Sales of passenger cars and light trucks took off in Canada last month. July auto sales jumped seven per cent to hit a record high, according to industry figures released Thursday.

Data from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants said 158,993 new vehicles were sold last month. That beats the previous July record, which was set back in 2005. 

Chrysler's Canadian arm reported record sales of 26,209 vehicles, up 8.5 per cent from a year earlier. That was good enough for first place among automakers.

Ford of Canada wasn't far behind with 25,188 total sales in July. But that represented a drop of almost 10 per cent from last year as truck sales faltered.

GM Canada's sales dropped marginally to 19,164 vehicles — good enough for third place. 

Toyota saw its Canadian sales rise more than 12 per cent in July, thanks in part to record sales of its trucks and its hybrid models and strong sales of its smaller models, like the Yaris and Corolla.

Honda Canada's July sales soared 35 per cent over last year's, with sales of its Accord model more than doubling. On a year-to-date basis, its popular Civic model regained the title of top-selling passenger car in Canada. 

Nissan Canada's sales jumped 54 per cent.

Subaru Canada and Mercedes-Benz Canada reported their best-ever July sales figures.

Scotiabank auto industry specialist Carlos Gomes forecasts that auto sales in Canada are on track to climb to a record high of 1.72 million in 2013.

U.S. auto sales strong 

In the U.S., major automakers like Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan all reported double-digit sales increases in July.

Total sales south of the border last month were up 14 per cent over the same month a year ago, with sales of pickups and SUVs leading the pack.

"We're almost at a pre-recession pace that looks like it may have the momentum that will carry it through the second half of they year and beyond," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

U.S. sales are being bolstered by more generous incentives, rising consumer confidence, increasing home values and interest rates that remain near all-time lows.

Consulting firm LMC Automotive said buyers are increasingly turning to longer-term car loans or are leasing to produce lower monthly payments. The average sale price of a U.S. vehicle last month was $31,000 US.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters