March car sales offered a glimmer of hope for a spring rebound for Canada’s big manufacturers but Ford bucked the winning trend.

Reuters noted that carmakers have endured a dismal few months marked by buyer fatigue and uncertainty about the economic outlook which has dented consumer confidence – January 2004 was the worst month for car sales in six years and February, while not as dismal, was still soft.

“It says the turnaround is here,” Scotiabank auto sector specialist Carlos Gomes reportedly said of the March figures, adding: “This is the first year-over-year gain in eight months.”

According to Reuters, Gomes said March, which marks the beginning of the traditional spring sales season, offers a better indication of how the Canadian market may fare for the rest of the year than January and February, which are historically slow.

“We’ll probably be up maybe 1 to 2% for the year as a whole,” he reportedly said.

Sales at General Motors of Canada rose 3.1% to 43,728 vehicles in March as a 6.5% gain in car sales offset a slight dip in light truck sales, Reuters said, adding that GM Canada’s quarterly sales were 2.1% ahead of the same period last year.

Toyota Canada reportedly had combined vehicle sales of 14,468, up 1.5% from March 2003 – its quarterly sales were 2.2% above the same period last year.

“While the market is giving us mixed signals, Toyota has set sales records in 11 out of 12 months,” Tony Wearing, Toyota Canada‘s managing director, said in a release cited by the news agency.

Reuters said total sales at DaimlerChrysler Canada rose 9.1% last month to 21,491, supported by a 32.5% jump in light truck sales, which includes sport utility vehicles and minivans – car sales fell 43.8% and, in the first quarter, DaimlerChrysler’s overall sales were down 6.1%.

Ford of Canada’s March sales fell 11.6% to 21,548 vehicles as car sales sagged 19.9%, while light truck sales were down 8.1% and overall quarterly sales declined 18.5%, Reuters said.