases in 2011.
"That's what's been driving a lot of the Alberta and Saskatchewan sales, and Manitoba, as well."
As was the case in 2010, the hottest-selling type of new vehicles in 2011 were trucks -- a category that includes light and heavy-duty trucks, sport utility vehicles, crossover vehicles, minivans, vans and buses.
Those sales jumped by 10.6 per cent last year to 32,766 units. Sales of passenger cars rose by a meagre 0.3 per cent to 15,780 units.
Metcalfe said the surge in truck sales reflects the growing popularity of SUVs, crossovers and full-size pickup trucks. Consumers like the added space and increased versatility they offer. And the newer models are more fuel-efficient, which also resonates with consumers.
December's Manitoba sales were a 4.1 per cent improvement from 3,708 units. That was a big gain from November's three per cent drop in sales.
Nationally, new-vehicle sales declined for the second consecutive month, falling three per cent to 133,146 units in December. Statistics Canada said seasonally adjusted sales were down in five provinces, with Ontario and Alberta accounting for most of the decline.
Car sales led the way nationally in December -- up 1.1 per cent to 57,971 units. Truck sales fell by six per cent to 75,175 units, the agency added.