Through the first-] quarter of 2017, Canadian auto sales are up 5 percent, a surprising result for an industry that reached record annual sales in each of the last four years and was surely thought to have peaked already.
At the top of the heap, growing far faster than average, is Buick. No volume brand has grown its volume faster in 2017 than Buick, which jumped by a third through the first three months. Year-over-year, Buick volume is up by nearly 1,000 units.
Borne along by a General Motors March surge – Buick is the third-highest-volume of GM’s four brands — that propelled GM Canada to its best sales month since 2008, Buick reported its best March since 2006.
And the brand did so despite product planning decisions that hit Buick Canada right where it hurts.
The Verano, GM Canada’s best-selling Buick in each of the last five years, is being discontinued.
The Cascada, an Opel convertible brought to the U.S. market with Buick badging, has been on sale south of the border for 15 months, but has never made it to Canada.
Now, with the dawn of a new Buick Regal, GM has determined that the company’s potential Subaru Outback rival, the Buick Regal TourX, won’t be sold in Canada, either. Only the Regal liftback will replace the outgoing Regal sedan.
To date, these product challenges aren’t slowing Buick down in Canada. In 2016, calendar year sales rose to a decade high of 19,053 units. 2017’s first-quarter volume is well ahead of the pace set during the same period last year, with sales up 33 percent to 3,815 units. Only niche brands — Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar, Fiat — are outperforming 2017’s first-quarter results at a greater rate.
What’s working to Buick’s advantage? Refreshed for the 2017 model year, sales of the Buick Encore — now the brand’s top-selling model — have doubled so far this year. Four out of every ten Buicks sold in Canada so far this year have been Encores, a hot-selling subcompact crossover that commands a useful premium compared with its Chevrolet Trax twin.
Buick has also managed to maintain an even keel with its flagship Enclave, due to be replaced later this year. The Enclave has been active in the Buick portfolio, free from major updates, since 2007. At the current rate, Enclave volume in 2017 would rise to a six-year high.
Then there’s the new import crossover, the Chinese-built Buick Envision. Far from common, Envision sales are beginning to ramp up. March’s 273-unit result was the best yet for the Envision, which arrived in Canada to slot in between the Encore and Envision last spring.
The trio of Buick crossovers combined for 2,548 sales in the first-quarter of 2017, more than double the volume achieved at this stage of 2017. That was more than enough to counteract a 25-percent dive from the brand’s trio of sedans, including the newly launched LaCrosse that’s scarcely managed to attract 150 buyers so far this year.
Two-thirds of Buick’s volume is now utility-vehicle-derived.
But would it have been so bad if Buick’s Canadian dealers were permitted to keep their best-selling product while adding a convertible and a wagon? Strike while the iron’s hot.