A similar trend applies to the rival Honda Accord. In 2020 and 2021, the Sport trim — available with both the turbocharged 1.5and 2.0-litre engines — has been the most popular version of the Accord sedan, Honda Canada said.
Accord sales fell 16 per cent from 2017 to 2019, also outperforming the midsize-sedan segment.
“For drivers that want the best package of overall drivability, you still can’t beat a car,” said John Bordignon, a Honda Canada spokesman. “Our customers tell us that they want driving to be an occasion. For them, it’s about that feeling of being connected to the road rather than just going from point A to point B.”
When Volkswagen brings the next-generation Golf hatchback to Canada this year, only the high-performance GTI and R variants will make the trip. For the first time in more than 40 years, no mainstream Golfs will be available in Canada.
“Trucks and SUVs of all shapes and sizes continue to decimate the sales of pretty much all ‘regular cars,’” said Volkswagen Canada spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff. “The exception seems to be the ‘sporty ones’ like the GTI and R, and our decision to bring only those versions of the upcoming eighth generation is indeed 100 per cent based upon that knowledge.
“Sales of the regular Golf have shown a steady decline over these past few years, but GTI and R have been strong … very strong, actually.” Data from the Global Automakers of Canada shows that from 2017 to 2019, sales of the GTI and R grew 6.7 per cent, while other Golf models fell 22.8 per cent and all passenger cars fell 20.3 per cent.
UPSELL NOT NEEDED
In Camry’s case, customers arrive already knowing they want the SE or XSE, said P.J. Caletti, general manager of Erin Park Toyota-Lexus in Mississauga, Ont. They don’t have to be enticed into the more profitable models.
“What’s nice is it’s not about profit margin in the particular package, it’s about having the right car, period, to offer the guest.”
Customers no longer have to choose between elegance or sportiness or a high equipment level, Caletti said.
“Toyota now does a very good job of not having to sacrifice one for the other. Before, either the one the customer could afford didn’t come with the Sport stuff, or there was a sport package but without the luxury.”
John Bardwell, subject matter expert with Bond Brand Loyalty, agrees that the trend is real. “I see more hyperactive Camry/Accord drivers flaunting newfound levels of performance than ever in the last year or so. Almost as if hopped-up vanilla sedans have become the refuge for those who might have once been Nissan Maxima owners.
The broader trend makes sense, he said. “A car compromises capacity and perceived interior space, but in exchange you get reduced road and wind noise and, most importantly, the undeniable chassis improvements provided by a significantly lower centre of gravity. Who else but a drive dynamics aficionado would accept those terms?”
The shift is not confined to mass-market cars. “We have seen a progressively higher mix of top-model engine variants in the 3-Series range (M340, M3) in the past few years,” said Jean-Francois Taylor, spokesman for BMW Canada. Overall, including SUVs, BMW Canada now leads the world for M brand mix of sales, he said.
Robert Karwel, senior manager, automotive practice at J.D. Power Canada, said sporty trim levels generally generate higher margins. “What these brands are doing are polishing their midsize entries to certainly up the sizzle factor on them,” Karwel said. “By doing that, there is also the return on profit, where typically we see that higher-priced vehicles tend to be more profitable.”
Burnishing a midsize sedan with a sportier trim might be an exercise to retain as much ownership as possible in the current market and keep interest high, he said.