Ontario displaces Alberta in new vehicle sales per capita

Albertans have historically spent more — by far — on new cars and trucks than people in any other province but the per-capita title now belongs to Ontarians, according to the latest sales data from Statistics Canada.

Spending plunged $2B from its 2014 peak, while Ontario can't print new licence plates fast enough

Annual sales of new motor vehicles in Alberta have plunged by $2 billion from their peak in 2014. (Getty Images)

Albertans have historically spent far more money on new cars and trucks, per capita, than people in any other province but new data from Statistics Canada shows that title now belongs to Ontario.

Spending on new motor vehicles in Alberta has plunged by $2 billion from its 2014 peak, while Ontarians have been flocking to dealerships in growing numbers.

The pace of new vehicle sales in Ontario has been so brisk, the province can't keep up with the demand for new licence plates and has had to outsource manufacturing to Nova Scotia.

For the 12 months ending November 2016, Ontarians spent an average of $2,213 per person on new cars and trucks. That's the most in the country, just edging out Alberta's rate of $2,173.

It was a different story just two years earlier, when Alberta's per-capita spending stood at $2,738, well above every other province, including fourth-place Ontario's mark of $1,821.

Click on this interactive graph to see per-capita spending on new cars and trucks by province over the past five years:

It's been a tough couple of years for new-car dealers in Alberta after a record-setting year for sales in 2014.

"It was an exceptional year, and then we started coming into the economic downturn," said Denis Ducharme, president of the Motor Dealers' Association of Alberta, which represents 366 dealerships in the province.

Those dealerships employ some 36,000 people between them, Ducharme said, but many have had to make tough choices about staffing levels during the decline in sales.

"Dealerships got lean and mean," he said. "They watched where their expenditures were."

Alberta saw $9.24 billion in new motor vehicle sales for the 12 months ending November 2016, down from $10.04 billion in the previous 12-month period, according to Statistics Canada.

The figure stood at a peak of $11.25 billion for the 12 months ending November 2014.

This interactive graphs shows new vehicle sales in Alberta, by month, in terms of both units and dollars:

Ducharme said there are indications the downswing in sales has hit bottom, however.

The latest data shows November sales jumped to 19,156 units and $822 million, up from 17,193 units and $731 million in October.

In past years, sales have typically declined from October to November.

Nationwide, Ducharme said 2016 was a record-setting year for motor-vehicle sales in Canada.