TORONTO - Aided by unusual springlike weather, new-vehicle sales in Canada rose 6.4 percent in March after declining in January and February.
The gain, to 128,888 units, brought sales for the year to date to 288,368 units, up 0.6 percent from first quarter 1997.
'The spring selling season is upon us, and that's good news,' said John Radford, vice president of sales for Ford of Canada Ltd.
The March surge lifted all but a few boats. General Motors was off 10.7 percent as both car and truck sales fell; Volvo fell 19.4 percent; Nissan, 7.1 percent; and Land Rover, 3 percent. Lada sales tumbled 69.8 percent to just 26 units.
Chrysler's combined sales rose 17.4 percent in March as trucks surged 19.4 percent to a record 19,563 units. Car sales, helped by the arrival of the new Intrepid and Concorde, jumped 13.2 percent to 9,034 units. For the quarter, Chrysler sales were up 17.7 percent from a year earlier to 63,789.
Ford's combined sales increased a bare 0.8 percent in March, but the gain yielded the best sales for the month since 1990.
Oddly, given Ford's recent reliance on truck sales, cars were up 6.6 percent in March, while trucks slipped 1.8 percent. First-quarter sales were off 11.4 percent from a year earlier.
General Motors truck sales declined 8.3 percent in March, while cars were down 13 percent. Combined first-quarter sales retreated 8 percent.
Dick Conlin, General Motors of Canada Ltd. vice president of marketing, acknowledged that first-quarter sales were 'below expectations.' But, he said, model-year sales to date 'remain robust' and are up by more than 9 percent.
Both General Motors and Ford lost significant market share in the first quarter, much of it to Chrysler.
GM's share slumped to 30.2 percent from 33.1 percent a year earlier, while Ford gave up 2.7 points of share to 20.2 percent. But Chrysler's share increased to 22.1 percent from 18.9 percent.