It's not easy backing up a record-setting performance with yet another best-ever achievement. But that's exactly what Canada's auto industry did for five consecutive years beginning in 2013.
Then, after the industry reported more than 2 million total sales in 2017, sales volume decreased in 2018. If the first two months of 2019 are anything to go by, this year won't be the year in which the Canadian market goes back to its record-setting ways.
Auto sales have fallen in each of the first two months of 2019, sliding by more than four per cent through January and February. To be fair, the market remains strong by historical standards, but that strength is derived largely in part by somewhat artificial means: Long-term loans, the consistent rollover of 'negative equity'
, low interest rates, and layers of incentives.
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Not surprisingly, the slow start to 2019 can be laid at the feet of passenger cars, sales of which fell 15 per cent year-over-year, in the January/February chill. Cars accounted for only a quarter of all auto sales in the early part of 2019, a far cry from the 42 per cent share cars earned half a decade ago and less than half 10 years ago.
Yet on the list of the 10 worst starts for individual vehicle nameplates in 2019, there are actually only three cars. We've excluded low-volume vehicles by looking only at nameplates that earned at least 1,000 sales in the first two months of last year. We also left out any vehicles that already have a pink slip — the discontinued Chevrolet Cruze, for example, tumbled 69 per cent to only 1,310 units in early 2019, a sharper decline than any of the drops listed here.
With those parameters in place, these 10 vehicles have encountered the roughest starts in a slow-to-launch 2019.
: Down 31 per cent
At this time last year, the X3 was Canada's most popular BMW. Then, the X3 was a brand new, freshly launched SUV in one of the hottest categories on the planet. Fast forward a year, and maintaining that momentum has proven too difficult. The X3 is still popular — with 967 sales, it's outselling competitors such as the Acura RDX, Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX, and Volvo XC60
. But it's fallen well back of more direct German rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Nissan Rogue: Down 31 per cent
Typically one of Canada's most popular utility vehicles, the second-generation Nissan Rogue is now in its sixth model year, having undergone no major updates. The Rogue's 1,686-unit sales drop to 3,794 units in January and February comes as Nissan continues to eat into the Rogue's territory with the Qashqai. Sales of the smaller Qashqai, which is known as the Rogue Sport in the U.S., are up eight per cent this year.
Jeep Cherokee: Down 31 per cent
Although refreshed for 2019 with a facelift and broader engine lineup, the Jeep Cherokee is enduring the worst start to a year since the Cherokee nameplate returned from the grave in 2013. Sales have fallen by nearly 1,000 units to 2,155 in total, symptomatic of a Jeep brand that's watched as the Renegade and Wrangler
joined the Cherokee in bringing brand-wide volume down 23 per cent through the end of February. In 2016, Jeep started the year with a 4,750-unit Cherokee outburst, more than twice the volume produced so far this year.
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class: Down 34 per cent
Finally, after seven years, Mercedes-Benz has finally gotten around to replacing the GLE-Class — known as the M-Class until 2015. Granted, age did little to hinder the GLE's success: 7,480 copies were sold in 2018, an all-time high. Predictably, GLE sales are falling in this transition period — volume is down by 368 units to 701 so far this year, but don't expect the GLE to remain weak for long.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class: Down 38 per cent
A year ago, prior to this 38-per cent drop that saw this Mercedes-Benz fall by 602 units to 995 total January and February sales, the C was Canada's top-selling premium car. It still is; faint praise in a premium car market that's cratering as customers turn to luxury SUVs. A trio of premium utility vehicles, including the C-Class' closely-related GLC sibling, now outsell Canada's favourite luxury car.
Hyundai Accent: Down 38 per cent
Sales of the Accent have fallen by 400 units to 649 so far this year, and it has lost its long-held position — at least, temporarily — as Canada's top-selling subcompact. The fifth-generation Accent is now in its second model year, and it's objectively better than all prior Accents in virtually every way. But Canadian sales of subcompact cars are withering away to nothing. You don't have to go back far — only half a decade — to see Hyundai selling 1,979 Accents in Canada over the first two months of the year.
Golf: Down 38 per cent
With an expansive lineup featuring high levels of efficiency, hot hatches, and different wagon variants, the Volkswagen Golf deserves to be more desirable than ever, yet sales are tumbling. Volume is down by 1,290 units to 2,111 sales so far this year. That means the Golf, which was Volkswagen's best-selling model just one year ago when it generated 40 per cent of the brand's sales, now produces only a quarter of Volkswagen Canada's volume. The Tiguan is tops now.
Honda Odyssey: Down 39 per cent
The market is not kind to most minivans these days, as evidenced by two people carriers earning prominent positions on this ignominious list. The Honda Odyssey was launched as an all-new van for 2018 and sales last year shot past the 11,000 mark for a fifth consecutive, year despite the anti-minivan sentiment. But the Odyssey's momentum is now swinging in another direction: Sales are down by 690 units to 1,092 so far this year.
Jeep Wrangler: Down 42 per cent
The Jeep Wrangler is popular. Wildly popular. It's just not quite as frequent an acquisition in the early part of 2019 as it was a year ago. Wrangler sales, bolstered by clear-outs of old models and the anxiously awaited arrival of a new model, shot out of the gate in early 2018 with unsustainable speed. The volume generated by the Wrangler now is more realistic: 3,863 units through the end of February, down by 2,790 compared with early 2018.
Chrysler Pacifica: Down 55 per cent
Canada's minivan segment is hurting. Sales are down 19 per cent to start 2019, a sharp decrease following a 2018 calendar year in which sales likewise slid 19 per cent. Minivans now account for only four per cent of all Canadian auto sales. Sharpest among the decreases reported is the Chrysler Pacifica's 55-per-cent, 614-unit decline to 512 sales. In a segment with five remaining nameplates, the Pacifica ranks fifth in Canadian sales.