* Ford Canada top seller for March
* Year-to-date, Chrysler Canada leads sales
* GM market share shaved lower as sales drop
By Susan Taylor
TORONTO, April 2 Canadian auto sales ticked down a modest 0.7 percent in March, declining for the fourth straight month, but industry data released on Tuesday showed new vehicle sales came close to matching record-setting numbers from last year.
Buoyed by strong demand for its pick-up trucks, Ford Canada was top seller for the month with a 1.6 percent sales increase, while Chrysler took second spot with a 6.5 percent jump. General Motors sales tumbled nearly 11 percent.
Asian automakers also saw declines, with Toyota Motor Corp sales down 6.2 percent, Honda Motor Corp Ltd down 0.6 percent and Hyundai Motor Co sales 4.7 percent lower.
Total March sales in Canada slipped to 156,680 vehicles from 157,749 in the same period last year, when an all-time record was set, according to data from independent auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers. Car sales fell 4.7 percent to 70,2017 vehicles, while truck sales rose 2.8 percent to 86,473 vehicles.
"These are not bad numbers at all," said Tony Faria, an auto industry expert at the University of Windsor in Ontario. "We're running right along the best year we ever had (in 2002). We may fall slightly short of it for the full year, we may come in slightly ahead."
In a report accompanying the monthly sales data, DesRosiers said the "encouraging" numbers demonstrate several market share shifts.
Chrysler's year-to-date share rose to 16.3 percent from 15.3 percent in 2012, he said, while Ford's share climbed to 16.2 percent from 15.2 percent. GM's slide continued, he said, as weaker March sales shaved the automaker's year-to-date market share to 13.5 percent from 13.8 percent.
European luxury brands gained sales and market share in March with continued steady growth, the analyst said, pointing to a 33.5 percent jump for Porsche sales and 26.6 percent rise in Land Rover sales, for example.
In the U.S. market, Ford and Chrysler, an affiliate of Italian automaker Fiat SpA, reported slightly better-than-expected March sales, lifted by demand for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. In contrast, General Motors Co sales fell short of estimates..
Ford Canada said March sales rose to 25,092 vehicles from 24,690 in the same period last year, as a 2.8 percent gain in truck sales offset a 1.8 percent decline in car sales.
Chrysler said total sales rose to 24,173 vehicles from 22,703 in March 2012, reflecting a 20 percent jump in car sales and 3.2 percent increase in truck sales.
Year-to-date, Chrysler sales are up 4 percent, which the company said maintains its spot as the country's leading seller for 2013.
"We experienced our best Ram truck sales in our history this month," said Chrysler Canada Chief Operating Officer Dave Buckingham in a statement.
General Motors sales dipped to 20,218 vehicles from 22,684 in March 2012, with pickup sales down 2 percent for the month.