Coronavirus Impact: Canadian Auto Sales Drive Off a Cliff

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
coronavirus impact canadian auto sales drive off a cliff

Mirroring its southern neighbor, Canadian auto sales took a dive last month as measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 went into effect across the country. First-quarter volume, as a result, fell roughly 20 percent across the industry, with March’s decline pegged at 48 percent by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants (via Bloomberg).

Still, amid all the gloom were statistical bright spots.

First off, due to incredibly low volume and the timing of orders, sales of the loftiest automotive products in the land actually rose in Q1 2020. Marques like McLaren, Lamborghini, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce posted quarterly gains. It’s likely only a vanishingly small amount of their combined volume hit sales sheets in the last half of March, resulting in the skewed results.

January and February were seen as fairly healthy sales months on both sides of the border.

According to figures from the Automotive News Data Center, the Detroit Three fared better in the U.S. than in Canada last quarter. While the Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors posted Q1 declines of 10.9 percent, 12.5 percent, and 7.1 percent, respectively, in the U.S., the Canadian tally revealed drops of 18.9, 13.8, and 12.8 percent, respectively.

Product timing and heightened demand for pickup trucks versus all other segments meant some mainstream product fared better north of the border. Ram volume was nearly flat (a 0.7-percent loss), thanks to a 50-percent increase in Heavy Duty volume over the quarter. Sales of the soon-to-die Dodge Grand Caravan rose 2 percent. Brand-wise, Jeep and Chrysler fared the worst, with drops of 35 and 55 percent, respectively.

At Ford, Explorer, Expedition, and Super Duty sales all rose significantly over Q1 2019, the result of new product and higher volumes in the first two months of the year. The Ranger was also the beneficiary of this phenomenon. Bright spots span the pricing ladder at GM, with such models as the Chevrolet Trax and Corvette, Silverado and GMC Sierra all posting quarterly gains. The Chevy Bolt and new-for-2019 Blazer appear on that list, too, as does the Buick Envision.

Leading the volume-loss pack among import brands was Infiniti, whose sales fell more than 50 percent in Q1 2020. If you’ve paid attention to the brand’s trajectory in the U.S., you’ll know that coronavirus can’t take the blame for the entirety of that loss. Other Japanese brands, including Honda, Nissan, and Acura, recorded a volume loss of greater than 30 percent.

Looking to Europe, BMW Group brands sank a combined 30 percent last quarter, while Volvo came close with a 29-percent drop.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler]

Join the conversation
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 03, 2020

    Canada was the second-largest producer of automobiles in the world from 1918 to 1923. I say it's time for a comeback. Step one: Think outside Ontario. Yukons could be assembled in Yukon, for example. (Why must I think of everything?)

    • See 4 previous
    • RHD RHD on Apr 05, 2020

      @Inside Looking Out Kia will be making small SUVs in Colorado and Hyundai's factories will be in Arizona and New Mexico. Dodge will be making pickups just east of Montana.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Apr 04, 2020

    "Marques like McLaren, Lamborghini, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce posted quarterly gains." The rich will always be rich. And often they get richer during times of economic crisis as they pit unemployed workers against each other to lower wages, and buy up real estate and stocks at deflated prices.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.