Detroit automakers started off the year with strong sales in Canada, figures for January showed on Friday, helped by demand for fuel-efficient passenger cars, leaving vehicle manufacturers optimistic about the outlook for 2013.
Chrysler Canada, a unit of Fiat SpA's Chrysler LLC , said January sales increased by 2.6 percent to 17,013, its best January performance since 1996.
A 1.5 percent increase in car sales to 2,566 plus a 2.8 percent rise in truck sales to 14,447 made Chrysler the number one vehicle seller in Canada in January, the automaker said.
"We finished 2012 by shattering annual sales records for Ram trucks, Jeep Wrangler, Chrysler 200 and Fiat 500 and we are glad to see that momentum continue into 2013," Chrysler Canada chief operating officer Dave Buckingham said in a statement.
Sales at General Motors of Canada, a subsidiary of General Motors Inc. , rose 6.2 percent in January to 13,761, the company said, led by a 40 percent surge in compact car sales. This is a marked turnaround from a nearly 7 percent fall in sales in 2012 at the company, which sells Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands.
"We are looking forward to further momentum in 2013 driven by our aggressive launch cadence, where approximately 70 percent of our vehicles will be all-new or significantly refreshed," said Marc Comeau, GM of Canada's vice-president of sales, service and marketing.
Meanwhile, Ford of Canada, a unit of Ford Motor Co , said demand for fuel-efficient cars boosted its sales last month by 8.1 percent, its best January performance in 10 years.
Car sales at Ford, which includes the Ford Fusion and Ford Focus models, increased 24 percent to 3,634. Truck sales rose 4.3 percent to 12,563.
"With forecasts showing that 2013 could be a record sales year, we see lot of opportunity for sales growth for Ford," Ford of Canada president and chief executive Dianne Craig said.
After a strong 2012, Canadian vehicle sales are expected to continue to increase this year, nearing - or even exceeding - the record of 1.7 million set in 2002 on the back of pent-up demand left over from the recession and higher employment especially in Western Canada, analysts have said.
In the United States, several major automakers, including GM and Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>, posted better-than-expected U.S. vehicle sales for January, kicking off the fourth straight year of the sector's recovery from the depths of recession.
(Reporting By Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz & Theodore d'Afflisio)