Auto market maintains overall momentum despite some surprise losers

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It wasn’t a rising tide that lifts all boats, but by the time the sinkers were subtracted from the winners, February came in as yet another a growth month. The final count of 109,248 cars and light trucks was the best for February since 2008, and 3.2 per cent ahead of last February. It was also 9.2 per cent higher than the previous 10-year-average for the month.

Overall in February, light-truck sales gained 5.1 per cent while cars stood pat, and offshore brands grew their sales 6.1 per cent while Detroit trod water (down 0.4 per cent). Year-to-date industry sales now stand 3.3 per cent head of last year’s pace.

Surprisingly, one of the month’s losers (down 7.4 per cent) was Ford – surprising because Ford claimed record February sales for its biggest-selling model, the F-Series. That dichotomy also highlighted just how dependent Ford is on that one model line: at 7,947 units, F-Series represented 53 per cent of all Ford of Canada sales in February.

Put another way, F-Series sales alone were almost exactly three times higher than all Ford and Lincoln passenger-car sales combined. Oakville’s car sales slumped 26.1 per cent in February (after a similar decline in January), with the result that 85 per cent of Ford’s February sales were light trucks.

Ford’s weak January also left it further behind FCA Canada in the sales race as the latter inched up 1.0 per cent. Even more than is the case with Ford, it almost looks like FCA is now longer in the “car business”; its passenger-car sales sagged 16 per cent in February and represented just one tenth (9.8 per cent) of its total sales.

Over at GM, its large-pickup family surged 30 per cent in February, at the same time as its new Colorado/Canyon trucks found 648 new customers – no signs of cannibalisation, there. At the same time, sales of the Colorado/Canyon’s main competition, Toyota Tacoma, held firm, but Nissan Frontier sales declined significantly.

Overall GM light-truck sales advanced 20 per cent in February while cars dipped 23.9 per cent, for a combined 6.4 per cent gain. That best-of-Detroit performance still left it mired in third place, and with not much of a cushion – just 800 units – over a surging Toyota (up 18.8 per cent in February). Honda, meanwhile, was among the month’s losers, down 5.6 per cent.

Toyota's rebound is not at the expense of cars. Admittedly, Lexus-brand light trucks are outperforming Lexus cars, but on the Toyota side, car sales are up 17 per cent year-to-date versus 10 per cent for trucks. Put another way, Toyota has sold more Corollas so far this year (5,060) than the total number of passenger cars sold by either Ford (4,313) or FCA (3,900).

Corolla is also stirring things up in the sales-by-model charts. In February it outsold Honda Civic for the second month in a row and is closing in on Elantra, the only other car that has (sometimes) challenged Civic’s car-sales supremacy in recent years. Another Toyota success story continues to feature RAV4 compact CUV, which YTD sits only 39 units behind the perennial owner of the CUV sales crown, Ford Escape.

Sales of Escape are down 10 per cent even as sales of its closest challengers, RAV4 and Honda CR-V, have surged 16.1 and 13.7 per cent respectively.