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Tsunami recovery boosts auto sales

Canadian auto sales grew 4.7 per cent this July from a year earlier, fuelled by incentive programs and a strong surge at Japanese automakers whose production was crippled after last year's earthquake and tsunami.

Canadian auto sales grew 4.7 per cent this July from a year earlier, fuelled by incentive programs and a strong surge at Japanese automakers whose production was crippled after last year's earthquake and tsunami.

Overall auto sales rose to 148,184 last month, compared to 141,472 in the year-earlier period, according to data from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. In total, Canadian auto makers have sold 1,013,094 vehicles this year, up 6.7 per cent from the 949,244 they sold by this time a year ago.

Carlos Gomes, a senior economist at Scotiabank, says sales remained strong in July, with annualized sales rates softening only slightly after an exceptional June.

"We are at very healthy levels," said Gomes.

"It highlights that the industry is doing well, but it is being supported by the generous incentive levels."

Those incentives, such as zero per cent financing and employee discount programs offered by Ford, helped buyers shrug off worries about the European crisis that weakened sales in April, said Gomes.

At the Detroit big three automakers -GM, Ford and Chrysler - sales were up a slight 0.4 per cent as they continued to lose market share to import nameplates, which saw a 9.1 per cent rise over last August. Foreign brands now corner the bigger share, 54.6 per cent, of the Canadian market.

Japanese automakers made strong gains in sales last month, compared to a year ago when they couldn't supply enough models to showrooms after production was hobbled by a March earthquake.

"They lost significant share last year because they didn't have product to sell," said Gomes. "You're seeing them make that up this year, so that's why they're leading the way in terms of big gains."

Toyota Canada says its sales were up 30 per cent from last July. The automaker sold 15,819 Toyota, Lexus and Scion passenger cars, SUVs and trucks last month.

Meanwhile, Honda's sales were up 27 per cent from a year ago, with gains helped by record sales of the CR-B sport utility vehicle and the Acura RDX and TL.

Combined sales by Honda and Acura in July totalled 11,184 vehicles.

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