UPDATE 2-Strong truck demand offsets sliding Canadian car sales

Mon Mar 3, 2014 5:22pm EST

* February sales climb 2.4 pct to 105,693 vehicles

* Chrysler Canada takes sales lead with 18,522 vehicles

* Truck sales climb 9.7 pct as car sales fall 7.3 pct

By Susan Taylor

TORONTO, March 3 (Reuters) - Canadian auto sales chugged 2.4 percent higher in February as record-setting truck sales helped offset slumping demand for cars and severe winter weather, an independent auto industry analyst said on Monday.

Auto sales in the country climbed to 105,693 vehicles, marking the third-best February since 2007 and signaling a "steady as she goes" sector recovery, said Dennis DesRosiers, of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

Truck sales accelerated to 64,579 vehicles in February, from 58,867 last year, while car sales fell to 41,114 vehicles, from 44,359, he wrote.

"Trucks overall continued to grow their sales with a 9.7 percent increase in February. Passenger cars, on the other hand, saw a 7.3 percent decline in unit sales during the month," he wrote.

"Chrysler continued to build on its market lead, selling ... more than 2,000 units ahead of second placed Ford."

Chrysler Canada, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles , posted a 10 percent jump in monthly sales to 18,522 vehicles, marking its fifty-first consecutive month of year-over-year growth.

Truck sales soared 16.5 percent to 16,352 vehicles, with record volumes for the Ram pickup, Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler Town & Country van, the company said, while car sales slumped 22 percent to 2,170 vehicles.

Ford Motor Co of Canada said sales slipped 0.4 percent in February to 16,234 vehicles from 16,301 in the same period last year, as growing demand for trucks failed to outweigh the sharp drop in car sales.

Truck sales grew 4.3 percent to 13,094 vehicles, driven by an 8 percent jump in F-Series sales, but car sales tumbled 16.1 percent to 3,140 vehicles in February.

Monthly sales at General Motors Canada tumbled 7.2 percent, the company said, to 12,981 vehicles. Truck sales declined nearly 4 percent as car sales fell 13.7 percent.

Toyota Canada Inc said monthly sales rose 1.5 percent, to 10,942 vehicles, with year-to-date sales up 5.8 percent over the same period in 2013.

Toyota-branded vehicle sales edged up 0.5 percent, to 9,763, buoyed by a second straight month of record truck sales, the company said.

Sales of Lexus-branded vehicles rose 20 percent, to a new February record of 980, while Scion-branded sales fell 19 percent, to 199 for the month.

In the United States, auto sales in February were slightly brisker than expected as hefty incentives lured customers into dealerships late in the month despite cold and snowy weather, raising concerns about industry profitability.

General Motors Co said it expected industry-wide U.S. auto sales of 15.4 million vehicles in February on an annualized basis, matching a forecast of analysts polled by Reuters.

The frost on sales for January and February will thaw in March as temperatures rise and customers return to showrooms in greater numbers, some industry analysts said. However, late February's high customer incentives, the discounts to lure buyers into showrooms, will carry over into March, cutting in to companies' profit, they said.

In January, four of the top five U.S. auto sellers blamed tough winter weather for disappointing sales.

Weather also hurt Canadian auto sales last month, which nudged just 0.3 percent higher. Total sales rose to 95,639 vehicles in January, as a 4.7 percent increase in truck sales offset a 5.9 percent drop in passenger car sales.