UPDATE 1-Canada auto sales rise; Chrysler, Ford tussle at top

Thu May 1, 2014 5:38pm EDT

(Adds sales data from Ford, GM, Toyota)

TORONTO May 1 (Reuters) - Automakers reported solid Canadian vehicle sales in April, with a 4 percent overall gain on a year ago, as demand for truck and luxury brands buoyed the industry.

Light trucks sales again overpowered passenger car purchases, even as gasoline prices continued to rise. Hybrid vehicles, which typically use both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor, also sold well.

Chrysler Canada said on Thursday that its total vehicle sales climbed 6 percent in April, as a surge truck sales more than offset slumping car purchases, and it claimed the country's spot for top seller in 2014.

But rival Ford's Canadian unit took the lead in monthly sales, breaking records for its Escape and Explorer models and several hybrid vehicles.

Ford said it sold 27,342 vehicles in April, a 2 percent decline from a year ago, as it bucked the industry trend with declining truck sales.

Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said total vehicle sales climbed to 27,212 vehicles. Truck sales rose 22 percent to 24,229 vehicles, while auto sales tumbled 49 percent to 2,983 vehicles.

"This month's results marked the best April sales on record at Chrysler Canada in the last quarter of a century," Chief Operating Officer Dave Buckingham said in a statement. "Leading the pack are our Jeep and Ram products."

General Motors dealers in Canada came in third, selling 25,435 vehicles in the month, with strong gains for its Chevrolet brand.

The Chrysler gains, which represent a 53rd consecutive month of year-over-year growth, include monthly sales records for Chrysler's Jeep and Ram branded vehicles, including Jeep Wrangler and Ram trucks, the company said.

Dodge and Chrysler minivans, produced in Windsor, Ontario, had a double-digit April sales increase for a combined 5,988 vehicles.

So far this year, Chrysler Canada has sold 88,081 vehicles on a strong showing for its trucks.

Toyota Canada sold 20,663 vehicles, a 2.9 percent increase, to take fourth place on the back of strong truck sale growth.

Among luxury brands, Infiniti sales jumped almost 40 percent, Land Rover gained more than 26 percent, and Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Porsche all grew around 15 percent.

The U.S. auto industry rebounded sharply in April from a bitter and extended winter, with four of the top six automakers reporting year-over-year gains in sales on Thursday.

Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co all topped analysts' expectations with double-digit sales increases. General Motors Co also beat expectations, with a 7 percent uptick. Ford Motor Co missed estimates, with a decline of 1.0 percent.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp and Susan Taylor; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernard Orr)