Vehicle sales edged ahead by a fraction in Canada last month from year-earlier levels despite worse-than-usual weather in North America that some auto makers blamed for lower U.S. sales.
Canadians bought 95,639 vehicles last month, up 0.3 per cent from 95,306 in January, 2013.
That result came after the industry racked up its best year on record overall in 2013. The continued strength appears to indicate that some potentially worrisome indicators such as the turbulence in emerging markets and the decline in the Canadian dollar – plus the deep freeze for much of the country – aren't deterring consumers from buying new vehicles.
Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers cautioned that January sales should not be seen as indicating how the market will fare for all of 2014. Nonetheless, both he and Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter saw the January figure as positive.
"We know a lot of sales were pulled forward into December," as auto makers offered discounts to reach year-end sales targets, Mr. DesRosiers said. "We know the weather was horrific."
Mr. Porter said the result "flies in the face of some other indicators that suggest the economy may have gone for a bit of hibernation early in 2014."
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales fell to about 15.2 million vehicles in the United States from 15.4 million in December.
Both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. blamed the severe winter weather that hammered the Great Lakes region early in the month and southeastern U.S. states last week for sending sales skidding. Ford's sales fell 7 per cent and GM's 12 per cent.
Chrysler Group LLC, however, said its sales rose 8 per cent. "The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said in a statement.
Mr. Bigland is also president of Chrysler Canada Inc., which posted a 4-per-cent gain in Canada and grabbed top spot in the sales race by more than 3,000 vehicles ahead of Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. Ford Canada's sales fell 10 per cent. General Motors of Canada Ltd. sold 20-per-cent fewer vehicles last month than it did a year earlier.
Asia- and Europe-based auto makers picked up more than four points of market share at the expense of Ford and GM. Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc., Nissan Canada Inc., Subaru Canada Inc. and Toyota Canada Inc. led the way with each posting double-digit sales increases.
Mr. DesRosiers noted that light trucks captured 61.6 per cent of the market, the first time they have topped the 60-per-cent level.
That number is propelled in part by the strong growth of crossover utility vehicles, which are increasingly replacing mid-size sedans, other cars and minivans as the vehicles of choice for Canadian families.
The growth of the truck segment, including sales of pickups themselves, will make it difficult for some auto makers to meet the new fuel-efficiency targets that come into effect later in the decade, Mr. DesRosiers said.