Auto sales steamed ahead in Canada and the United States last month amid signs that falling gas prices are fuelling shifts in the vehicles consumers are buying.
Auto makers delivered 154,949 new vehicles to customers in Canada last month – a 7 per cent increase that represented the best October on record and the sixth-straight record monthly tally.
Canadian sales are on pace to smash the record of 1.743 million set last year.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate topped two million in Canada for the second straight month, "in a word, stunning," industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., said in a note to clients.
In the U.S. market, the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate hit 16.46 million, also up 7 per cent from a year earlier, according to data compiled by trade publication Automotive News.
But the impact of lower fuel prices was evident in some of the U.S. sales figures.
"The lower fuel price environment has had somewhat of a, shall we say, negative impact on small cars," Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford Motor Co. said on a conference call with analysts and reporters.
Sales of Ford's subcompact Fiesta car fell 10 per cent, while deliveries of the compact Focus dropped 7 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, sales of the hulking Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition sport utility vehicles rose 38 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.
Small cars represented 20 per cent of total U.S. sales in October, about a percentage point lower than October, 2013, Mr. Merkle noted.
Toyota Motor Sales USA said sales of its hybrid Prius models slid 14 per cent, compared with Toyota's overall U.S. increase of 7 per cent.
The price of gas has fallen to less than $3 (U.S.) a gallon in the United States. It hit $2.85 Monday at a BP station near the assembly plant in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford is cranking up a new, more fuel-efficient, aluminum-intensive version of its F-Series pickup truck.
Sales of some small cars rose.
"Lower gas prices are actually a tide that floats all ships," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst with the car buying site Edmunds.com. Cheaper gas makes small cars more affordable for those who might otherwise be priced out of the market.
Gas prices hit an average of $1.19 (Canadian) a litre across Canada last week, dipping to a low of $1.01 in Edmonton.
The effect of gas prices was less obvious in this market, although light truck sales grabbed 58.1 per cent of Canadian sales last month, up from 55.6 per cent a year earlier. The light truck side of the ledger however, includes crossovers, which are the hottest segment in the country and are more fuel-efficient than their truck-based SUV ancestors.
General Motors of Canada Ltd. reported a surge in sales of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt along with a 23-per-cent jump in full-sized sport utilities, but a drop in sales of small and compact crossovers.
Toyota Canada Inc. said sales of its subcompact Yaris and two of the three hybrid models in its Prius lineup rose.
Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. maintained first place in the race for annual sales leadership, but a 23 per cent gain by Chrysler Canada Inc. put the Windsor, Ont.-based auto maker in first place for the month.
The Canadian units of the Detroit Three auto makers finished within 158 units of each other. Chrysler sold 22,160, Ford 22,044 and GM 22,002.