UPDATE 2-Canada auto sales boosted by fuel-efficient shift
* Mirrors trend in United States
* Ford remains Canada's No. 1 automaker
* Analyst predicts soft Q2 on Japan parts shortage
(Recasts with analyst comment)
By Nicole Mordant
VANCOUVER, May 3 (Reuters) - Auto sales in Canada rose nearly 7 percent in April as more consumers shifted to fuel-efficient cars to save on expensive gasoline, mirroring a trend in the United States.
With gas pump prices hovering around C$1.40 ($1.47) a liter, Ford Motor Co of Canada (F.N), Chrysler Canada and GM Canada (GM.N), the country's biggest automakers, said their strongest sales last month came from less gas-guzzling compact cars. Total Canadian sales reached nearly 160,000, which is still below pre-recession April levels of around 175,000.
"What is standing out in April is the shift that is going on toward smaller fuel-efficient vehicles," said Carlos Gomes, a senior economist at Scotia Economics who covers the auto sector. "In particular we have manufacturers that specialize in small cars such as Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia all reporting record volumes last month."
In the United States, General Motors Co returned to the top spot in auto sales in April as high gasoline prices fed consumer hunger for more fuel-efficient cars. [ID:nN03111066]
Ford ranked as the top auto-seller in Canada in April for the third month in a row as its car sales jumped 33 percent, helped by its new compact and light-on-fuel Fiesta model. Ford truck sales, once the company's mainstay, rose just 2.6 percent.
"Ford's strategy to improve fuel economy in anticipation of higher gas prices is paying off as consumers are placing a higher priority on fuel efficiency in the showroom," said David Mondragon, Ford Canada's chief executive.
"We see sales opportunity at Ford throughout the second quarter with good supply of Canada's most fuel-efficient models," Mondragon added.
Overall Ford's vehicle sales rose 9 percent to 25,548 last month, its best April in 11 years.
Chrysler Canada was No.2 in sales last month, selling 16 percent more vehicles, or 23,837. As with Ford, it was boosted by a surge in car sales, up 45 percent in the month.
GM Canada's core brand car sales rose 24 percent in April boosted by its Chevrolet Cruze and other fuel-efficient models. Core brand truck sales fell 10.7 percent, leaving combined vehicle sales virtually unchanged at 22,622.
Total vehicle sales in Canada have risen 3.6 percent so far in 2011 though the second and third quarters of the year could prove more difficult because of a shortage of parts from Japan. Damage from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11 has already led several automakers to cut output.
"With supply constraints coming as a result of the Japanese tsunami we expect the next quarter to be quite soft," said independent auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers.
"Indeed we are pulling 45,000 units out of our second and third quarter forecast and pushing them into our fourth and first quarter 2012 forecast," DesRosiers said.
Honda Canada on Monday became the latest automaker to warn about the twin disasters' impact on its operations. It said vehicle production will remain at "significantly reduced levels" throughout the summer and the company hopes to normalize production around year-end.
For the month of April, combined sales for Honda and Acura fell 6 percent in April to 12,269, with the upscale Acura brand the bigger drag with sales off 20 percent.
Sales at the Honda division, which includes the Honda Civic, Canada's best-selling passenger car for 13 years, dropped 4 percent year on year.
Toyota Canada Inc (7203.T) said it sold 19,327 cars and trucks last month, an increase of 9.4 percent.
Kia sales jumped 34 percent in April, Volkswagen's (VOWG.DE) was up 25.8 percent and Hyundai's (011760.KS) rose 14 percent. (Editing by Rob Wilson and Frank McGurty)
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