Little more than a year ago, we told you that Canadians were suddenly buying SUVs and crossovers just as often as cars.
Then, in the early part of 2016, no more than a quick glance at the data proved that utility vehicles were, in fact, selling more often than cars.
As of November 2016, Canadians are now purchasing and leasing far more SUVs/crossovers than cars: 42 percent more last month; 105,000 more so far this year.
It’s now been 14 months since the declining passenger car category attracted more Canadian buyers than the flourishing utility vehicle sector. Through the first 11 months of 2016, Canadian car sales are down 7 percent to approximately 622,000 units. Encompassing SUVs and crossovers and CUVs and SAVs and whatever else you’d like to call them, utility vehicle sales are up 11 percent to nearly 728,000 units.
Part of the reason for such a swing involves the way vehicles are defined.
The Sector’s Definition
Toyota, for instance, wants you to believe that the upcoming 2017 C-HR is a crossover. There’s dark cladding wrapped around the wheel arches and along the lower portions of the body and bumper. But the C-HR won’t be offered, at least not initially, with all-wheel drive. The dimensions almost mirror those of the defunct Toyota Matrix, a car that was available with all-wheel drive.
While Matrix forever equalled hatchback, C-HR apparently means crossover. The C-HR joins a category of small utilities that includes the Honda Fit-based HR-V, the delicate-looking Fiat 500X, the elevated Impreza known as the Subaru Crosstrek, and the Chevrolet Sonic-related Trax. Though hardly body-on-frame 4×4s with 4Runner or Wrangler off-road cred, these are nevertheless not cars, not in 2016.
The broadening definition plays a role in the degree to which SUVs/crossovers have taken over as the preeminent source of auto sales volume in 2016. But that’s certainly not the only reason.
The Leading Candidates
After all, long-established nameplates are also reporting record Canadian sales. 2016 still has one month remaining on the calendar, yet the Toyota RAV4, Canada’s top-selling utility vehicle so far this year, has already topped its record annual performance from 2015. The Honda CR-V has done so, as well, in the final year of its fourth-generation’s tenure.
Many traditionalists are also faring well. 2016 will be the fifth consecutive year of growth for the Toyota 4Runner—sales have more than doubled since 2013. Jeep sales are 8 percent ahead of last year’s record pace. Land Rover sales are 22 percent ahead of last year’s all-time Land Rover Canada record.
Canada’s five top-selling premium brand utilities have collectively added 4,381 sales to the ledger already this year. Utility vehicles that weren’t yet on sale in 2015 have contributed 4,897 sales to the tally.
Across a broad spectrum spanning more than eight dozen nameplates, SUVs and crossovers are on the rise. Not only do these vehicles sell more often than cars, the Canadian auto industry’s 3-percent growth through 2016’s first eleven months looks like a 1-percent decline without them.
The Other Side of the Coin
Indeed, excluding the growth achieved by SUVs and crossovers, the Canadian auto industry would most certainly not be marching toward yet another banner sales year. Canadians are likely to purchase and lease nearly 1.95 million new vehicles by year’s end. No more than 34 percent of those 1.95 million new vehicles will be cars, down from 52 percent a decade ago and 45 percent five years ago.
Not every car is heading for disappearance. Although the Chrysler 200, Buick Verano, Dodge Dart, Mazda 2, and numerous others have either recently died or are about to, the dominant players are more dominant than ever.
Combined, the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Corolla — Canada’s three best-selling cars — own 24 percent of the Canadian car market, up from 23 percent last year and 21 percent in 2014. The car pie is shrinking, but the top trio’s slice of that pie is expanding.
Meanwhile, the SUV pie is growing much larger by the day. And the bulk of SUV/crossover nameplates are getting in on the action. Of Canada’s 40 best-selling utility vehicles so far this year, 31 are selling more often in 2016 than they did in 2015.