Canadian auto sales were up four per cent in 2013, but Americans returned to dealerships in droves, pushing U.S. sales up eight per cent to 15.6 million vehicles.

Both Canadians and Americans continued their love affair with SUVs and light trucks in December, pushing annual sales by the Detroit three automakers to their highest levels since 2007.

The improving U.S. economy and a return to work by many Americans have fuelled sales, and incentives from the Detroit automakers have helped grease the wheels.

Ford's U.S. sales were up 11 per cent on the year, while Chrysler increased sales by nine per cent and GM by 7.3 per cent on the year. 

Canadian sales were also robust, with Ford claiming the top spot with a three per cent jump in sales to  283,588 vehicles last year. Chrysler saw a seven per cent increase in Canada to 260,015 vehicles, while GM saw a four per cent increase to 234,944 vehicles.

Desrosiers Automotive reports 1.7 million cars sold in Canada last year.

Ford sales up 11%

Ford's  U.S. sales jumped 11 per cent in 2013 to nearly 2.5 million vehicles, with sales of F-Series pickups up 18 per cent since 2012. F-Series sales made up about one-third of Ford’s U.S. market — more than 70,000 trucks   making it the bestselling product Ford has had in 32 years. It also was a top-seller in Canada.

Ford raised incentives a whopping 22 per cent as it sparred with Chevrolet and GMC over pickup truck sales and the small-car market.

“Strong demand for our new cars, utilities, hybrids and trucks provided Ford with the largest share point gain of any full-line automaker in 2013,” said John Felice, Ford vice-president for marketing.

Ford also said it saw record annual sales for the Fusion sedan, Escape SUV and Fiesta subcompact.

For December, its sales were up two per cent. More significantly, retail sales — discounting fleet sales — were up 14 per cent for the year.

Chrysler sales powered by Jeep and Ram

Chrysler sold 1.8 million light cars and trucks, a nine per cent increase, led by record sales of its Jeep SUVs.

The new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, out just two months, sold 15,000 units in December, giving Chrysler a solid contender in the mid-sized SUV market after it missed out on sales most of the year for plant retooling in Toledo, Ohio.

Jeep and Ram Truck brands each posted double-digit sales increases in December compared with the same month a year ago, with Ram sales up 11 per cent, an indication that fuel-guzzling pickups and SUVs are still in favour.

Total December U.S. sales were 161,007 units, a six per cent increase compared with sales in December 2012.

Sales of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, made in Windsor, Ont.,  were up five per cent compared with the same month a year ago and nine per cent for all of 2013. 

In Canada, sales of Dodge Grand Caravan minivans also rose 11 per cent in December to 2,803 from 2,515 in December 2012.

GM still biggest automaker

GM was a laggard in growth of vehicle sales, with an annual increase of 7.3 per cent to 2.8 million, leaving it just ahead of Ford as the biggest automaker.  

GM's December sales were off more than six per cent as its top-selling model, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, saw a 16 per cent dip in sales in the U.S. GM's pickup truck sales fell victim to heavy discounts on the Ford F-Series.

In Canada, it enjoyed a stronger December, selling 17,036 vehicles, a 17 per cent increase. 

Toyota's U.S. sales were up seven per cent annually to just over 2.2 million cars and trucks.

Incentives to continue

Auto analysts predict the growth of U.S. sales will moderate in 2014. Americans have been satisfying pent-up demand for new vehicles by replacing cars and light trucks they held onto through the recession.

The average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads today is a record 11.4 years, according to the Polk research firm.

Larry Dominique, president of Automotive Lease Guide, a company that tracks lease costs and car prices says he expects automakers to continue offering incentives as they compete for consumers.

"We think there's going to definitely be more competition," he said.

Dominique said that could mean some good deals for car buyers.

With files from the Associated Press