TORONTO - Despite a fourth-quarter slump, new light-vehicle sales in Canada rose 3.2 percent last year to a record 1.55 million units, eclipsing the mark set in 1988.
But sales of the traditional Big 3, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, rose only 0.2 percent over 1999, reflecting a decline at GM and barely measurable gains for the other two. In contrast, Japanese makes rose a combined 5.1 percent; the Europeans were up 7 percent; and the three Korean brands surged 64.5 percent.
The market mix also shifted in another way. For the first time in 15 years, light-truck share fell in 2000, slipping to 44.9 percent from 46 percent. Cars captured 55.1 percent of the total market last year, up from 54.
Despite an expected slowdown in the U.S. market this year, analysts here are slightly more upbeat about Canada's prospects.
'Canada should be able to hold up a little better than the U.S. market because we came into this upturn a lot later,' says Dennis DesRosiers, a Toronto-based analyst and consultant. But he still expects some decline.
'We're calling for sales to be down 3 to 5 percent, but still above 1.5 million units in 2001. That is still healthy, although it's an incentive-driven market and the vehicle manufacturers aren't making much money.'
Carlos Gomes, who tracks the market for Scotiabank, says replacement demand will continue to put a strong foundation under the Canadian market this year. Nationally, he points out, 45 percent of all vehicles are older than 9 years, and only 47 percent of households own a vehicle 4 years old or newer.
Said Gomes: 'Combined with employment growth forecasts that remain more positive than in the U.S., replacement sales should result in upside potential for the Canadian market.' As in the U.S. market, sales nose-dived in December, falling 11.8 percent to 113,800. The Big 3 took the bulk of the hit, with Chrysler off 22.5 percent; GM down 10.1 percent; and Ford, 8 percent.
Japanese brands reported mixed results for December with Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti and Suzuki reporting declines, and only Subaru and Mazda gains. Among the European nameplates only Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Saab reported improvement. Two of the Korean carmakers, Kia and Hyundai, were up sharply in December, but Daewoo was off 68 percent from a year earlier.