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High gasoline prices and lofty insurance rates drove vehicle sales lower in Canada for another month, industry experts said.According to data provided by the auto makers and compiled by analyst Dennis DesRosiers, 132,518 cars and trucks were sold in August, down 6.7 per cent from last year. Year to date, sales have declined 4.9 per cent from 1.11 million in 2003 to 1.06 million during the first eight months of this year.Among the largest auto makers Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., General Motors of Canada Ltd. and DaimlerChrysler Canada Inc. sales plunged 11.9 per cent, 11.4 per cent and 3.2 per cent, respectively last month.Year to date, sales are down 13.1 per cent, 3.2 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, at the Big Three auto makers.Gas prices and insurance rates are hurting the market, said Mr. DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont.Gas prices have been on the rise in recent months as geopolitical uncertainty and fears of supply shortages pushed the price of crude oil toward the $50 (U.S.) a barrel level. According to Calgary-based MJ Ervin & Associates, Canadian gasoline prices averaged 82.5 cents a litre year in August up from 77 cents a litre in August of 2003.Mr. DesRosiers noted that while some predicted consumers would gravitate toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles as gasoline prices climb, that isn't occurring. Instead, people are backing away from the market altogether deciding to wait for either car prices or energy costs to decline, he said.Bank of Nova Scotia economist Carlos Gomes echoed Mr. DesRosiers comments, saying that sales during the first few months of the year were on par with 2003 but then fell off a cliff once energy prices started rising substantially.Everything started to fall apart once May rolled around and it is energy driven, Mr. Gomes said.What's more, Mr. DesRosiers said that bargain-basement financing deals offered a year ago have also cut into this year's sales: When you put out incentive programs, you steal from the future, and the future is now. He also observed that corporate fleet vehicle sales during July and August which, according to his calculations, account for about 20 per cent of sales during the summer were weaker than normal last month.There was some very specific front-end loading of fleet sales into the first six months and fleet sales at midyear were actually up about six points while retail was down by about five points. Fleet is now weak and this is reflected in lower overall sales numbers, he said.But the auto maker's woes weren't just experienced in Canada. Within their crucial U.S. operations, sales at General Motors Corp. dropped 14 per cent from a year earlier, Ford Motor Ltd.'s sales fell 13 per cent, while DaimlerChrysler AG said they dropped 5.7 per cent. Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales fell for the first time in 16 months.On the back of those results, Ford said it plans to reduce fourth-quarter North American production by 7.8 per cent while General Motors said production will decline 6.9 per cent. (Officials at Ford and GM Canada said it was too early to say whether it will come from the Canadian operations).Still, some smaller players, including Honda Canada Inc., BMW Canada Inc. and Volvo Cars of Canada Ltd., increased sales.
Source : Globe and Mail 02-01-2004, collaboration M. Maurice Potvin