Our mid-year report card

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The overall market is up but some brands are doing better than others

With 2012 half down, as of this writing, it’s proving to be a very good year indeed. While sales are not quite on record pace, they’re not far off, and if the current trend continues it promises to be the best annual result since the market collapsed in 2008. While the market is up in general, some automakers are faring better than others. Here’s our assessment of how the individual players are performing:

With its avant-garde styling toned down a bit, supply lines re-opened, a new RDX, and the addition of the ILX to the lineup supplanting the Canadian-only CSX, Acura’s sales have improved significantly since last year. They’re not back to 2010 levels yet, however, and they’re still 15 per cent off their five-year average. A big boost in image should result when the next-generation NSX hits the market.

Audi just keeps on going. While its rate of sales increase has fallen back from stratospheric to just spectacular, it continues to stay well into double digits — with mid-year sales 65 per cent ahead of their five-year average. A constant stream of new or revised product is a big part of that success and it shows no sign of letting up.

BMW set another sales record in 2011 and made a good run at Mercedes-Benz for the luxury-car sales title. It’s doing even better in 2012, with sales up another six per cent — but so are its key competitors. As a result, the Bavarian brand is barely holding its market share. New 3-Series and 6-Series models, as well as an imminent new M5 all help the cause.

Chrysler is the big success story of the Detroit Three, so far in 2012 — the only one to significantly improve sales and to maintain its market share. After claiming first place in sales for the first four months of the year, it has now settled solidly into second behind Ford. With production of the highly-acclaimed Dodge Dart now under way, and new Ram and Jeep products in the wings, the momentum seems set to continue.

After falling behind Chrysler in the early going, Ford is back in its now-familiar first place in sales — although both volume and share have dropped from a year ago. With a big push on fuel-efficiency across the lineup, a new Escape on the market, a new Fusion close behind, an updated F-150 and an all-new entry in the C-Max not far away, the Blue Oval seems well placed to improve on its performance.

Now well back in third-place, GM continues to lose ground, with sales off 25 per cent and another 1.9 per cent of share lost since this time last year, in spite of fielding some competitive new product. A new-for-2013 Chevrolet Malibu should help. And an all-new Chevrolet Spark will add an entry at the bottom of the market, although it will be in tough competition there. The addition of Cadillac’s ATS and XTS should help at the top end but not until next year.

Honda is back. Improved supply, an all-new Civic — still Canada’s best-selling car — and a new CR-V have helped turn things around in 2012. Sales are up more than 23 per cent from a year ago and almost back to the level of their five-year-average. With a new Accord sedan and coupe due to bow this fall, prospects look good to keep that momentum going.

Reversing the trend of recent years, Hyundai is no longer outpacing the market and actually lost a couple-tenths of market share from mid-year 2011. Which is not to say the company is any difficulty. Its products continue to improve with every new entry and there’s more coming this fall — in the form of new Coupe and GT (hatchback) additions to the Elantra lineup, an upgraded Genesis coupe, a turbocharged Veloster and a new Santa Fe SUV.

After a lacklustre 2011, in part because of supply constraints, Infiniti has made a solid comeback in 2012, with mid-year sales up 23 per cent and eight per cent ahead of their five-year average. The brand’s affiliation with the Red Bull Formula 1 team and its drivers has given its image a boost and a new JX utility vehicle should help on the sales side.

Jaguar’s already low sales are down 10 per cent for the first six months, but there seems to be a relatively solid core market for the venerable brand. A new, more-efficient engine lineup for 2013 should help expand its appeal — as will the all-new F-Type — the long-awaited successor to the iconic XK-E which is due in 2013.

Kia remains one of the hottest of the mainstream brands, with sales up another 18 per cent from 2011’s strong performance at mid-year. The onslaught of new product is beginning to wane, however, with only a new Rio to give sales an immediate bump. The company is making a huge effort to promote the brand in unique ways, however, and there’s no reason to believe its success won’t continue

In terms of percent improvement, Land Rover is one of the big stories of 2012, with sales up more than 50 per cent from a very strong 2011 — thanks primarily to the introduction of the award-winning Evoque. The brand’s Indian masters seem to be making all the right moves to keep the low-volume nameplate successful.

