For the first time in nearly a decade, annual new-vehicle sales fell in Canada in 2018 with a total of 2,003,506 vehicles sold, down 1.9 per cent from 2017, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
Annual Canadian sales last fell in 2009 when they dropped 11 per cent over 2008 and at the height of the Great Recession.
December contributed to the lower 2018 total with 116,605 vehicles sold during the month, down 6.5 per cent from last December.
“Given all of the political and economic turbulence – combined with interest rate increases – it is difficult to classify the 2018 as disappointing from a sales perspective,” said David Adams, president of Global Automakers of Canada, which speaks for import brands sold in Canada. “We’ve had a decade of record sales each year, and at some point things are going to slow down – that’s the nature of the business.”
Ford sold the most vehicles in December (16,047) and for the year (297,902), repeating as the overall annual sales leader. The Ford F-Series pickup and the Honda Civic retained the titles of Canada’s best-selling vehicle and best-selling passenger car, respectively, for 2018.
Trucks continued to grow their market share in 2018, comprising 70.1 per cent of all vehicles sold during the year, up from 68.6 per cent in 2017, according to the Global Automakers of Canada.
December was a month of sales extremes as the Canadian industry battled against a nine-month losing skid — which now stands at 10 months in length — while still managing to top the two-million sales plateau for the second consecutive year and second time ever.
The steepest monthly drop during the 10-month run of declines was November’s 8.2 per cent, which dragged the industry 1.7 per cent behind its 2017 pace at that time.
The drop is a hit to the market but still shows fairly robust sales, said Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.
"Any negative is difficult for the market, but to put it into perspective, it was only four or five years ago that if you got to 1.5 million you were nirvana. And now we complain about almost two million."
The industry should expect a similar drop for this year, likely somewhere between a two and four per cent decline in sales, he said.
"We see no signs of any upside, any positive, be there's also a lot of potential out there that it's hard to see any free fall. So we think it will be more of the same next year."
DECEMBER’S UPS AND DOWNS
Toyota Canada surged 26 per cent in December to close out 2018, on its way to its best sales year ever. Nissan also had its best December ever with total sales of 9,488 units, an increase of 1.1 per cent and cap to a record year. Honda Canada saw its sales rise 10.1 per cent in the final month of 2018.
FCA Canada, meanwhile, dropped 32.5 per cent, its third sharp monthly decline in a row. Its sales were down 35.2 per cent in November and 14.8 in October. General Motors reported a 30-per-cent decline in sales in December, but didn't immediately break out sales by brand. Ford also slid 8.4 per cent and didn’t provide a brand breakdown.
Here’s a more detailed look at how some of the automakers fared in December:
Toyota brand sales were up 28 per cent to 14,153 vehicles while sales of the luxury Lexus brand rose 10 per cent to 1,712 units.
The December push allowed Toyota to chalk up a 3.2 per cent gain for the year, with 231,646 vehicles sold.
December sales of the popular RAV4 — the automaker’s best-selling vehicle in Canada — more than doubled during the month, up 60 per cent to 4,035 units. Sienna minivan sales were also up 59 per cent to 1,687 units.
Bucking the truck trend, consumers bought 30 per cent more Toyota brand cars in December 2018 than they did a year ago.
Every car except the Yaris posted gains greater than 35 per cent.
Corolla sales were up 50 per cent to 2,928 and total Prius sales were up 66 per cent to 580 vehicles.
Sales of the midsize Tacoma were down 7.7 per cent to 870 units while sales of the full-size Tundra rose 11 per cent to 741 sold.
Toyota Canada CEO Larry Hutchinson in a statement called the annual sales fantastic.
“Moving into 2019, I believe we have even more to look forward to,” Hutchinson said in the statement. “The launch of Lexus UX and all new models of the Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Corolla will highlight what should be another great year for Toyota Canada.”
Stephen Beatty, vice president and corporate secretary of Toyota Canada, said December sales lined up with new product and the final arrival of Corolla hatchback. And a lot of excitement building around the New RAV launching at the end of the year.
“The new RAV4 and new Corolla, these are bread-and-butter vehicles for the Canadian marketplace," he said.
FCA SALES PLUNGE
FCA Canada reported a December sales decline of 32 per cent over the same month a year ago. The automaker sold 11,923 vehicles in Canada last month. It was a stark contrast to the 14 per cent jump the automaker reported in the United States in December.
Every FCA brand in Canada saw its sales fall in December 2018.
The Ram brand was the automaker’s best performer by volume, with 5,325 vehicles sold, but down four per cent over December 2017. Ram 1500 sales of 4,377 trucks were up four per cent for the month, compared with December 2017.
The Chrysler brand saw its sales plummet 81 per cent to 219 total vehicles, with sales of the Pacifica minivan down 68 per cent to 205 units. FCA sold just 14 Chrysler 300 sedans last month.
Dodge sales fell 56 per cent to 2,316 units. Caravan sales were essentially cut in half, down 49 per cent to 1,661 units.
Meanwhile, Jeep sales were off 23 per cent to 4,002 vehicles with Wrangler sales — up 38 per cent to 1,445 units — offsetting losses across the brand.
The Wrangler sales were a December record. And for the calendar year, Jeep Wrangler set an annual record with 24,615 vehicles sold, up 42 per cent from 2017.
Cherokee and Grand Cherokee sales were down 54 and 16 per cent, respectively.
NISSAN HAS RECORD YEAR
Nissan Canada reported its best December ever with total sales of 9,488 units, an increase of 1.1 per cent year-over-year.
The total also pushed the automaker to a record sales year with 149,117 vehicles sold in 2018.
Nissan division recorded 8,518 sales in December, a decrease of 1.6 per cent year-over-year.
Five vehicles in the Nissan lineup set December sales records including the electric Leaf, Qashqai, Armada, Titan full-size truck and GT-R.
The Infiniti luxury division set an annual sales record in 2018 with a total of 12,581 units sold, an increase of 1.2 per cent over 2017.
HYUNDAI, KIA BOTH DOWN
Hyundai sales dipped 5.5 per cent in December while Kia sales were down four per cent when compared with December 2017.
The luxury Genesis line saw sales of 156 vehicles, up from the 47 it sold a year ago.
Hyundai’s top-selling vehicle last month was the Elantra sedan, with 2,024 sold. The Tuscon was the automaker’s best-selling truck with 1,278 sold.
The Forte sedan was Kia’s top seller with 1,152 sold and 919 sales of the Sorento led the truck category.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.