New vehicle sales top 2-million for first time ever

As has been expected for several months, new vehicle sales in Canada in 2017 set a new annual record, for the fifth consecutive year, and they topped the mystical 2-million mark for the first time ever.

The final tally was 2,038,798 new cars, trucks and utility vehicles sold, an increase of 4.6% from 2016’s record sales and the eighth year in a row with year-over-year increases, following a market meltdown during the financial crisis of 2009.

“What a banner year for the industry,” said David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada. “It wasn’t that many years ago that sales levels over the 2-million mark would have seemed completely unrealistic, but there are a lot of positive fundamentals that have supported this growth.”

Despite that unprecedented success, the cause for celebration was somewhat muted by December sales of 124,247 vehicles, which were down 1.1% from those of a year earlier — the second month in a row with a similar decline.

The SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Sales Rate) for December barely exceeded 1.9-million, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants (DAC) — by far the lowest level of the year.

While those declines may suggest some moderation in ongoing demand, they are not expected to presage a precipitous downturn in the market. Scotiabank auto analyst, Carlos Gomes predicts a slight decline in 2018, but still somewhere close to 2.0-million.

GM closes up the ranks

Ford maintained sales leadership for the year with 308,474 units sold — the eighth time in the last nine years that the Blue Oval has topped the charts, with 2015 being the singular exception when FCA claimed the top spot.

The race tightened this year, however, with General Motors’ 302,826 sales putting it solidly into second spot, fewer than 6,000 units behind Ford — and making it the only member of the Detroit Three to outperform the market average in 2017. For the second time in the past three months, GM ranked number one in December, with 19,801 sales, up 9.2% from a year ago. Ford’s December sales declined by 11.3%, to 17,526.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also outsold Ford in December with 17,654 sales, down 6.4% from 2016. Over the full year, FCA’s 267,052 sales were down 3.7% from last year.

In terms of annual market share, Ford claimed 15.1% (down by 0.5%), GM 14.9% (up by 1.2%), and FCA 13.1% (down 1.1%). Collectively, the Detroit Three claimed 43.1% of the market in 2017, down by 0.5% from the year before.

Further down the ranks

Toyota remained unchallenged in fourth place, with sales down 7.4% in December and up 2.3% for the year — lagging the market in both cases. The leading Japanese brand gave up 0.2% of market share on the year, dropping to 9.8%.

In fifth place for the year, Honda’s sales fell by 26.7% in December, putting them behind Nissan’s for the month, but they were up 6.3% in 2017, gaining 0.2% of market share to 8.7%.

Nissan’s 14.2% surge in December helped push it to a 10.0% gain for the year, enabling a 0.3% increase in market share, to 6.6%, equal to the share gain achieved by Volkswagen and second only to that of GM.

Hyundai strengthened its seventh-place position in December with a 23.4% sales increase, but it finished the year down 6.1%, giving up 0.7% of market share, to 6.4% — the greatest share loss of the year.

Despite being outsold by Mazda in December, Kia held on to eighth place for the year with a 6.6% increase for the month and a 6.7% improvement for the year — gaining a tenth of share, to 3.8%.

Mazda’s sales fell by 0.8% in December, but they were up 7.0% for the year, maintaining market share at 3.6%.

In 10th place, Volkswagen’s comeback continued with a whopping 53.7% sales gain in December, enabling a 16.4% improvement for the year — boosting market share by 0.3% to 3.4%.

Subaru, which surpassed Mercedes-Benz for 11th place last year, consolidated that spot throughout 2017 with an 8.7% annual increase, and Mercedes-Benz, in 12th, maintained its luxury-brand leadership with an 11.8% gain.

Other winners and losers

According to DAC, 15 of the 26 major brands achieved all-time record sales, as did some additional sub-brands. On a percentage basis, the biggest winner was Maserati with an 83.8% increase, followed by Infiniti (+52.3%), Audi (+17.9%), Porsche (+16.8%) and Volvo (+16.4). (Hyundai’s Genesis brand sales were up nominally by 464.5% but based on a partial sales year in 2016.)

While many failed to achieve the market average, only three brands’ sales were down on the year: FCA (-3.7%), Hyundai (-6.1%) and Smart (-80.4 %).

Light truck sales, which include SUVs, totalled 1,398,975 vehicles, an increase of 8.7% accounting for 68.6 percent market share. Passenger car sales were down 3.4% to 639,823 units, the lowest absolute level since 1964, according to DAC.

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