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Automakers report double-digit growth in February, Chrysler on top


TORONTO — Some of the world’s largest automakers saw Canadian sales grow by double digits last month as more customers flocked to showrooms shopping for new vehicles.

A spike in gas prices has sent more consumers looking for fuel efficient vehicles, while the average age of vehicles on Canadian roads reaches new records, leading to an increased need to replace aging vehicles.

Meanwhile, interest rates remain at ultra low levels making auto loans cheap. And Japanese automakers have largely recovered from a disruption due to last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Positive results from automakers in the opening two months of the year put the industry on track for its third straight year of improving sales for the industry. Sales bottomed in 2009 during the financial crisis, but rose the next two years.

One new trend, however, is the emergence of Chrysler as the country’s top selling automaker for the past two months — beating out reigning Ford — as the company undergoes a turnaround.

Consumers have reacted favourably to its new line up of fuel efficient products after Fiat took over leadership of the company after it restructured in 2009.

The company said Thursday sales increased nine per cent compared with a year ago and hit their best level for a February since 2002.

“These sales results are a testament to the 16 all-new or significantly refreshed products we introduced over the last year, which focused on improved exteriors, new interiors, and dramatically better fuel efficiency,” Chrysler Canada chief operating officer Dave Buckingham said in a statement.

The increase was helped by a more than doubling of passenger car sales at the automaker. Jeep Wrangler sales also more than doubled compared with a year ago.

Chrysler Canada, which has assembly plants in Windsor and Brampton, Ont., northwest of Toronto, as well as parts operations, said it sold 16,536 cars and trucks sold in February, up from 15,238 in the same month last year.

Meanwhile, GM said it sold 14,258 vehicles in February, up 16 per cent over February 2011, as sales of fuel-efficient crossovers increased significantly compared with a year ago.

Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain sales were up 41.5 per cent.

“For 2012, our dealers have the best and most complete product line up in recent memory, spanning all segments, from the entry level Sonic to the new Canadian-built Cadillac XTS,” said Marc Comeau, vice-president of sales, service and marketing at GM of Canada.

GM’s passenger car sales rose 5.8 per cent in February, helped by strong sales of the Buick Regal, Chevrolet Camaro and Buick LaCrosse, while Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks sales saw Silverado, and Sierra sales gain seven per cent.

Sales also improved for Japanese automakers for a second consecutive month after spending the better part of a year trying to smooth out supply disruptions caused by the Japanese tsunami in March.

Toyota Canada said sales rose 31 per cent with 12,384 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles sold in February 2012.

Car sales were up 52.3 per cent to 6,889 units and truck sales saw their best ever February, up 10.9 per cent to 5,495. Meanwhile, hybrid sales jumped 169 per cent during the month.

At Honda Canada, sales rose 14 per cent to 8,883 units, led by a 111 per cent sales increase of the Honda Fit, as well as strong sales of its Ridgeline and Pilot.

In the U.S., many automakers reported strong sales for February as Americans snapped up smaller cars to offset high gas prices.

Chrysler’s February sales rose 40 per cent from a year earlier as it sold nearly 134,000 new cars and trucks. All of its brands showed at least double-digit increases. Chrysler was helped by an easy comparison with last February, when sales were relatively low because many of its revamped models were just arriving in showrooms.

Ford sales rose 14 per cent, mostly on demand for the Focus compact car. Focus sales more than doubled to 23,350, making it the best February for the Focus in 12 years.

At GM, sales of the Chevrolet Cruze compact rose 10 per cent to top 20,000 for the month, while the new Chevy Sonic subcompact saw its best sales month ever at almost 8,000. The strength of those sales helped General Motors, which was expected to see sales drop, report a one per cent increase.