Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vehicle sales shift down a gear after record year

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TORONTO -- Sales of cars and light trucks in Canada slipped ever so slightly last month compared with the record-setting pace set in March 2012.

According to data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive consultants, sales totalled 156,680 in March, down 0.7 per cent from 157,749 a year ago.

"March 2012 was the best March sales total on record, so the 2013 performance is certainly encouraging," DesRosiers wrote in a report to clients Tuesday.

However, the firm noted the near-identical sales hid shifts in the market that saw those at Ford and Chrylser make gains, while General Motors lost ground.

Ford Motor Co. of Canada says it was the bestselling automaker in the country last month as sales of its popular F-150 pickup truck helped push results higher.

The company says overall sales were up two per cent compared with a year ago for a total of 25,092, up from 24,690. F-150 sales were up 23 per cent.

Meanwhile, car sales slipped to 6,046 for the month, down from 6,157 in March 2012. Total truck sales came to 19,046, up from 18,533.

Neil Metcalfe, president of the Ford dealership in Treherne, Man. (Metcalfe's Garage), confirmed F-150s were hot sellers last month for his family-owned dealership.

"I would say it was a combination of things," he said, including strong consumer confidence levels within the local economy and attractive manufacturer's incentive programs.

Metcalfe, who is also president of the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association, said most grain farmers in the area had pretty good crops last year, and grain and grain-futures prices have remained high through the winter. That helped give farmers the means and the confidence to buy a new truck.

"And our tradespeople also seem to be doing pretty well. They use them (pickup trucks) as both their personal vehicle and their work vehicle... and they are just as important to us as the farm people."

Metcalfe said Ford is also offering cash incentives of up to $10,000 for some truck models and its popular Recycle Your Ride program, which gives customers up to $3,000 cash for their trade-in vehicles (2006 or older), was also in effect last month, so a lot of truck buyers took advantage of that.

He described sales of passenger cars last month at Metcalfe's as "pretty average," noting pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles usually account for about 70 per cent of the dealership's annual sales.

While Ford claimed the top spot, Chrysler Canada reported a six per cent increase in monthly sales for March to bring its sales to 24,173, up from 22,703 in March 2012.

Chrysler said it was the company's best March sales since 2000 and marked 40 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth.

Sales at General Motors, according to DesRosiers, fell 10.9 per cent from a year ago to 20,218 from 22,684.

DesRosiers noted Honda and its Acura nameplate posted gains, while Toyota and its luxury Lexus brand saw sales drop.

"Both high-volume Japanese manufacturers finished the quarter with market share losses, Toyota/Lexus experiencing a more pronounced 0.9 point slide versus Honda's 0.5 point year-to-date decline," DesRosiers said.

"Honda/Acura's gains were isolated entirely to the Acura luxury brand, with mainline Honda models pacing last year's March total almost directly. Toyota/Lexus, on the other hand, saw similar volume reductions across both Toyota and Lexus brands."

Honda reported sales totalled 12,769 for the month, about the same as a year ago, while its Acura division sold 1,728 vehicles, up 92 per cent compared with a year ago.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 B4

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