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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian auto sales rose for a fourth month in March, with Ford taking the sales crown and General Motors Co , until recently the market leader, dropping out of the top three.
Canadians bought 145,428 vehicles last month. That's up 14.1 percent from a year earlier, according to data from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.
"A very good month even by historical standard," said Dennis DesRosiers, president of the firm.
"This puts YTD (year to date) sales up 15 percent and sets Canada on track for a 1.55 to 1.6 million sales year."
Ford sold 22,018 vehicles in March, up 29.1 percent from a year earlier. Car sales rose 19.4 percent and trucks gained 32 percent.
Ford was the only one of the Detroit-based auto companies not to go into bankruptcy protection during the recession, relying on financing it arranged before the downturn.
"The easiest thing that a manufacturer or anyone can do during a downturn is draw back in terms of your investments," Ford of Canada Chief Executive David Mondragon said in an interview. "We didn't do that, we had our resources in place to continue to invest aggressively and the benefits of those investments are coming to market today."
"If you look at our market share as a company, right now we are the number one manufacturer in Canada for the first quarter with sales up 29 percent."
Sales at Toyota Canada rose 24.5 percent to 19,792 vehicles even as its executives were called to testify in front of Canadian lawmakers during the month.
The company was accused of taking too long to inform the government of safety problems that led to a massive recall earlier in the year. Canada's transport minister said his department would launch an investigation into the matter and consider toughening disclosure laws.
The automaker's Toyota division reported a 27.2 percent rise, while its luxury Lexus brand dipped 4.4 percent.
Chrysler sold 19,470 vehicles in the month, up 22.2 percent. Its passenger car sales fell 18.6 percent, while truck sales jumped 34.2 percent.
GM sales dropped 22.2 percent to 19,433 vehicles. Car sales were down 22.8 percent, while truck sales fell 22 percent.
DesRosiers called GM's decline "shocking."
"This puts GM's market share YTD at an all-time record low, at least for the modern history of the automotive sector, of only 14.7 percent to the end of March. You would have to go back to the period between 1915 and 1919 to find GM's market share below 15 percent," he said.
Honda Canada posted a 15 percent March sales increase to 14,389 vehicles. Sales in the Honda division gained 11 percent, while the Acura division was up 51 percent year-on-year.
Editing by Frank McGurty