While Detroit stalls, Japanese makers propel July to new heights

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By Jeremy Sinek

After dragging their tails in June, Japanese-based automakers rebounded in July with a 23-per cent year-over-year gain. With the Europeans up 8.5 per cent and the Koreans up 3.4 per cent, offshore-based automakers advanced a combined 15 per cent and propelled overall auto sales up 7.3 per cent.

The resulting all-makers tally of just over 159,000 may well be the highest ever for the month of July – certainly the highest this century.

It was the total market’s fourth consecutive growth month, after a losing first quarter. Year-to-date sales now stand 2.9 per cent ahead of last year’s pace.

And Detroit? Its combined effort netted out at a 0.9-per cent falter in July. That hardly tells the whole story, though. While GM essentially stagnated at -0.2 per cent, its compatriots went in opposite directions – Chrysler Canada up 9.2 per cent (its best July ever), Ford down 10 per cent. That put Windsor on top of the sales chart for the month, though Oakville still reigns year-to-date.

Ford’s July stumble was almost entirely on the truck side, down 13.9 per cent. In large part that can be attributed to Escape and Edge sales returning to more normal levels after a really big month last July.

F-Series sales were down a tad this July, too, but the Ford pickup still has a massive lead over its rivals, the GM Silverado/Sierra and Dodge Ram (now back in that order).

Among individual models, Honda Civic has regained its customary car-sales leadership from the upstart Hyundai Elantra; and a second Honda, the CR-V, has climbed into the YTD Top 10 sellers chart after growing its sales 39 per cent in July.

The rival Toyota RAV4, which had made an appearance in the Top 10 earlier this year, is now exactly tied with the Chevrolet Cruze in 11 place with 19,411 sales apiece.

Total Honda sales were up 35 per cent in July, and the number two Japanese brand behind Toyota no longer seems at risk of being outsold by Hyundai, as was the case last year.

The new-generation Accord (up 192 per cent YTD) has contributed greatly to Honda’s recovery. It’s also worth noting that the not-so-new Fit subcompact is selling at almost twice last year’s pace. No doubt shifting Fit production from Japan to China gave Honda some haggle room on a key entry-level model that previously, a Honda insider once told us, was sold at a loss in Canada despite being more expensive than most rivals. The next-generation Fit, due soon, will be built in Mexico.

Even Honda’s 35 per cent wasn’t the highest gain recorded by a Japanese automaker. Nissan soared a remarkable 54 per cent and Subaru 38 per cent.

Despite doubling its sales of the CX-5 compact CUV, Mazda eked out a mere four-per cent gain in July and is still 3.2 per cent in arrears year-to-date. Unlike the rival Honda Accord, Mazda’s main 2014 novelty, the new-generation Mazda6, isn’t enjoying much of a new-model bounce. Year-to-date sales are up only a modest 18 per cent (the 2014 model went on sale this spring). In July – as they were in June – Mazda6 sales were less than half of its predecessor’s sales in the same months last year.