TORONTO — Canadians out shopping for cars last month apparently didn’t get the memo that the economy is stalling and consumer confidence waning.
Chrysler Canada and Ford Canada both reported some of their best September sales in a decade or more, even as stock markets tanked and consumers grew more wary that another recession could be on its way.
A consumer shift towards smaller cars over the last year helped both Ford and Chrysler Canada — carmakers that have moved to expand their lineups in that growing part of the market.
“We were up against an unusually strong September last year,” said David Mondragon, president and CEO, Ford of Canada, based in Oakville, just west of Toronto.
“The fact that our car sales continue to improve shows that our investment in smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles is paying off.”
As the economy slows, Canadians have seen rising unemployment, more modest wage growth and falling consumer confidence.
In the past carmakers have responded to a slowdown in consumer spending by boosting their incentive programs, offering big deals on new vehicle purchases to lure consumers into their showrooms.
Chrysler Canada, based in Windsor, Ont., said it sold 19,255 vehicles last month, a 19 per cent increase from the year prior, for its best September since 2001.
Ford Canada, which has reigned as the best-selling automaker in Canada so far this year, said it had its second-best September in 33 years — topped only by last year’s record month.
Although auto and truck sales actually fell about three per cent to 25,656 from 26,453 last September, Ford reported that strong car sales, up 14 per cent year-over-year, helped the company remain parked in the top spot for both the month and year-to-date.
Ford’s sales are up about 4.2 per cent for the year-to-date at 219,304 from 210,451 during the period last year.
While car sales improved for both September and by 21 per cent year-over-year, its truck sales are seeing the opposite trend — falling seven per cent last month and by a slight 0.8 per cent so far this year.
Many consumers are making the shift to smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles as they look for ways to clamp down on everyday costs, even though gas prices have fallen off highs reported in the late spring.
At Chrysler Canada, car sales doubled, but it also reported strong sales of some of its best-selling trucks.
Ram pickup trucks accounted for nearly one-third of Chrysler Canada’s total sales in September, with 6,047 sold — an all-time record for the month.
Jeep Wrangler was Chrysler’s second-biggest selling brand, with the number more than doubling to 1,281 vehicles last month from 602 sold a year earlier.
So far this year, Chrysler has sold a total of 183,071 cars and light trucks — a 14 per cent increase over the first nine months of 2010.
The company has been recovering since a disastrous 2009, when its parent had to be bailed out by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Meanwhile, Honda Canada continues to grapple with declining sales following a supply disruption caused by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March. Sales combined with its Acura division fell 19 per cent from the same month last year to 11,109 vehicles.
Honda said sales were down 22 per cent to 9,468 units, largely affected by a 21 per cent decrease in Civic sales due to a shortage of key parts from Japan.
“While most of our vehicles have been at full production for about a month, our top sales volume model – Civic – is just now returning to full production, leaving a huge backlog in our dealers’ inventory,” said Jerry Chenkin, executive vice president of Honda Canada Inc.
“October and November supply of Civics will steadily improve.”
General Motors sold 16,799 vehicles under the core Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC brands — a decline of 6.1 per cent from September 2010 if all brands are counted or a decline of 5.9 per cent if discontinued brands are excluded.
The biggest decline was in cars, where GM sold 4,859 vehicles — down 21.8 per cent from September 2010. That was partially offset by higher truck sales, which were up 2.6 per cent to 11,940.
“While September came in below prior year results, GM and its dealers anticipate a significant rebound as we gear up for the biggest launch in Chevrolet Canada’s history,” said Marc Comeau, vice-president of sales, service and marketing at GM of Canada.
For the year to date, GM Canada has sold 186,998 cars and trucks, up 2.8 per cent from 181,922 in the first nine months of 2010.
There were 63,507 cars sold under core brands, up 9.3 per cent if only core brands are counted. If all brands are counted, there have been 63,549 GM cars sold this year in Canada, down 1.9 per cent.
For trucks, there have been about 123,491 sold under core brands this year, down 0.2 per cent from 123,799 in the first nine months of 2010.
In the United States, auto sales accelerated as well, although carmakers remain concerned that worries about the economy could dampen demand later this fall.
General Motor Co.’s sales rose 20 per cent compared with last September, led by a 34-per cent rise in full-size pickups and SUV sales. Chrysler Group LLC’s overall sales rose 27 per cent.
The growth built on a healthy performance in August, when new models, cheaper financing and pent-up demand lifted the industry after several disappointing months.