Rising tide lifts all boats, except GM


By Jeremy Sinek

General Motors must have felt like the only kid not invited to a classmate’s birthday party in March. With the exception of Porsche’s modest 1-per cent dip, the General was the only automaker that didn’t grow its sales in a month that saw total sales advance a robust 14.1 per cent.

Worse, GM Canada’s set-back was a big one – 22.1 per cent.

With everyone else going gangbusters, the net effect of was to knock GM Canada back to a shocking fourth in overall sales numbers.

Not only was Ford the top-selling automaker in March, GM was also outsold by Toyota and Chrysler (in that order). Ford also holds first place through the first quarter.

Toyota loyalists were apparently unfazed by that company’s recall dramas, as Toyota Canada Inc. advanced its sales 24.5 per cent for the month.

Of course, GM did terminate Saturn, sell Saab and is winding down Pontiac and Hummer. But even its remaining core brands – Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC – eked out a modest 5.5 per cent gain in March.

However that doesn’t necessarily mean GM stalled in March; it’s just that January and February last year were exceptionally bad for GM, so its strong core-brand gains in the first two months of this year were inflated by being off such a low base. Including those stronger gains in January and February, GM’s core-brand sales were up 27.3 per cent in the first quarter, compared with the overall market’s 15-per cent first-quarter gain.

Helped by one extra selling day, March’s industry total of 145,428 sales is well within the normal range for March.

In the past 10 years, sales for the month have ranged between 140,000 and 151,000. But GM’s weakness offset solid growth for Ford and Chrysler, with the result that Detroit’s combined sales grew only 5.3 per cent. Offshore brands surged 21.3 per cent. Bottom line: Detroit’s market share sank to 41.8 per cent.

It was yet another robust month for light trucks, which have now captured 53.8 per cent of the market year-to-date. Most of that truck growth was on the import side – up 42 per cent. Record March sales were reported by Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan/Infiniti, Subaru, Toyota Trucks, and Volkswagen (the brand); Mitsubishi claimed its best sales for any month, ever, in Canada; March was Hyundai’s 14th record-setting month in a row.

 As well, it was a record month for Chrysler’s key Dodge Grand Caravan, Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Ram models (the latter posting a 102-per cent spike over March 2009) while the Dodge Journey had its best month since launch in early 2008. Through the first quarter, light trucks dominate the top-selling nameplates, with Ford F-Series, GM Pickups and Dodge Caravan in the top three spots. The Dodge Ram has improved to sixth, from 10th this time last year.

The Honda Civic has edged (barely) back in front of the Mazda3 as highest-selling passenger car. And making a surprise debut in the Top 10 is the Honda CR-V, which was propelled to ninth in YTD sales after more than doubling its sales in March.

Only one vehicle category shrank in the first quarter – small vans, down 23.7 per cent. Although the 800-lb gorilla in the segment, Dodge Caravan, has grown its sales 34.5 per cent, the category has been gutted by the discontinuation of GM’s minivan offerings. With most other remaining minivan nameplates also losing sales,
Dodge Caravan and its Town & Country sibling accounted for 81 per cent of total segment sales YTD.

Segments that grew in the first quarter, but by less than the overall market, were the big bread-and-butter car categories – subcompacts, compacts and intermediates – and large vans. Everything else – luxury and sports cars, SUVs and pickups – all grew faster than the market as a whole.

And the single fastest-growing category: would you believe large SUVs? A couple of surprises among the various segment leaders: the Toyota Venza has (just) pipped GM’s Acadia/Enclave/Traverse trio as the top-selling midsize CUV/SUV. And the biggest-selling sporty car in Canada is the Chevrolet Camaro, with the Ford Mustang demoted to fourth behind the Dodge Challenger and the MINI.