GM takes over sales lead in March market downturn

After setting new records for the first two months of the year, new-vehicle sales in Canada leveled off and declined slightly in March, relative to last year. A total of 186,447 vehicles were sold in March 2018, just 0.6% fewer than in the same record-setting month a year ago.

Despite that slight downturn, it was still the second best-selling March on record, according to Dennis Desrosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants and David Adams, reported that sales were 11.4% ahead of the five-year average for the month.

“We effectively had the start of a global trade war in March, which saw the stock market fall off precipitously (and) perhaps rattled consumers a bit,” said Adams. “Nonetheless, consumer confidence remains high with the Conference Board of Canada reporting that consumer confidence levels grew again in March,” he added.

While February’s SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Sales Rate) declined slightly from the past two months, it still remained above the magic 2.0-million annual sales mark that is expected to be approached if not exceeded again in 2018, according to DAC.

Looking at the year to date, even with March’s slight decline, first quarter sales were 1.8% ahead of those in Q1 2017, achieving a new record for the quarter with 429,258 units sold. The strength of the light truck market, including crossovers and utility vehicles, which was up 6.4% from 2017, more than offset an 8.2% decline on the passenger car side.

GM tales sales lead

Following through on the promise shown over the past several months, General Motors asserted itself in March, taking firm hold on the sales lead for both the month and the year. GM’s March sales were up just 0.1% from a year ago, to 30,159 units, but that was more than enough to offset the declines of its key competitors and claim the number-one spot for the month. Ditto for year-to-date where GM’s 64,931 sales, up 6.0%, leave it almost 4,000 units clear of its rivals.

Ford, with 26,050 sales in March, down 1.6% from a year ago, claimed second place for the month ahead of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, whose sales declined 7.7% to 24,090. At the end of the first quarter, the two are all but tied with FCA’s 61,082 sales (-4.7%) just 70 units ahead of Ford’s 61,012 (-2.7%).

Collectively, Detroit Three sales declined by 2.9% in the month and 0.5% in the quarter, giving up 1.0% of market share in the process, down to 43.6%. Individually, GM gained 0.6% of market share (to 15.1%), while Ford gave up 0.7% (falling to 14.2%) and FCA declined by 1.0% (to 14.2%).

Toyota shows some strength

After lagging the market slightly through the first two months, fourth-place Toyota showed some strength in March with 18,954 sales up 9.7% from a year ago, raising quarterly numbers by 5.2% and regaining 0.3% of share, to 9.8%.

While still secure in fifth place, Honda’s March numbers fell by 8.4% to 15,935 vehicles sold, but year-to-date sales are up 4.5%, enough to bump market share by 0.2% to 9.0%.

Sixth-place Nissan’s sales also fell in March, by 3.7% to 30,986, leaving quarterly sales up just 0.5% and resulting in a 0,1% share decline to 7.2%.

Hyundai, in seventh place, also suffered a March decline of 12.2%, to 9,739, bringing its quarterly numbers down by 11.7% and trimming 0.7% from market share to 5.0% — the greatest share decline outside the Detroit Three.

As has become the norm, the bottom three positions in the Top Ten remain volatile. It’s Kia that took charge in March, claiming eighth-place with a 7.2% sales surge that pulled year-to-date sales into positive territory, up 0.8% from the same period in 2017. That wasn’t enough, however, to prevent a 0.1% decline in market share to 3.2% and leave Kia in 10th place year-to-date.

Mazda was ninth on the month with a 1.5% gain, leaving it up 3.2% through the first quarter and in eighth place for the period, with market share stable at 3.7%.

Volkswagen was relegated to tenth for the month, in spite of a dramatic 31.8% increase in sales. Year-to-date sales are up even further, by 35.8%, keeping VW in ninth-place for the period and bumping market-share by 0.8% to 3.2% — the second-best share gain in the industry, behind only GM.

Subaru, with a 3.8% sales increase, surpassed Mercedes-Benz for 11th place in March, keeping year-do-date sales up by 8.5% and advancing 0.1% in share, to 2.6%. Year-to-date, however, Subaru still ranks 12th, behind Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes’ sales suffered a rare decline In March, off 3.7% from a year ago, bringing sales for the quarter down by 2.7%. As a result, the best-selling luxury car dropped 0.1% in market share to 2.8%, while hanging on to 11th place in the rankings.

Winners and losers

On a percentage basis, the biggest winners in March were Genesis (+320%), Volvo (+47.4%), Mitsubishi (+39.0%), Volkswagen (+31.8%), and Audi (+14.0%) — the same five brands that topped last month’s list.

The biggest losers, in percentage terms, were Maserati (-38.5%), Smart (-18.6%), Hyundai (-12.2%), Acura (-10.1%), and FCA (-7.7%).

The split between passenger cars and light trucks (including utility vehicles) widened on the month, with passenger car sales down by 12.4% and light truck sales up 5.2%. Year-to-to-date, light trucks account for 71.8% of the market and passenger cars just 28.2%.

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