Collectively, they were responsible for nearly three-quarters of Canada’s new vehicle sales volume in the 2018 calendar year. They are Canada’s 10 best-selling automobile brands. And in an industry that nudged the 2-million sales mark for another consecutive year, while also recording the first overall year-over-year sales decline since 2009, the importance of these 10 marques can not be overstated.
There can be no missing the declines reported by some of Canada’s most popular automakers. Eight of the 10 leaders sold fewer vehicles in 2018 than in 2017, the highest-volume year in the history of the Canadian auto industry. In some instances, the cause of the noteworthy declines revolved around the decreasing popularity of the full-size pickup trucks from which so much profit is derived. Full-size pickup truck volume slid eight per cent in 2018, a 30,000-unit drop that accounts for more than half of the industry’s overall drop. Falling fuel prices, not unpredictably, had no impact in December, as full-size truck volume tumbled 12 per cent in the final month of the year.
But it was the passenger car market, which experienced a 10 per cent loss of volume in 2018, that caused other top-tier brands to struggle last year. Among the 10 top brands in Canada, eight sell cars. And among those, each and every one reported fewer passenger car sales in 2018 than in 2017, helping the car sector’s share of the market crumble to just 29 per cent.
Across the entire industry, and certainly among Canada’s 10 best-selling auto brands, the reasons for forward momentum, company-wide slowdowns, and uneventful stability vary widely. With automaker sales figures supplied by the Global Automakers of Canada, here’s a deeper look at Canada’s 10 leading auto brands.
10. Kia: 73,009, down 5 per cent
If 2017 made anyone believe Kia Canada had put an end to a challenging half-decade, 2018 will cause a moment’s pause. Following record sales performance in 2012, Kia’s Canadian volume began to drop precipitously, even as Canadian auto sales surged. But in 2017, Kia had almost returned to record highs. The company reversed course in 2018, harmed especially by a final third in which Kia lost nearly 4,000 sales. Meanwhile, over the course of the year, Kia’s three top sellers — the Sorento, Forte, Sportage — combined for an eight-per-cent drop worth roughly 4,000 fewer sales than during the year prior.
9. Mazda: 73,869, down 0.3 per cent
As the bottom fell out of Mazda’s passenger car lineup, Mazda’s trio of crossovers effectively made up the difference in 2018, rising eight per cent to 43,404 sales, or nearly 60 per cent of the brand’s volume. The Mazda3 nevertheless remained the company’s best seller, albeit by the slightest of margins over the steadily gaining CX-5. Mazda has high hopes for the new 3, which will be available with all-wheel drive when it launches later this year. Canadian demand for the 3 has fallen 47 per cent over the last decade.
8. Ram: 89,562, down 14 per cent
FCA’s Ram brand rises and falls on the strength of its pickup truck line, which generates 95 per cent of all Ram sales. In 2018, that meant the Ram half-ton and Ram heavy duty trucks’ 14 per cent drop resulted in a brand-wide 14 per cent drop. Ram pickup sales fell to a five-year low in 2018.
7. GMC: 94,241, down 5 per cent
As a purveyor of pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, commercial vans and absolutely no passenger cars, GMC is in a favourable position given the market’s anti-car tendencies. But GMC was faced in 2018 with a nine-per cent dive in sales of its most popular product: The full-size Sierra pickup truck. The Sierra accounts for 60 per cent of all GMC sales in Canada, and its decline brought the brand down despite rising Canyon, Savana, and Terrain volume.
6. Hyundai: 127,839, down 1 per cent
Hyundai’s year-over-year decline in 2018 was modest, but it still dropped the brand’s Canadian volume to an eight-year low. It could’ve been much worse, however. Sales of the Accent, Elantra, Sonata, Veloster, Santa Fe Sport, Santa Fe XL, and Tucson all declined; in some cases, quite sharply. In fact, excluding the newly launched Kona, Hyundai Canada sales would have been down 13 per cent. Thanks to the Kona, Hyundai managed to actually outpace the market as a whole.
5. Nissan: 136,536, up 2 per cent
Sharp declines across much of Nissan’s car lineup, and even among popular utility vehicles such as the Rogue, Murano, and Pathfinder, were more than countered by the popularity of Nissan’s newer models. The second-generation Leaf, for example, became something of a mainstream model in 2018, outselling both the Altima and Micra with 5,735 units. Nissan added 4,362 Kicks sales and reported a 119-per-cent increase in sales of the Qashqai, now Nissan’s second-best-selling model. Combined, the Murano, Rogue, Qashqai, and Kicks — Nissan’s two-row crossover lineup — produce nearly six out of every 10 Nissan sales.
4. Chevrolet: 164,016, down 4 per cent
Let down by a 6 per cent drop in sales of its best-selling model — the Silverado that transitioned into a new generation at the end of the year — GM Canada’s biggest brand reported a worse-than-average year-over-year drop in 2018. For Chevrolet, 2018 was still its second-best year of the last decade, in large part due to the brand’s bigger SUVs: Traverse, Tahoe, and Suburban. That trio combined for 12,899 sales in 2018, a 30 per cent increase over 2017.
3. Honda: 175,042, down 1 per cent
Honda’s Civic ended another year — its 21st consecutive — as Canada’s best-selling car thanks to the fact that it maintained its sales volume while the passenger car market tanked. Honda nevertheless couldn’t quite keep pace with 2017’s record output due in part to slim availability of the CR-V for much of the year, limited availability of HR-Vs and Fits, and disappointing sales figures from the Pilot and Ridgeline. Honda continues as a powerhouse in the Canadian automotive sphere, boosted by a Canadian manufacturing presence. The Civic and CR-V, Canadian-built models, account for nearly three-quarters of the brand’s Canadian sales.
2. Toyota: 207,535, up 4 per cent
In a tough market that consistently reported declining volume throughout much of 2018, Toyota battled the headwinds to end the year with its best sales performance in a decade. Booming pickup truck sales, a nine-per-cent increase in sales of the RAV4 (which is now Canada’s three-time best-selling SUV), and improvements from the C-HR, 4Runner, Yaris, Prius, Camry, and Avalon contributed to Toyota’s 4-per-cent uptick. This caused the Toyota brand’s market share to steeply climb from 9.8 per cent in 2017 to 10.5 in 2018.
1. Ford: 289,705, down 4 per cent
There’s no doubt that Ford’s 19-per-cent car drop was a factor in the brand’s overall decline in 2018. But more importantly, Ford held onto its title of Canada’s best-selling automotive brand — for a 10th consecutive year — despite a six-per-cent drop in sales of its all-important F-Series pickup truck line. The F-Series, not coincidentally Canada’s best-selling vehicle for a 10th consecutive year, produces half of the Blue Oval’s Canadian volume. F-Series sales, however, slipped by nearly 10,000 units in 2018 — a significant sum by any standard.
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