Bigger sales of smaller pickups help carry September to new sales record

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By Jeremy Sinek

It’s a rare month when all three Detroit automakers grow their sales in unison. It’s also pause for thought when Detroit achieves that, and still loses market share.

That’s how it went down in a record-setting September that counted one selling day fewer than the year-ago month yet propelled sales ahead by 3.7 per cent. Detroit’s contribution to that, however, was a combined 2.3-per cent uptick, while everyone else advanced 4.9 per cent.

Actually, to say this September beat the year-ago month by 3.7 per cent hardly does justice to what an exceptional month it was: the total of 174,300 sales beat the previous 10-year average by a staggering 26 per cent.

Ford regained some ground on FCA in September, but with only three months to go and an almost 12,000-sales deficit, Sergio Marchionne and his team are leaving it late to stage the customary charge back to the top of the sales chart.

Year-to-date sales now stand 2.5 per cent ahead of last year’s record pace, with light trucks (up 7.8 per cent YTD) dramatically outpacing passenger cars (down 5 per cent). That means non-car segments account for 61.2 per cent of the market, up from 58.2 per cent a year ago.

In percentage terms, the fastest-growing category is small pickups, entirely driven by the return of General Motors to the segment with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon last October.

Interestingly, GM’s nameplates’ popularity has not been at the expense of the ageing incumbents of the category: sales of the Toyota Tacoma are up three per cent and those of Nissan Frontier have dipped only five per cent. GM’s return has grown the whole segment.

Nor has the new interest in less-large pickups cannibalised sales of GM’s full-sizers.

Silverado and Sierra are up 12 per cent YTD – the best performance in a segment that overall is running three percent ahead of last year’s pace. That growth comes despite a 5.6-per cent slide for the Ford F-series. Not that the Ford is in much danger of losing its ranking as the country’s biggest-selling nameplate; with three months to go, it still has a cushion of almost 15,000 units over GM.

Compact CUVs (up 9 per cent) continue to extend their lead over compact cars (down 6 per cent) as the highest-volume vehicle segment in Canada; that said, even greater percentage gains were posted by luxury CUVs (up 21 per cent) and large ones (17 per cent).

That luxury-SUV surge encapsulates both the swing to trucks and another obvious trend in this year’s market – buyers’ growing taste for self-indulgent purchases. While mainstream car categories all dwindled, sales of luxury, entry-sport and high-sport cars all surged ahead. Only high-end luxury cars bucked that trend. Of course, for all their percentage growth those are still relatively small segments.

Only three automakers achieved negative growth in September, and two of them had names beginning with V. Volkswagen’s 18-per cent swoon is hardly surprising given that the diesel emissions scandal broke two-thirds of the way through the month.

As for Volvo, its recent streak of growth months fuelled by the new XC90 CUV was broken by a slump in sales of its kid sibling, XC60.

The other downer was Mitsubishi. The Japanese brand’s sales were driven down by RVR sales that only looked weak because the year-ago month was an exceptionally strong one.