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Auto sales fail to be frozen by frigid February


It’s not a leap year, so there were no extra selling days. And the weather was brutal across much of the country. Yet February auto sales came in at their second-highest level since at least 1999.

The full count of 105,693 cars and light trucks was 2.4 per cent higher than a robust year-ago month, and well clear of the previous 10-year average of 98,700. Following the 0.3-per cent uptick in January, year-to-date sales now stand 1.4 per cent ahead of last year’s pace.

The offshore-based brands (up 3.5 per cent) modestly outperformed Detroit (1.1 per cent). Modest as it was, Detroit’s advance was all on the strength of Chrysler: Windsor repeated as the top seller by growing its sales 9.5 per cent while Ford essentially stagnated (-0.4 per cent) and General Motors sagged 7.2 per cent.  Tellingly, Oshawa’s 12,981 units was barely higher than those of Hyundai and Kia combined (12,491).

And this despite the fact that the Korean conglomerate’s combined sales slipped three per cent in February. The offshore brands’ growth was carried by the Japanese (up 7.0 per cent) while the Europeans inched up 0.6 per cent.

Following a familiar pattern this winter, light-truck sales surged (up 9.7 per cent) at the expense of passenger cars (down 7.3 per cent). Two months in, the light-truck share of the market stands at 61.3 per cent, up from 58 per cent this time last year.  

Much of that growth continues to be driven by new compact SUVs – not just the Toyota RAV4 (which experienced a model-changeover supply hiatus last January) but also the reborn Jeep Cherokee. As well, the redesigned Nissan Rogue is selling at twice the rate of its predecessor a year ago.

The Cherokee isn’t the only Windsor product contributing to light trucks’ growing domination of the market. Dodge Ram sales are up 3.0-per cent YTD;  the one-time Big Three pickup also-ran is now padding its second-place cushion over GM’s Silverado/Sierra twins. Dodge Grand Caravan minivan sales are up 17 per cent YTD and Dodge’s portfolio now also includes the new Promaster full-size van, which posted 237 sales in the first two months.

The Ram pickup’s promotion to second place in overall sales wasn’t driven only by its own growth; a larger factor was the back-slide by the GM pickups that usually occupy that position. All-new for 2014 and on sale since last summer, the Silverado and Sierra have seen their sales slide almost 11 per cent this year.

Dar Gladish, leasing manager at Courtesy Chevrolet in Toronto, attributed the new trucks’ slow start to GM dialing back on discounts.

“We went from $11,000 to $12,000 cash credits on the 2013s to $5,000 to $6,000 on the 2014s.”

He also cited confusion in the market caused by competing claims for the Big Three pickups: “One claims best V6 fuel economy; another says best V8 fuel economy; another claims best fuel economy in a full-size pickup.”

GM’s comment on the pickup sales was a familiar refrain, emphasising their growth in retail sales.

“While overall truck sales were down 3.9 per cent YOY in February, Silverado and Sierra retail sales were up for the month and momentum is building, as February was our best retail month yet on (the) 2014 Silverado and Sierra. Our light duty crew cab retail sales were up 14 per cent year-over-year while light duty double cab increased 11 per cent YOY.”

GM added that production of the new Heavy Duty trucks is just beginning.