New vehicle sales in Canada got off to a strong start in 2016, with car and light truck sales in January up 9.6 per cent from the same month a year earlier.

Canadian sales last month totalled 108,553 vehicles, just shy of the January record of 110,266 vehicles sold in 2002, according to figures compiled by DesRosiers and Associates.

The overall increase in sales last month was due entirely to higher sales of light trucks (a category that includes pickups, minivans, crossovers and SUVs). Passenger car sales actually fell slightly.

"As much as sales were extremely positive we also do not like to read too much into the early months of any particular year," said automotive analyst Dennis DesRosiers.

"A lot more water has to flow under this bridge before we can be assured these sales levels will be maintained. We remain optimistic for 2016 that sales will reach the levels achieved in 2015 but our conviction is the lowest in a number of years," he wrote in a research note.

Canada set a record for auto sales in 2015 with 

Toyota Canada reported its best January sales figures ever. It moved 12,045 cars and light trucks, up 4.5 per cent from January 2015.

Honda Canada said its January sales were more than a third larger than last year with 1.89 million vehicles sold.

Ford of Canada said its sales last month were up 14 per cent from a year earlier, led by Lincoln's best January in more than 25 years.

Fiat Chrysler reported its best January since 2002, thanks to record sales of its Jeep and Ram truck brands. It retained the title of the best-selling automaker in Canada, with more than 18,000 vehicles moved.

U.S. sales stronger than expected

South of the border, vehicle sales fell slightly in January. Sales in big markets like New York City and Washington, D.C. were slightly hurt by the big storm that buried much of the East Coast in up to 100 centimetres of snow.

J.D. Power and Associates estimates that the Jan. 22-23 snowstorm cost dealers about 15,000 sales. But analysts say they expect those lost sales to be made up this month.

Nationally, sales dipped by only 0.3 per cent to 1.15 million, according to Autodata Corp. That was better than what analysts had been forecasting, given the storm and that there were two fewer selling days this January compared to a year earlier.

Ford, Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen saw sales drop in January, while GM's sales were relatively flat. Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai and Nissan posted sales increases.

U.S. buyers bought a record 17.5 million cars and light trucks in 2015. Auto analysts expect U.S. sales will grow again this year, though at a more modest pace than last year. Consulting firm LMC Automotive predicts sales will hit a record 17.8 million in 2016.

Continued low gasoline prices, low interest rates and moderate economic growth get much of the credit for the expected sales boost.

With files from The Associated Press