A national light vehicle sales decline of 0.7 percent relative to March 2012 suggests relative stability following the near-record pace of 2012 sales, but a look into the regional dynamics at play in last month’s sales results reveals deepening divides between Canada’s various provincial markets.
The strong early-decade return from the market’s recession-driven 2009 trough continued in British Columbia (+6.5%) and Alberta (+1.7%) last March.
These Western provinces defied the negative economic headwinds sweeping through Central Canada, posting positive Q1 results as well (BC @ +3.5%; Alberta @ +4.1%). Among the country’s larger vehicle markets, the two Westernmost provinces have been the only regions to show growth thus far in 2013, outperforming Ontario and Quebec by significant margins.
Economic uncertainty in the country’s largest markets has put a damper on vehicle sales relative to 2012, but results remain at near-record levels. Ontario (-0.7%) and Quebec (-4.5%) failed to match the March sales pace established last year, and Q1 YTD sales reflect a similar trend: soft relative to BC and Alberta, strong relative to historical averages.
Newfoundland’s burgeoning resource sector helped drive the small Eastern market to the top of Canada’s charts in March, with 7.1 percent year-over-year growth.
Neighbouring Atlantic provinces did not fare so well, with New Brunswick (0.0%), Nova Scotia (-1.7%) and Prince Edward Island (-10.8%) underperforming the national market last month.
In terms of the top selling brands in March, the Honda Civic has regained its position as top-selling vehicle in Canada, winning 6,007 sales last month. Previous months have seen Honda’s longtime sales champ trail the popular Hyundai Elantra, but Civic regained momentum in March with a performance just 0.5 percent off the pace set in March 2012.
Double (and in one case, triple) digit year-over-year gains were earned by the Mazda3 (+24.8%), Volkswagen Jetta (+54.7%), Ford Fusion (+26.0%), Honda Accord (+161.2%), Ford F-Series (+16.0%), Ram Pickup (+14.6%), Toyota RAV4 (+95.7%), and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (+21.0%).
Of note is the renewed momentum of GM full size pickup sales. Both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra showed reasonable Q1 sales growth – an improvement over last year, when the GM pickups did not participate fully in the full size pickup segment’s sales rally.
While the total number of vehicles sold last month changed little from the previous year (156,680 units in March 2013 vs. 157.749 units in March 2012), the segment composition of that sales total differed considerably from that which consumers preferred in the past.
Hot, high volume segments like subcompact car (-8.1%), compact car (-3.3%), intermediate car (-10.3%), compact sport utility (-1.6%) and intermediate sport utility (-7.1%) cooled noticeably.
Luxury segments – especially small luxury (+9.1%), compact luxury sport utility (+53.9%) and large luxury sport utility (+94.8%) – buoyed the market, as did the evergreen market for large pickup trucks (+9.7%). In fact, large pickups were the only high volume segment to show a boost over 2012 sales levels on both a year-over-year and year-to-date basis.