(Adds details from Ford, background and industry comment)
By Ahmed Farhatha and Yashaswini Swamynathan
April 3 (Reuters) - Sales of light vehicles in Canada dipped 0.6 percent in March according to data released on Tuesday, amid signs that the economy was on track for a weaker-than-expected first quarter.
Research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc said sales of passenger cars fell 12.4 percent in the month with Ford Canada and Fiat Chrysler recording a drop in overall sales.
In contrast, sales of light trucks rose 5.2 percent to 132,515.
Auto sales typically track macro indicators such as employment and economic growth. Canada’s economy unexpectedly shrank 0.1 percent in January in a clear sign that first-quarter growth would be weaker than Bank of Canada’s 2.5 percent growth forecast.
“We effectively had the start of a global trade war in March, which saw the stock market fall off precipitously, which perhaps rattled consumers a bit last month, along with some flagging economic growth projections,” David Adams, president of Global Automakers of Canada wrote in a note.
The Toronto Stock Exchange closed 0.5 percent lower in March, while the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 index lost about 2.7 percent during that period.
Fiat Chrysler said total sales in Canada slumped 8 percent to 24,490 vehicles in March, hurt by steep declines in demand for Chrysler and Dodge brands from a year earlier. (bit.ly/2GQNjVG)
A bulk of the company’s vehicle business came from a 44 percent jump in the number of Jeep SUVs and crossovers sold.
Ford Canada’s sales dipped 1.6 percent to 26,066 vehicles following lower demand for trucks during the month.
Total sales in Canada for rival General Motors Co rose 0.1 percent to 30,159 vehicles from a year ago, helped by a 1.3 percent rise in Chevrolet sales.
In the United States, all three automakers posted higher sales of new vehicles helped by a strengthening economy. GM posted a 16 percent jump in new vehicle sales while Fiat’s sales rose 14 percent. (Reporting by Ahmed Farhatha and Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Shounak Dasgupta)