Chrysler stands tall as overall sales tread water in March


Auto sales growth took a pause in March, but after a record sales year in 2013, a 0.2-percent uptick over last March is hardly a setback. In fact, the monthly count of 157,060 cars and light trucks was barely short of the March record set in 2012, which had been based on two more selling days
than this March.

Following modest growth in January and February, first-quarter sales stand 0.9 percent ahead of last year’s pace. And that’s despite the sales-chilling effect of one of the cruellest winters most Canadians have seen in a long time.

The quarter wrapped up with Chrysler Canada as the top-selling automaker year-to-date. In itself, that is not unusual at this point in the year.

What’s different is that in the past Chrysler has built up a cushion in January and February, with Ford going ahead in March but not quite enough to pull in front YTD; this year, Chrysler topped Ford in March, too.
Reclaiming its customary market leadership will be a harder slog for Ford in 2014: at this point last year Ford was cumulatively about 250 units behind Chrysler; this year, the gap is more than 7,000.

A 10.7-percent sales slide in March saw Ford barely hold off GM (up 7.8 percent) for the month. Oakville’s SUVs sold well, but it was done in by big drops for the Fusion and Taurus passenger cars and – especially – a 14-percent swoon for the F-Series pickup.

Despite Chrysler’s buoyancy, Detroit is losing ground to the offshore-based automakers. Its combined sales have dipped 2.5 percent over the quarter while the Japanese, Koreans and Europeans combined have advanced 3.8 percent.

Another seemingly entrenched trend sees light trucks, up 6.3 percent, stealing share from passenger cars, down 6.2 percent.

Most of that swing has been impelled by SUVs – which, these days, mostly means car-based crossovers. Examination of the Sales by Segment chart starkly illustrates the trend. A 15.5-percent surge sees compact SUV/CUVs blast past compact cars (down 4 percent) to become the new largest segment of the Canadian market. That’s a first.

And although intermediate cars (down 18 percent) still outsell intermediate SUV/CUVs (up 15 percent) the cars’ margin has been slashed from about 16,000 units this time last year to 6,000 in Q1 2014.

Another bastion of the market, large pickups, has declined 3.4 percent YTD – but the admittedly tiny market for smaller pickups has grown 8.2 percent.
That trend could, er, pick up even more when GM returns to the segment this fall with its new Colorado and Canyon midsize trucks.

Paradoxically, the growingest segment so far this year has been high-end sports cars, up 58 percent. There are three main drivers for this: a new entry in the form of the Jaguar F-Type; the totally redesigned Chevrolet Corvette (sales up 670 percent!); and the fact that the category now includes the BMW 4 Series (its predecessor, the 3 Series Coupe, was previously lumped in with the rest of the 3 Series range).

Also on a roll are the Luxury High sedan and Luxury SUV categories, up 12.6 and 9.8 percent respectively. But it wasn’t a clean sweep for self-indulgent vehicles: the losingest segment of all was affordable Sport cars, down 21.4 percent.

Among the top-selling nameplates, the Dodge Ram continues to extend its second-place margin over the rival GM trucks as the latter struggle to find traction following their recent redesign. On the car side, the Honda Civic (up 9.9 percent YTD) seems no longer threatened by the Hyundai Elantra (down 8.5 percent) but both automakers may need to watch their backs: sales of the new-for-2014 Toyota Corolla  are up 16.3 percent.

Meanwhile Corolla’s CUV stablemate, the Toyota RAV4, has dropped out of the Top 10 – replaced, surprisingly, by the Chevrolet Cruze, which had a blockbuster month in March, even outselling the Mazda3.