Lexus sales have made a comeback in 2012, after suffering the double-whammy of Toyota’s recall problems and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year. They’re still not quite back to earlier norms but a new ES and RX among their volume sellers, along with a soon-to-be released new flagship LS, should keep sales rolling along.

After a difficult 2011, Mazda seems to have regained its form, largely on the success of its new CX-5 utility vehicle and its much-celebrated Skyactiv technology, although current sales are still 10 per cent off their five-year average. There’s more new product to come in 2013, with a new Mazda6 waiting in the wings, as well as a diesel CX-5.

Mercedes-Benz continues to be the sales leader among luxury brands, steadily increasing both sales and market share. The recently-released new SL, several upgrades to Mercedes’ SUV lineup, and a stream of new AMG models keep the momentum going. Canada is the company’s best AMG market on a per-capita basis.

MINI sales just keep on climbing — up 27 per cent from last year — thanks to a steady influx of new model variants. That pattern shows no signs of letting up as there are more new versions waiting on deck.

Mitsubishi is holding its own, with sales that have remained relatively flat for the last two years, although it’s given up some share in a rising market. Much of the brand’s recent marketing efforts have been focused on the iMiEV electric vehicle, which may help image but doesn’t account for a lot of sales. Some upgrades to the Lancer should help this fall and the Mirage promises to give the company a sub-compact entry in the coming year.

Nissan sales have been on a slow growth trajectory for a couple years and are only slightly ahead of that curve for 2012. As with Mitsubishi, much of the brand’s marketing efforts have highlighted its electric vehicle — the Leaf — which has been successful but is still a low-volume player. Now, however, there’s a new and highly competitive Altima on the scene and that should help improve Nissan’s fortunes.

Porsche’s sales haven’t advanced as much in 2012 as they have over the past two years, but they do keep on growing. With a consistent flow of new 911 variants, updates to the Cayenne, and a new Boxster set for 2013, the future continues to look bright — providing the recent merger with Volkswagen doesn’t have any negative implications on product.

Smart sales continue on a downward slide, albeit not as steep as a year ago. They’ve never fully recovered from the loss of the diesel engine that helped make the original model so attractive to Canadians. Introduction of an electric version might help renew interest in the diminutive brand but that won’t come soon enough to make much difference in 2012.

Subaru sales are up in 2012, but only marginally, and market share has fallen slightly. Better was expected with supply lines for the new Impreza finally open. The new BRZ sports car is a critical hit, there are some important changes coming in the Legacy/Outback line and the arrival of the XV Crosstrek in 2013 should help improve the situation.

Suzuki was in trouble a year ago and that situation has not gotten any better, in spite of generally positive buzz for the mid-size Kizashi. Sales are down another 10 per cent in 2012 and there is no respite, in the form of new product, in the immediate future.

Toyota is the turnaround story of the past year. With supply constraints freed up, memories of the unintended acceleration debacle fading and a new Camry that is selling gangbusters, sales are up more than 25 per cent from an admittedly poor showing at mid-year 2011. More importantly, they are almost back to their five year average and new products like the Prius c and Prius v and the Scion FR-S are maintaining consumer interest.

Volkswagen made big gains with the introduction of a more mainstream Jetta last year and has consolidated them with the addition of an equally mainstream Passat in 2012. Sales are up in line with the market and share is currently stable. A new Beetle has added some interest but there’s nothing of the magnitude of the Jetta or Passat in the immediate pipeline so VW may be in a holding pattern for a bit.

Volvo’s sales, which got a bump from a new S60 in 2011, have fallen back by six per cent in 2012. While the addition of new safety features creates some buzz, all-new models like the V40 aren’t coming here, so don’t expect much to change in the immediate future.

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