In a departure from its U.S. counterpart, Nissan Canada is keeping the stickshift alive in the entry-level trim of its next-generation 2020 Sentra.
Steve Milette, president of Nissan Canada, said the Quebec market seeks out manual transmissions as part of a broader trend of buying up more value trims than the rest of the coun- try. Sales are sufficient enough to jus- tify continuing to offer those trims, he said.
“[The manual-transmission Sentra] is predisposed to the Quebec market. What’s interesting in Quebec from a market dynamic perspective is even in a vehicle line like Qashqai where you offer both [front- and all-wheel drive], their predisposition is actually on the front-wheel drive.
“Consumers are looking for value, and they can get more car [and] high- er trims for the same or lower price point by choosing front-wheel drive,” Milette said.
Nissan’s sales figures bear out those statements. The take rate for the front-wheel-drive Qashqai cross- over was 43.1 per cent in Quebec through December 2019 as opposed to 35 per cent nationally; the split was even higher in 2018 at 47.6 per cent in Quebec versus 38.8 per cent nationwide.
On the previous-gen- eration 2019 Sentra, the take rate for man- ual transmissions was 2.5 per cent over the same period. Despite this, Nissan Canada spokeswoman Jennifer McCarthy said that the company sees signifi- cant potential for manual-transmission sales in Quebec with the new generation of the Sentra.
“Quebec is a region of particular focus for Nissan Canada, and consumer behaviour there is some- thing we factor into not only mar- keting initiatives, but also our prod- uct strategy. We still believe there is demand for a manual transmission in Sentra’s segment.”
VALUE OPTIONS DISAPPEARING
Robert Karwel, senior manager of J.D. Power’s Canadian automotive practice, said that the broader sales numbers confirm that a value con- scious buyer exists today in Quebec: the average price for a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission in Quebec was just under $27,000 in 2019 vs. the national average of just under $32,000. However, he said that that type of buyer is becoming less common, much as it is across Canada, as consumers move to utility vehicles and the average transac- tion prices increase.
“In Canada, the manual gearbox on average is 76 per cent of the price of the automatic, but in Quebec the ratio in pricing is clos- er to 70 per cent,” Karwel said. “Clearly, there is a budget-con- scious buyer still out there in Quebec.
“But the overall trend is indisputable. This buyer is dis- appearing in Quebec. Every year, there are fewer and fewer. In my former roles, I can confirm that [carmak- ers] did order specifically equipped cars for Quebec which were low-priced man- uals with low spec.
“We can see from the data that it is happening less fre- quently, especially as many utility body-styled vehicles do not offer manuals at all.”
Contrary to Nissan’s statements, J.D. Power’s data indicates that while the take rate on manual trans- missions is higher across all segments in Quebec — comprising 2.7 per cent of sales in that province through November vs. 1.9 per cent in the rest of Canada — compact cars don’t fol- low that same trend. A wider gap existed in that segment in 2016 and 2017, when 11.6 and 11.0 per cent of compact cars sold in Quebec had a manual transmis- sion, respectively, as opposed to 9.8 and 8.7 per cent nationally. However, through November, these fig- ures had become nearly even at 5.1 per cent in Quebec and 5.0 per cent through the rest of Canada.
Karwel said that the stronger market for manu- als that remains in Quebec is therefore not being driven by value models.
“The higher proportion on average, for all vehicles, is being driven by sports and muscle cars, which aren’t cheap,” he said.
SIMILAR STORY FOR TOYOTA YARIS, COROLLA
Toyota Canada also reports that, compared with the rest of Canada, Quebec had a higher take rate in 2019 of value-priced vehicles with manual transmissions, such as the Yaris, the Corolla and the Corolla Hatchback.
However the Prairie provinces took the lead selling manu- al-equipped Tacoma pickups, 11 per cent versus nine per cent in British Columbia and eight per cent in Ontario. In Quebec, it was four per cent.
Over that same period, markets outside of Quebec were the hotbeds for front-wheel drive on models that could be optioned with all-wheel drive. Atlantic Canada bought 57 per cent of its Sienna minivans with front-wheel drive versus 56 per cent in Ontario and 32 per cent in Quebec; in the RAV4 compact SUV, 21 per cent of those purchased in Ontario were front-wheel versus 19 per cent in Quebec and 12 per cent in Atlantic Canada.