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Auto sales reach 15-year high in January: StatsCan


March 14, 2012
By Sunny Freeman The Canadian Press

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Canadian sales of new cars and trucks opened the year on a resoundingly positive note, but may have fallen off last month, according to Statistics Canada.

The federal agency, which collects data on monthly retail sales in dollars and in units of new vehicles sold in Canada, found a 15.4 percent rise in vehicles sold in January to 153,623 units from 133,146 units sold in December.

The data indicates sales rose at the fastest pace in more than 15 years in January, economist Robert Kavcic said in a report by BMO Economics.

And while sales are likely to dip in the short term, the industry is headed in the right direction, he said.

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“January’s growth was largely the result of inventories becoming available after the auto sector supply chain was disrupted last year,” he said. “Sales rose across the country, with Ontario and Quebec seeing the biggest increases.”

Japanese automakers were hit hard after last year’s earthquake and tsunami that hampered production.

Meanwhile, interest rates remain at ultra low levels, making auto loans cheap, and a spike in gasoline prices has also pushed some drivers to showrooms in search of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Statistics Canada did not provide precise numbers for last month, but said preliminary industry data suggests sales fell seven percent in February.

The federal agency’s report stands in contrast to the figures released by some of the world’s largest automakers and a report from an industry analyst that indicated sales jumped 9.4 percent in February from the month before.

DesRosiers Automotive Consultants said in its report that overall vehicle sales rose to 106,712 last month from 97,500 in January. Meanwhile, DesRosiers reported a monthly decrease of 14.9 percent in January to 97,500 from 114,600 vehicles sold in December.

The difference stems from how the reports are calculated.

Statistics Canada data, which is released about six weeks after the end of the month, is based on surveys completed by automakers who consolidate totals from their dealers’ monthly reports on new vehicle sales. Its numbers are used in the calculation of gross domestic product growth.

But the DesRosiers compilation, which comes out on the first of each month, the same day automakers report their results, uses information from the automakers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada and the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association (CVMA).

The two data sources have similar findings when it comes to year-over-year figures, with DesRosiers finding a 15.4 percent increase in January from the year before, and Statistics Canada reporting a 15.5 percent year-over-year jump.

In addition, Scotiabank found a similar 15 percent more vehicles were sold in January compared to the same month a year before.

The similar year-over-year findings, a determination that is considered a better long-term metric, suggest a trend toward improvement in the auto industry.
While Statistics Canada’s February projection suggests some softening, Kavcic said he expects overall sales for 2012 to be higher.

Sales should total about 1.6 million in Canada compared to 1.59 million units in 2011, he said.

Among Statistics Canada’s other findings from January, passenger car sales rose 23.9 percent to 71,539 units on increased sales of lower-cost vehicles. Sales of North American-built passenger cars led the growth, rising 28.5 percent, while sales of overseas-built passenger cars were up 16.8 percent in a fifth consecutive monthly increase.

Sales of minivans, sport-utility vehicles, light and heavy trucks, vans and buses rose 8.8 percent in January, offsetting declines in November and December.

New motor vehicle sales rose in every province, with Ontario reporting the largest increase of 23.7 percent.