Over the next half-dozen years, the auto industry will flood the marketplace with fuel-efficient traditional cars loaded with technologies designed to squeeze every kilometre out of a litre of fuel. Yet here's the oddity in Canada: sales of subcompacts such as the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit fell about 20 per cent in 2010. As the year wound down, just two of the top 10 best-selling cars in Canada were fuel-efficient little grocery getters - the Hyundai Accent at No. 6 and the No. 10 Nissan Versa.
While sales of fuel-efficient cars tanked, light truck sales - especially pickup trucks - boomed in 2010. The tanking of subcompact sales was a real shocker in 2010.
5. NEW AND IMPORTANT PLAYERS EMERGE, FROM HYUNDAI TO SUBARU TO AUDI
Let's start with Subaru, the rational brand. More Canadians than ever embraced Subaru in 2010. Some argue that Subaru is benefiting from the difficult economic times. This is when buyers migrate to cars with impeccable crash-test scores, top-notch quality and world-class resale values.
That's what Subaru offers. Not surprisingly, through the end of November, Canadian sales were up 21 per cent, and Subaru Canada vice-president Ted Lalka sees sales ending this month at about 27,500, an all-time record.
Then there is Hyundai. The South Korean auto maker grew up in 2010, showing a willingness to take on the world's top-tier auto makers with high quality, sharp designs and world-class technology. As 2011 dawns, Automotive News reports that Hyundai is about to unveil a global branding strategy based on the concept of "modern premium."
Audi, the luxury brand of the Volkswagen Group, is on track to meet its goal of becoming the world's No. 1 premium auto maker by sales no later than 2015. A string of new models, from the gorgeous A8 sedan to the delightful R8 Spyder convertible, has pushed Audi into the forefront of the luxury segment.
6. VOLKSWAGEN PUSHES FOR THE TOP
Volkswagen AG is a sprawling automotive group with divisions as diverse as Bentley in Britain, Lamborghini in Italy and Porsche in Germany. This year, VW spent a lot of energy telling the world it would become the largest auto maker in the world by volume by 2018.
To achieve what VW calls "Strategy 2018," the German auto maker is realigning its lineup to address North American tastes specifically. The sixth-generation 2011 Jetta, starting at $15,875, moved down market this year to take on other compacts like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Honda Civic.
All during 2010, VW boss Martin Winterkorn was anything but shy about the group's goal of becoming the world's biggest auto maker by sales, if not by profitability. VW is aiming to sell more than 10 million vehicles by 2018 and fully dethrone Toyota as the world's biggest car company by sales volume.
7. LONG LIVE FOUR-BANGERS
The 2010 John Cooper Works World Championship 50 is a perfect example of a trend that gained serious traction in 2010: the emergence of great new four-cylinder engines. At 211 horsepower, this Mini is fast: 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds thanks to a fancy twin-scroll turbocharger that juices the 1.6-litre four-banger under the hood.
More and more, auto makers are turning to four-cylinder engines to meet fleet-wide fuel economy rules and to save money. The 2011 Ford Explorer will be offered with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that has more performance than the former six-cylinder, yet delivers a 30 per cent fuel economy improvement. The mid-size Hyundai Sonata is selling well with a 2.4-litre, direct-injection four that is the strongest in its class: 200 horsepower. The Regal from General Motors Buick division comes here with the choice of a 182-horsepower four-cylinder or a 220-horsepower turbo version.
Canadians have been tuned into this for a while now. More than 60 per cent of all passenger cars sold here come with a four-cylinder engine. What's interesting is how Americans are changing their buying habits in this area. In 2010, nearly half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. came with a four-cylinder under the hood, according to J. D. Power & Associates.
8. CHINESE AUTO MAKERS GO GLOBAL WITH VOLVO