A tremendously high-volume January produced in 2016 the best first-month results for the Canadian auto industry since 2002. After three consecutive record-setting calendar years for the Canadian new vehicle market, 2016 began with a bang, a 10 percent year-over-year improvement to 109,000 new vehicle sales.
How far have we come? In the midst of economic turmoil, in January 2009, Canadians registered fewer than 80,000 cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs.
2009 and 2016 represent two very different eras for the Canadian auto industry. In 2009, GM was killing a bevy of brands, including the Pontiac marque which overperformed in Canada. In 2009, the Ford Explorer was still a body-on-frame SUV with an available V8 engine, a concept deemed positively archaic by the mainstream utility vehicle buyer in 2016. In 2009, the Chrysler Group went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. In 2016, the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles conglomerate is Canada’s top-selling automaker.
Yet while much has changed in the auto industry since 2009, a number of items on the Canadian auto industry’s calendar seem almost incapable of change. January figures – and history in general – suggest 2016 will be the 19th consecutive year in which the best-selling car in Canada will be the Honda Civic. Indeed, it appears highly likely that 2016 will be the 51st year in which the Ford F-Series is Canada’s best-selling truck line.
How can we make such predictions 11 months early?
To begin with, what’s past is prologue. Habits, you’ve said a thousand times, are hard to break.
Every year since 1966, Canadians have made the F-Series the most popular line of pickup trucks in the country. Although sales dipped in 2015 after record-breaking years in 2012, 2013, and 2014, the F-Series still outsold its nearest rival by nearly 28,000 units. No other line of vehicles has ever generated six-digit annual sales figures in Canada – the F-Series accomplished that feat in each of the last four years.
As for 2016, the year starts off with the best January sales performance in the F-Series’ history. Year-over-year volume jumped 13 percent to 8,838 sales. Consider this: the F-Series’ 991-unit gain was greater in volume than the total sales achieved by all but the Ford’s three closest rivals. With only one-twelfth of the year under the Blue Oval’s belt, the F-Series has already built up a 1,954-unit lead over the second-ranked Ram P/U.
The F-Series benefits from the Canadian consumer’s steadily increasing interest in pickup trucks. 23 percent of the new vehicles sold in Canada in the first month of 2016 were pickup trucks, a far higher percentage than pickup trucks achieve south of the border, and a massive improvement from the 17 percent market share attributed to pickup trucks in 2009.
In its own sector, the Honda Civic’s Canadian dominance is similarly well-known. Not since 1997 has any car other than the Civic claimed the crown worn by Canada’s best-selling car. As Canada’s passenger car market took a 6 percent dive midst the industry’s continued surge in 2015, Civic volume slid just 2 percent. Every one of the Civic’s rivals declined more sharply. The second-ranked Hyundai Elantra finished the year with 17,000 fewer sales than the Civic managed, the third consecutive year in which the gap between the Civic and its closest rival enlarged.
Enhancing the likelihood of greater Civic dominance in 2016 is the arrival of an all-new car, a starring role in Tim Hortons’ Roll Up The Rim To Win campaign, and high praise from critics. Launched in 2005 for the 2006 model year, sales of the eighth-generation Civic jumped 10 percent in 2005 and another 2 percent in 2006. Launched in ninth-generation form for 2012 without plaudits from car reviewers, Civic sales jumped 18 percent.
There are greater challenges for the Civic in 2016, however. Canadians may be increasingly interested in pickup trucks, but they’re steadily less captivated by traditional passenger cars. The transition toward crossovers like Honda’s own HR-V and CR-V is happening faster than anticipated.
Nevertheless, like the F-Series, the Civic began 2016 on the right foot. Canadian car sales slid 4 percent, but Civic volume jumped 62 percent as Honda dealers welcome the all-new 2016 model and clear out remaining 2015s. We’re only one month in, but the Civic already leads its closest competitor by 1,534 sales.
January is Canada’s lowest-volume sales month, and it’s worth pointing out that the accomplishments, or lack thereof, attributed to many vehicles mean little in the grander context of a full Gregorian calendar. For the F-Series and Civic, which together generated more than one in ten new vehicle sales in Canada last month, history is bound to repeat itself.