TORONTO – Auto sales in September were 2.4 per cent higher than a year earlier, marking the best month for dealers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. said on Thursday that 169,876 light vehicles were sold in September, up from 166,488 in September 2019.

Andrew King, the managing partner of the consultancy, said the sales marked a huge step forward for the auto industry, which saw sales plunge during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.

King said the question is whether the sales momentum can keep up if a second COVID-19 lockdown comes into force.

“COVID-19 cases may have started to rise worryingly toward the end of September but it didn’t slow down the automotive market for the month,” King’s report said.

“For now, however, sales are climbing with September easily being the most impressive month we have seen since the pandemic started.”

Ford has led the pack this year in terms of car sales, selling 190,000 of the 1.15 million autos in 2020, while Kia sales rebounded over the summer.

But sales are still down 23.7 per cent year-to-date, compared with this time last year, DesRosiers said in the report.

Scotiabank analysts Rebekah Young and Raffi Ghazarian released an auto sales forecast to clients on Tuesday, using August data and looking ahead to Thursday’s September data release.

They said that Canada auto sales have so far followed the same pattern as the rest of the world: losing steam.

Any strength coming out of Labour Day weekend sales is likely to “normalize” in the months ahead, wrote Young and Ghazarian, although this month’s successful union negotiations between Unifor and Ford Motor are a positive sign for Canadian auto supply chains.

The Scotiabank report noted that Canadians saved money in the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown, then rushed out to spend some of the savings over the summer. Emergency income supports helped keep household finances steady, Young and Ghazarian noted.

With a second wave of COVID-19 cases potentially arriving, consumers’ buying habits could depend on whether renewed stay-at-home orders keep rubber from hitting the road.

“Consumer intention surveys are pointing to potentially new demand … as a result of the pandemic, including fears of using public transit and ridesharing services,” said Scotiabank’s forecast.

The Scotiabank report also cited a Sept. 15 survey by the Ontario Motor Vehicle Regulator, which indicated that 46 per cent and 38 per cent of new and used car shoppers did not test drive the vehicle before making their purchases during COVID-19.

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“This suggests consumers may be more flexible in the purchasing process,” wrote Young and Ghazarian.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.

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