Canadian auto sales finally showed signs of a slowdown in April 2017, sliding 2 percent compared with April 2016 after massive growth in the first quarter, year-over-year improvements in four of the last five months, and record annual volume in four consecutive years.
Most every major automaker suffered the loss of new vehicle buyers in April.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Canada’s top-selling manufacturer in the first quarter of 2017, fell 9 percent because of declines at Jeep and Dodge. Toyota Canada, despite an 11-percent Lexus uptick, was down 8 percent.
The Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group was down 2 percent, the Korean combo’s fifth consecutive monthly drop. Nissan, including Infiniti and Mitsubishi, was off April 2016’s pace by 6 percent. The Volkswagen Group plunged 17 percent. Mazda reported a 9 percent decrease. The BMW Group was down 3 percent.
The gains at Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, and Honda Canada were noteworthy, if only because they proved to be exceptions to the rule.
And then there was General Motors.
General Motors Canada’s four brands — Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, Cadillac — surged to the top of the leaderboard with nearly 31,000 April sales, equal to 16 percent of the market. Compared with April 2016, GM Canada sales shot up 16 percent in April 2017, and it was no mere blip.
GM sales jumped 23 percent in March after more modest 5-percent and 1-percent increases in February and January, respectively. In other words, GM Canada sales are growing, and each month’s report of growth represents more substantial growth than GM reported in the prior month. In fact, in six of the last twelve months, GM’s Canadian sales growth has outpaced the industry.
Traditionally, GM was the dominant seller of automobiles in Canada. But GM’s Canadian volume tumbled in seven consecutive years between 2006 and 2012. Sales were chopped in half during that period.
GM restructured in 2009, shedding numerous brands in the process. GM Canada sales then increased in each of the last four years, though GM sales in the Canadian auto industry’s best-ever year of 2016 were still down by a third compared with where GM was a decade before.
GM Canada’s market share, 29 percent in 2005, was less than half that last year.
Yet while GM is struggling south of the border with declining sales and ballooning inventories in early 2017, GM Canada is reaching heights not seen in years.
“In April we experienced balanced growth across the country including the key markets of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal,” says GM Canada spokesperson Adria MacKenzie. “We had growth across our vehicle lineup of cars, trucks, and crossovers, all while taking a more balanced approach than our competitors.”
The recent auto industry boom has been powered by huge incentives, prices that remain low relative to the U.S. market despite Canada’s weakening dollar, and market share wars among some of Canada’s largest automakers.
“We have been offering less incentives than our competitors, our residual values have been increasing and we have taken a controlled approach to daily rental sales,” MacKenzie says. “This disciplined approach is driving our growth while the industry declined.”
In March 2017, GM Canada sold 30,115 new vehicles, the most in any given month since September 2008. One month later, in April 2017, GM Canada bettered that total with 30,948 new vehicle sales, the best GM Canada month since August 2008.
That August 2008 comparison is hardly apt, however. The four brands GM markets now generated only 20,891 sales in August 2008, 32 percent fewer than the same four brands produced last month. Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn are long-forgotten; GM is a much leaner company as a result. And the four remaining brands are performing far better now than they did pre-recession.
Chevrolet’s 18,313-unit April 2017 result was its best monthly achievement in a decade. In a retail environment, Buick’s April tally was its best in 15 years. GMC’s 9,367 sales in April 2017 was the brand’s best month in the history of GMC.
What’s GM selling? Plenty of pickups. A bunch of SUVs. And some cars.
44 percent of the new vehicles sold by General Motors in Canada through the first four months of 2017 were pickup trucks: 36,447 full-size Sierras and Silverados plus 3,708 midsize Canyons and Colorados.
GM’s share of Canada’s pickup truck market stands at 31 percent so far this year, up from 28 percent a year ago. Ford remains the dominant pickup truck marketer in Canada, but GM’s quartet of trucks — two of which operate in the midsize segment to which Ford has not yet returned — actually managed to outsell the F-Series in March.
GM Canada’s SUV/crossover volume, meanwhile, is up 29 percent so far this year, a stunning level of growth for the transitioning GM utility vehicle fleet. SUVs and crossovers formed 28 percent of GM’s Canadian sales in the first-third of 2017, up from 24 percent in the same period of 2016 thanks to nearly 6,000 additional sales. GM’s three top-selling utility vehicles — Equinox, Terrain, Encore — have grown their sales by 49 percent.
Chevrolet is launching new variants of the aged Equinox and Traverse this year. Buick launched the new Chinese-built Envision last year and will release the new Enclave later this year.
Not surprisingly, in an industry that’s seen passenger car market share fall to just 32 percent, GM’s car volume is lower this year than last. Yet the decline is modest, at just 0.4 percent.
Thank the growth achieved by a handful of Chevrolets. In addition to the launch of the new all-electric Bolt, the Cruze, Volt, Impala, Spark, Camaro, and Corvette are up 10 percent so far this year, a meaningful gain of more than 1,600 car sales for GM dealers in a depressed car market.
Impressive truck totals. Big SUV figures. And even some positive signs from its cars? GM Canada has momentum.