Rising tide in September failed to float GM’s boat


By Jeremy Sinek

September’s 4.6-per cent rise over a strong year-ago month is a solid performance by any measure, but even more impressive is that it was based on two fewer selling days than last September.

The resulting total of just over 149,000 car and light-truck sales far exceeds the 10-year September average of 133,000 and change. And the year-to-date total of 1,351,000 not only leads last year’s equivalent by 3.5 per cent, it’s also comfortably ahead of the January-September total in 2002, which went on to become the Canadian market’s all-time record year with 1.7 million vehicles sold.

Those forecasting a new record in 2013 should note, though, that 2002 was sealed by freakishly strong sales in December – fully 25 per cent higher than the average over the previous 10 Decembers. This year’s sales will have to stay strong to the end to beat the 2002 record.

So far this year, Detroit (up 3.8 per cent) is modestly outpacing the offshore brands (3.2 per cent), despite a market-lagging performance by General Motors in September. Among the offshore makers, the Koreans’ sales have dipped slightly (-0.7 per cent) while the Japanese and Europeans have advanced their sales by 4.8 and 2.3 per cent respectively. In volume terms, the Japanese growth has been driven primarily by Honda, up 11.1 per cent

Oddly, GM’s September sales release singled out the retail sales success of the new 2014, Oshawa-built Chevrolet Impala, which “has experienced a more than 35 per cent increase in retail sales for the year.”

Maybe so, but the Impala has traditionally been a fleet staple. With the new emphasis on retail, total Impala sales (including those growing retail numbers) were down 28 per cent in September and 50 per cent year-to-date. That is despite the inclusion of some 2013s that are still being built for fleet, including police cars.

There are no plans to do a police version of the new 2014 design, said GM spokesman George Saratlic, nor does GM Canada plan to bring in the Australian-built Caprice Interceptor that Chevrolet sells in the U.S. Instead, the Tahoe SUV has become Chevrolet’s go-to vehicle for police duty.

GM’s crucial new-generation big pickups have had little effect on Oshawa’s sales so far. Starting with half-ton crew cabs, the new Silverados and Sierras have been in showrooms since late June, but third-quarter sales are static compared with the same period last year. Presumably that will change as double and regular cabs feed into the production mix.

Meanwhile, in September, Ford sold almost twice as many of its full-size pickups (12,374) as either GM (6,639) or Dodge (6,285).

Although Ford is the 800-lb gorilla, all three of the dominant Detroit nameplates are growing their sales year-to-date. Despite declines by the also-ran Japanese competition, that made large pickups the second fastest-growing vehicle segment in the first three quarters, up 10.6 per cent. Only compact SUV/CUVs, up 10.9 per cent, grew faster.

Other segments that outpaced the overall market included high-end sports cars (7.4 per cent), entry-luxury sedans (6.9 per cent) and luxury SUVs (6.5 per cent).

The single largest segment, compact cars, exactly matched the market at 3.5 per cent. All other categories trailed the market, with the losingest being intermediate SUVs (-2.9 per cent), lower-end sporty cars (-5.3), subcompact cars (-6.1) minivans (-6.6), high-end luxury cars (-14.3) and small pickups (-34 per cent). The latter, of course, is hardly surprising since two of the segment’s main players, Ford Ranger and GM Colorado/Canyon, have left the building.