Fewer Canadians shopped for cars last month and many of those who did made the shift toward fuel-efficient vehicles, as consumers adjust to higher gas prices and economic uncertainty.
Canadian vehicle sales fell 4.9 per cent overall to 141,472 last month, compared to 148,756 in July
2010, according to figures from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.
A lack of discounts and continuing shortages of Japanese cars, along with higher fuel prices and an uncertain economy, kept many buyers away.
Car sales were down 6.1 per cent last month at 63,379 units from 67,532 a year ago, while truck sales fell 3.9 per cent to 78,093 from 81,224.
“Light vehicle sales were down by 4.9 per cent for the month with a very mixed bag of performance at the individual (automaker) level,” Dennis DesRosiers said in the report.
Two of the Detroit big three — Ford, Chrysler and GM Canada — reported record-setting July sales.
Ford Canada, the top-selling automaker in Canada, posted its best July in 32 years, with car and truck sales edging up one per cent over the same month last year to 27,344 vehicles.
Chrysler sets record
Chrysler Canada posted its best July in the automaker’s history, with sales up five per cent at 23,385 last month from 22,319 in July 2010.
Those automakers have led the push toward a more fuel-efficient lineup among the so-called Detroit big three. GM, which is playing a bit of catch-up with the others, plans to launch new fuel-efficient and hybrid products, such as the Chevrolet Sonic, Orlando and Volt this fall.
GM Canada, however, saw July sales fall 14 per cent to 20,345 vehicles from 23,917 a year ago.
The company said its July sales were slower than expected, but added it remains on track for a solid 2011 performance as sales of its most popular brands, like the Chevrolet Cruze and Buick Regal, remained strong.
“Demand for our most popular vehicles continues to rise, but sales felt some impact from product mix and inventory levels of high-volume models,” said Marc Comeau, vice-president of sales, service and marketing at GM Canada.
High gas prices — which averaged just over $1.26 a litre in Canada on Wednesday, according to the price-tracking website Gasbuddy
.com — have precipitated a North American trend toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
At Ford Canada, car sales were up 10 per cent in July, driven by strong interest in its Fiesta, Fusion and Taurus models. But truck sales fell three per cent as the company noted high gas prices were pushing consumers toward more fuel-efficient choices.
“We have been seeing consumers migrate from trucks to cars throughout the year due to several factors, including higher fuel prices,” said David Mondragon, president and CEO of Ford Canada.
So far this year, Ford’s car sales are 23 per cent higher than they were at the same time last year, while truck sales are down 0.5 per cent.
Chrysler also reported a big boost in car sales, which grew 33 per cent from last July, adding that truck sales were up just 0.7 per cent.
Year-to-date, Chrysler Canada sales are up 13 per cent at 145,000 units compared with 127,793 in the same period last year.
Ford Canada sales are up five per cent, with 167,721 vehicles sold this year, compared with 159,965 sold in the same year-ago period.
Meanwhile, GM sales are down 1.5 per cent for the year to 145,211.
DesRosiers said brands such as Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Kia and Volks-wagen, which largely focus on fuel-efficiency and have been growing in popularity among Canadian consumers, all reported double-digit growth.
A first for Hyundai
Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. set a new company record for July, with sales up 11 per cent to 12,753 units. July was also the third consecutive month in which Hyundai was the best-selling import automaker, the company said.
Kia Canada Inc. also recorded its best-ever month in July with 6,383 new vehicles sold, up 12.9 per cent compared to July 2010.
Volkswagen sales grew 16.5 per cent to 4,522 units sold.
BMW Group Canada reported a sales boost of 14.1 per cent to 2,867 units sold this July, while fellow luxury carmaker Audi’s sales grew 14.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, most Japanese auto-makers posted double-digit declines after cutting factory production because of parts shortages blamed on the March earthquake and tsunami.
Toyota, Canada’s No. 1 selling automaker, saw sales slip 17.9 per cent to 11,231 vehicles, but the company sounded an upbeat tone.
“With the return to 100 per cent production for most North American-built vehicles, Toyota’s sales momentum has been increasing for the past two months,” said Tony Wearing, managing director at Toyota Canada Inc.