2017 mid-year report card

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First-half sales are the best ever, but not all automakers are sharing equally in that success

Ford F-150

For the third consecutive year, 2017’s first-half auto sales set a new all-time record in Canada, up 5.0 per cent from last year’s best-ever tally. If anything close to that pace continues, this could be the fifth consecutive year of record annual sales, potentially topping 2-million for the first time ever.

But, as is always the case, not all automakers are sharing equally in that success. While most are selling more vehicles than they ever have, some are doing so to a much greater degree than others. Here’s how we grade them in our annual mid-year report card:

ACURA    B-

Acura’s sales fell by 3.7 per cent in 2016 but they’ve effectively stabilized in the first half of 2017. They’re up a modest 1.7 per cent through June — short of the industry average and all on the backs of the MDX and RDX sport utes, apart from a few handfuls of exotic NSX sports cars. The only thing in the immediate pipeline is an update to the relatively low-selling ILX sedan, so there’s not a lot to suggest that the rest of the year will get much better.

AUDI    A+

Audi continues to charge up the sales charts with a 16.6 per cent year-over-year gain at the mid-point, building on a 14.2 per cent improvement in 2016. Its sales are still well behind those of BMW and Mercedes-Benz but they’re increasing at a faster rate than for either of those two. In addition, the brand is bucking the industry trend with increases in passenger-car as well as SUV sales; it has a steady stream of updated models coming and is well down the road to both electrification and autonomy. It’s all good.

BMW    A

BMW’s sales were up 8.6 per cent in 2016 but they’ve been flat (+0.8 per cent) through the first half of this year — well behind its primary competitors in terms of pace — and they’ve dropped a tenth-of-a-point of market share in the process. The brand is well ensconced in second place among luxury marques, however, its star player, the 3 Series is doing well, as are its SUVs. and a new X3 — it’s second-best seller — arrives this fall. So shed no tears for BMW.

FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOS    B+

FCA’s sales fell by 5.3 per cent in 2016, giving up more than a full point of market share, and they’re down more (-0.6 per cent)
through the first half of 2017 in the strongest market ever. While Chrysler and Dodge brand sales are off only slightly and Ram numbers are up, it’s the vaunted Jeep brand that is bleeding sales, particularly the Cherokee model. A new Wrangler will bow by year-end but not soon enough to make much difference, so as it did a year ago, FCA’s status looks likely to remain quo — except perhaps for being passed by GM for second place.

FORD    A+

Despite its usual slow start to the year, Ford is now very much on top of the market, following up its 9.3 per cent gain and first-place finish in 2016 with a further 7.0 per cent bump in H1, 2017. While its passenger-car sales are off, in line with the rest of the market, its truck and SUV sales have more than compensated and the best-selling F-Series pickup just keeps on setting sales records. There are no new high-volume products scheduled to hit this year but the F-Series will get a few tweaks. The horizon looks bright.

GENERAL MOTORS    A+

What a difference a year makes! General Motors finished 2016 with sales up just 1.5 per cent, but they’ve surged by 15.6 per cent in the first half of this year, gaining 1.3 points of market share and pulling to within about 1,000 units from overtaking FCA for second place. Best of all, the strength is widespread. Sales of all GM brands except Buick are up and while trucks and SUVs are leading the charge, many passenger cars are doing well too — particularly the Chevrolet Cruze. If the momentum is maintained, regaining the #2 position is within GM’s grasp.

HONDA    A+

Honda finished 2016 with a solid 6.5 per cent sales gain and it’s running 12.2 per cent ahead of last year through the first half. There’s strength across the board with Civic gaining sales and maintaining its lead as the best-selling passenger cars and the brand’s utility lineup doing even better, led by an updated CR-V and the HR-V. And a resurrected Ridgeline pickup is a pure sales bonus. With broadened Civic and an all-new Accord coming, Honda’s future looks bright indeed.

