GM reclaims top spot in Canada for August

General Motors Co. reclaimed its spot as Canada’s top vehicle seller last month as the industry posted another single-digit sales decline.

Research from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. showed GM sold just over 23,000 vehicles last month, besting Ford Motor Co. by roughly 850 units. Ford had snatched the sales crown from GM earlier this year after its cross-town Detroit rival faltered under bankruptcy protection.

“Rebuilding our inventory levels in August, has improved our sales performance,” Marc Comeau, GM of Canada’s vice-president of sales, service and marketing, said in a statement. “We are positioned to capitalize on the growing market momentum.”

Automakers sold 135,351 cars and trucks in all last month, a 7.9 per cent decline over August 2008, DesRosiers research showed. July sales were down 6.4 per cent, the first single-digit decline since auto sales tanked last October.

“I guess one could say that is an improvement from the double digit declines through most of the past year. But understand that there is little in these number to indicate that things are getting better,” said industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers.

Sales are still down 15.5 per cent this year through the end of August compared to last year, representing nearly 200,000 units of volume, Mr. DesRosiers noted.

Despite losing the sales title, Ford reported higher August sales in both Canada and the United States, saying strong volumes of its pickup trucks provide early evidence that an economic recovery is underway in North America.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford said it sold 176,323 cars and trucks in the United States last month, a 21 per cent increase over the same month in 2008. The automaker sold 22,236 vehicles in Canada, a 7 per cent gain.

“We see clear signs that the Canadian economy is rebounding and that the auto industry is also on the road to recovery,” Ford of Canada President David Mondragon said in a statement. “Our goal is to remain focused on our customers.”

Ford, GM and others were helped by the U.S. congress’s cash-for-clunkers program, which gave a rebate of up to US$4,500 to people who traded in an old vehicle for a new one with better fuel economy.

Ford’s Focus car and Escape SUV were among the top 10 vehicles purchases under the scheme. But it’s the sales of its Ranger and bread-and-butter F-Series trucks that Ford is watching most closely. Volumes for those two vehicles were the highest in more than a year, the company said.

“We are hopeful that the sales of our pickups and all-new Transit Connect [model] are an indication that small business owners are seeing signs of recovery and gaining confidence in the outlook for stronger business conditions,” said Ken Czubay, head of Ford’s U.S. marketing and sales.

Builders and other tradespeople buy an estimated 80 per cent of all pickup trucks in Canada, providing a crucial market for the high-margin vehicles.

Ford was the only U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy protection and a government-led rescue. Its shares were trading at US$7.28, down 4.2 per cent, on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday afternoon.

Toyota Canada Inc. said it sold 21 per cent fewer Toyota and Lexus vehicles in August compared the same month in 2008. Honda Canada Inc. reported an 18 per cent sales drop.

Photograph by: Reuters/Mike Cassese