Canadian first-quarter auto sales rise as demand picks up

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign at the U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan

(Reuters) -Canadian auto sales rose in the first quarter, signaling a recovery from a pandemic-driven slump a year earlier, despite a severe shortage of semiconductor chips that has plagued the industry globally.

Pent-up demand and customers preferring to buy vehicles seeking more safety during the COVID-19 health crisis have lifted auto sales but semiconductor chip crunch has cost the global auto industry 130,000 vehicles in lost production, research firm AutoForecast Solutions estimates.

Fiat Chrysler Canada said on Thursday first-quarter sales rose 4% to 46,077 vehicles, driven by demand for Jeep and Ram pickup trucks. Sales at the carmaker's Chrysler brand were up nearly three-fold to 2,360 units compared to the prior year.

General Motors' Canadian unit reported a 30% rise in total sales to 62,552 vehicles in the quarter.

GM Canada's sales were driven by "strong customer demand for pickups, EVs, and SUVs", said Sandor Piszar, vice president of sales, service and marketing at the company.

The pace of the 2021 auto recovery depends on the effectiveness of vaccine rollouts coupled with the industry's ability to move past the chip shortage and lower inventory levels, according to industry experts.

Auto consultant LMC Automotive had raised its 2021 outlook for global light-vehicle sales to 87 million units from 86 million units despite the chip crunch and pandemic-led risks

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas and Shreyasee Raj in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and Anil D'Silva)