HYUNDAI    B

Hyundai lagged the overall market slightly in 2016 with just a 1.8 per cent gain and sales are down 7.9 per cent in the first half of 2017. Even the brand’s SUV sales are off, apart from the Tucson, but it’s the passenger car side that took the biggest hit. Only the Veloster has increased its modest numbers. The all new Ioniq hybrid has contributed little, and Genesis as a separate brand has failed to match its prior sales levels. There’s a new Accent coming, a size-smaller Genesis G70 and an all-new Kona subcompact crossover, but too late to help much this year.

INFINITI    A

Infiniti outperformed the market slightly in 2016 with a 6.8 per cent gain and it’s running 8.1 per cent ahead of last year at midway 2017. Passenger-car sales are up, thanks to the addition of the shapely Q60 coupe, as are utility sales, primarily due to the addition of the compact QX30. The Q50, the brand’s best-selling sedan, gets a minor refresh this fall and there’s more utility-vehicle activity coming next year so Infiniti should be able to hold its own for the immediate future.

JAGUAR    A+

Jaguar is the second-hottest brand on the market in terms of percentage sales gains, up 134.1 per cent through 2016 and 136.3 per cent in H1 2017. Both the new-last-year XE and the big XJ sedans made some gains but the bulk of added sales came from the all-new F-Pace utility vehicle, which was voted World Car of the Year for 2017. While its novelty is almost certain to wear off, there’s an all-new compact E-Pace crossover on deck so Jaguar’s prospects continue to look positive.

KIA    B

Kia sales were up 5.6 per cent in 2016 but they’ve only gained 1.1 per cent in the first half of 2017, well below the market average. Forte, Sportage and Sedona sales are up comfortably and the addition of the Niro hybrid has helped, but those gains have been effectively offset by losses from the Rio and Rondo. An all-new Rio should help the situation as availability increases, the addition of a high-performance, rear-wheel-drive Stinger sedan will add some halo appeal and there’s a new subcompact Stonic CUV in the pipeline so there is some hope on the horizon.

LAND ROVER    A-

Land Rover was on a roll in 2016, with sales up 18.4 per cent, but their pace of increase has backed off since then, down by 4.4 per cent in the first six months of this year. That decline has come mostly from the transition of the traditional LR4 model to the new Discovery so it may be just a temporary aberration. And there’s a new mid-size Velar about to make its debut. With the luxury market and SUV market both remaining strong, Land Rover should soon regain its form.

LEXUS    A

Lexus sales increased by just 2.2 per cent in 2016 but they’ve rebounded with a 16.6 per cent gain through the first two quarters of 2017. While passenger car sales have inched up slightly, the big gains have been on the utility-vehicle side, with all models increasing their numbers. The addition of a stylish new LC 500 coupe and a refresh for the flagship LS sedan should maintain interest in the brand among its loyal customers.

MASERATI     A+

A new addition to the list as a stand-alone brand, Maserati is the hottest nameplate on the market in terms of percentage sales increase, up 176.9 per cent from last year at mid-2017. Long known for its sports car models, it’s the addition of an all-new Levante utility vehicle that’s responsible for the sales surge, surpassing sales of all its sporty siblings combined. Its low absolute numbers won’t rattle its high-volume rivals but they clearly demonstrate the strength of a luxury brand and the utility market.

MAZDA    B+

Mazda had a tough time in 2016 with sales down by 3.5 per cent at year-end in an up market. They’ve bounced back with a 6.5 per cent increase in this year’s first half, at least keeping pace with the market gain. Passenger-car sales have held their own, up just a tick, which is good news itself. But it’s the utility vehicles, particularly the new CX-9, and the unique Mazda5 mini-minivan that have accounted for most of the gains. The brand has a loyal following and its products are consistent award winners but it’s in tough against the industry giants.

MERCEDES-BENZ    A+

Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for solid strength is reflected in its sales, which were up 6.0 per cent in 2016 and 12.2 per cent in mid-2017. Unlike most manufacturers, its gains came from both the passenger-car and truck/SUV side of the ledger, with the C-class sedan and GLK utility vehicle responsible for the biggest increases. There’s a substantially upgraded S-Class, with all its variants, arriving soon and continuous tweaks to individual models, including new engines, so there’s plenty of momentum to keep Mercedes on top among luxury brands.

