Canada’s auto market crashed during the holiday season, one more piece of evidence of a deepening recession.

Despite incentives, show­room sales plunged 21.2 per cent or more than 25,000 vehicles to 94,423 in December from the same month in 2007, manufacturers reported yesterday.

The results marked the worst decline in auto sales for any month since 2003. It was also the lowest level for a December in 12 years.

The bleak December pulled down overall 2008 sales in Canada by 1.1 per cent or more than 17,000 to 1.653 million cars and trucks. That followed three years of annual increases.

Analysts are forecasting more big dents in the first half of this year before the market shows some signs of a recovery.

Offshore-bas­ed manufacturers exceeded the Big Three automakers in market share in Canada for the first time. They raised their share to 51.9 per cent from 48.3 per cent while GM, Ford and Chrysler slipped to 48.1 per cent from 51.7 per cent.

Toyota, including the Lexus luxury brand, also jumped into second place behind GM in sales in Canada from fourth spot, ahead of Chrysler and Ford. Its sales rose 11.3 per cent to a record 224,158 in 2008 from 2007. But in December, Toyota’s sales plunged 35.4 per cent because of a huge drop in Camry sales.

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