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Previews and predictions for the auto industry in 2013 Add to ...

Okay, take out your scorecards and get ready to grade me. It’s the time of year when I look back on my predictions for 2012 and look ahead to 2013 with more previews and prognostications.

HONDA

And what better place to start than with Canada’s best-selling car for the last decade and a half – the Honda Civic. Last year at this time, I said Honda would upgrade its critically panned Civic in 2012 and, sure enough, just in time for the end of 2012 – as a 2013 model – we have a nicely upgraded Civic. A poor sport would ask, What took Honda so long? But none of that here. I mean, the Civic is only the most important car in Honda’s entire global lineup, correct?

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Now here’s a sign that Honda has learned the lesson of not scrimping on core models: In a recent head-to-head test of mid-size sedans, Consumer Reports graded the four-cylinder Honda Accord higher than the Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry; the V-6 Accord is right up there challenging the Camry Hybrid and V-6 Camry for the top spot in Consumer Reports’ ratings, too.

“Honda missed the mark with other redesigned models in recent years, but it nailed this one,” said Jake Fisher, director, Consumer Reports Auto Test Center.

Bravo, Honda. Now for the coming year, Honda only has one major new model launch, the replacement for the Ridgeline pickup, notes Merrill Lynch and Automotive News. Let’s see if Honda finds some magic there.

Meanwhile, Honda has plenty of work to do on its Acura luxury brand. A new TL sedan and a new MDX sport-utility are on the way, say several sources. Look for Honda to tone down the styling of both along the lines of what we’ve seen this year in the new RDX and ILX. Frankly, when it comes to Acura, I’m looking forward to 2015 when we see the new NSX super sports car.

NISSAN

Okay, to Nissan. Last year I noted that Nissan would aim to jump-start sales in 2012 – from about a 5.5 per cent market share (with Infiniti) to 8 per cent in Canada. New models and new innovative technologies would be the key.

This year, Nissan launched a brand new Altima mid-size car with brilliant fuel economy and all sorts of interesting technologies – from a fuel-saving transmission, to lightweight materials to a little “beep” that warns you about low tire pressure. At the end of this year, we’ve also seen a new Sentra compact and a new car-based Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder, starting at less than $30,000, will be a big hit in 2013. The 2013 Sentra is a vast improvement over the 2012 model, but with only one engine choice, no hatchback version and tame styling, this compact is in tough, competing against models sold in hatchback and sedan form, with powertrain choices and snazzier styling. The 2013 is a good car, but not a great one.

So my prediction for 2013: Nissan Canada’s sales will go up in 2013. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, through the first of December, Nissan brand sales in Canada are down 2.5 per cent in a market up overall by 6.5 per cent. Ah, but at least Infiniti sales are up 17 per cent on the year. Alas, even with that, Nissan/Infiniti combined account for about 5 per cent of the Canadian market. So my prediction for growth didn’t happen.

TOYOTA

Next, Toyota. What a story here. During 2012, Toyota Canada, as I expected, launched a raft of products, from plug-in Prius hybrids to entry-level hybrids, to a new sports car. But most important of all, I said new products for the company’s Lexus luxury brand, including the new GS, ES and LS, would be telling.

What’s that all mean? Toyota brand sales in Canada are up 21.7 per cent on the year, and Lexus sales are up 13.7 per cent. My expectation for 2013: Toyota’s sales will jump even more in 2013.

Why? An all-new, made-in-Canada RAV4 is coming early in the new year and it’s a massive improvement over the outgoing one which, by the way, is selling like gangbusters. Sales are up nearly 30 per cent on the year.

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