MINI    B

Mini sales, which were off by 6.3 per cent in 2016, were up by 3.8 per cent through the first half — primarily on the back of the utility-oriented Countryman. The brand continues to have niche appeal but there’s nothing major happening on the immediate horizon so don’t expect sales to improve much by year-end.

MITSUBISHI    B

Mitsubishi’s sales were up a modest 4.3 per cent in 2016, slightly below the market average, but they’re down by 2.1 per cent in 2017. Sales of the brand’s utility vehicles are matching that market but those for passenger cars are down more than 20 per cent and production of the Lancer, Mitsubishi’s best-selling car, will terminate the end of August. There’s a new Eclipse Cross SUV in the pipeline to slot between the RVR and Outlander and Nissan’s takeover may offer some hope for the beleaguered brand. But there’s not a lot to be optimistic about right now.

NISSAN    A

After a strong early start to 2016, Nissan finished the year with sales up just 2.9 per cent. But it has rebounded with a 7.8 per cent year-over-year gain at mid-year 2017. Apart from the refreshed Versa, passenger car sales are off pretty much across the board, including those of the hard-to-define Juke and the sub-compact Micra. It’s the Rogue, Pathfinder and new Qashqai utilities and the Titan pickup that account for most of the gains. There’s a lot of new product coming in 2018 but don’t expect much to change for the rest of this year.

PORSCHE    A

Porsche sales just keep on climbing, up 10.1 per cent in 2016 and 15.3 per cent in the first half of 2017. On the passenger-car side, sales of the refreshed Cayman and Panamera are up substantially but it’s the Macan sport ute that is behind the big increase, despite some decline for its big-brother Cayenne. As always, there are new iterations of Porsche’s models appearing almost continuously, including more electrified powertrains, so there’s no let-up in site for Porsche’s success.

SMART    B

Given its low absolute sales numbers, small changes can make for big swings in Smart’s percentage sales figures. They finished 2016 up 161.9 per cent but they’re down 69.5 per cent from a year ago at mid-2017. As always, Smart buyers represent a very niche market, which might just expand given the recent announcement that all 2018 Smart’s sold in North America will be electric-powered. It’s a potentially astute move, given all the EV promotion and subsidies offered by government, that will probably either make or break the brand on this continent.

SUBARU    A

With 2016 sales up by 7.9 per cent and those at mid-year ahead of last year by 10.5 per cent, Subaru is on a steady but continuous climb up the sales charts, now in 11th place overall and closing in on Volkswagen for 10th. The gains come from across Subaru’s lineup, led by the updated Impreza and its WRX variant and its best-selling Forester utility vehicle. There’s a new seven-passenger ute coming next year and a loyal and vocal buyer base out there so Subaru’s future looks secure.

TOYOTA    A-

Toyota’s sales were up 7.7 per cent in 2016 but they’re down 0.8 per cent through 2017’s first half. Corolla sales made gains but they were offset by Camry, Yaris and Venza declines on the passenger-car side and the demise of the Scion brand took a bigger toll. Sales of most sport utes and the Sienna minivan were up and the addition of the C-HR has helped, though not enough to offset that decline. But the arrival of a new Camry this fall promises to turn the brand’s fortunes around.

VOLKSWAGEN    B

In the wake of its diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen’s sales fell by 14.7 per cent in 2016 and they’re down 10.6 per cent from a year ago through June. But they’re showing signs of a rebound. Most of the diesel issue is now behind, and there’s a lot of new product in the pipeline. That pipeline puts particular emphasis on the utility side and the North American market, as well as taking well as bold steps towards massive electrification. The VW Group is the biggest automaker in the world, after all, so there’s every reason to believe its future is sound.

VOLVO    A-

Volvo’s sales took a huge 27.5 per cent jump in 2016, primarily thanks to the introduction of an all-new XC60 SUV. They’ve leveled off since, up just 2.6 per cent through the first half of 2017, as the novelty of that model has passed its peak. But a new S90 sedan has taken up some of that slack and the S60 has also benefited from renewed interest in the brand. And it’s maintaining a high public profile with ongoing announcements on its autonomous and electrification initiatives. So the brand seems poised for at least a period of stability.

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