Canadian car sales by North America's Big Three manufacturers declined in December, due in part to consumers opting to delay big purchases in the face of economic uncertainty resulting from the soaring Canadian dollar, Reuters reported.

"These numbers are a lot weaker than people were expecting," Carlos Gomes, an auto sector specialist at Bank of Nova Scotia, told the news agency.

Gomes reportedly said that, despite a sturdy domestic economy and employment gains, overall Canadian vehicle sales have declined over the past three months due in part due to fears over the impact of the stronger Canadian dollar.

Reuters noted that the Canadian dollar hit a 10-1/2 year high of $Can1.2769 to the US dollar, or 78.31 US cents, on Monday.

"I think what's going on here is consumer sentiment has actually become more cautious," Gomes reportedly added.

Reuters said that the Big Three carmakers all posted declines for December, historically a strong month for the sector as they offer incentives to boost yearly sales.

General Motors of Canada, the country's biggest carmaker, said combined sales of cars and light trucks fell 34.9% to 34,236 in December, according to Reuters.

The Oshawa, Ontario-based carmaker reportedly said it sold 16,260 cars last month, down 37.4% from the year-before period, while truck sales fell 32.4% to 17,976 in December. For the entire year, GM Canada's combined vehicle sales fell 12.5% to 455,751, the news agency added.

According to Reuters, Ford of Canada also recorded a decline in December with combined sales down 9.9% to 17,318. The Oakville, Ontario-based company reportedly said it sold 3,945 cars last month, down 23.9% from a year ago, while truck sales also slipped, down 4.7% in December to 13,373. Year on year, Ford's combined sales were down 6.4% to 242,234, the report added.

DaimlerChrysler Canada saw a 30% decline in combined vehicle sales in December as car sales fell 33.2%, Reuters said, while truck sales were off 29% and, for the year, the Windsor, Ontario-based company's combined sales fell 13.7%.

Reuters said Toyota set a new yearly record despite a weak December that saw combined vehicle sales fall 20.5% to 8,955 from the prior-year period.

According to the report, Toyota Canada, which builds vehicles [including the Lexus RX SUV line] in Cambridge, Ontario, sold 5,955 cars last month, down 20.2% from the year before while truck sales were off 21% at 3000.

Year on year, Toyota's combined sales rose 8% to 165,024 from 2002, Reuters added.