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driving it home

Once again, Ford’s F-Series pickup was Canada’s best-selling vehicle with more than 100,000 sold – the first time any model has surpassed the 100,000 mark.

Yes, 2012 was a very good year for the car business – the second-best on record, in fact, with Canadians buying a total of 1,675,675 cars and light trucks. That was a year-on-year increase of 5.7 per cent (1,585.519 sold in 2011). And some think 2013 might be even better.

"Most importantly, the Canadian market still hasn't reached its potential," says DesRosiers Automotive Consultants in a note to clients. We believe that 2013 should see increased light vehicle sales, potentially surpassing the export-inflated 2002 high water mark (of 1,703,246)."

A decade ago, DesRosiers points out, a weak Canadian dollar drove "some Americans to take advantage of the favourable exchange climate and purchase vehicles in Canada," thus inflating the market in Canada. The strong loonie of 2012 has in fact done the reverse to 2002 -- driven "some Canadians to import their new and nearly-new vehicles from the U.S., effectively lowering new vehicle sales in Canada in 2012."

By any measure, then, the market in Canada for new cars, minivans, pickups, crossovers and SUVs is very healthy. Some companies and segments, however, are healthier than others. Here are 10 things we learned from the sales numbers of 2012:

1. Ford is No. 1 but in Canada it was not a great year. Good enough, though, with sales of 275,953) versus 275,850 in 2011. The 2012 returns were good enough to keep Ford on top of the market for the third year in a row. "Ford's performance this year is also noteworthy in that they topped the charts despite dropping out of the small pickup truck segment (the Ranger), which had represented over 20,000 units for Ford alone in the recent past," notes DesRosiers. With high-volume models such as the Fusion mid-size car, the Ford Escape SUV and the Focus all quite fresh, Ford is likely to remain No. 1 in 2013, too.

2. Once again, Ford's F-Series pickup was Canada's best-selling vehicle and the top-selling light truck, of course, with more than 100,000 sold – the first time any model has surpassed the 100,000 mark. The Honda Civic remained Canada most popular car for the 15 straight year, with sales of 64,962. The Civic beat the Hyundai Elantra, at No. 2, by 14,012 units. Honda has re-minted the Civic for 2013 to address many concerns about the 2012 remake and Honda has plenty of Civic supply from its Alliston, Ont., plant. The F-Series and the Civic will remain on top for 2013, then.

3. Changing of the guard? Chrysler's story continues to amaze. In 2012, the former No. 3 moved up to No. 2 in the Canadian market (242,224 units sold for a 5.5 per cent increase). DesRosiers doesn't have sales data old enough to tell us when Chrysler last held the No. 2 in Canada – perhaps "once or twice in the 1960s," though the analyst can't confirm. But if anyone doubted Chrysler's comeback from its 2009 bankruptcy in the U.S., the doubts are over. This is very real: "December was the 37th consecutive month in which Chrysler scored a year-over-year sales gain, the longest such streak in their company history," says DesRosiers. With a new Ram pickup in the stable and the compact Dart starting to catch on, not to mention all sorts of new models in calendar year 2013, Chrysler should have a strong year.

4. Whither General Motors? The company's boss in North America, Mark Reuss, says we should judge the GM turnaround from its 2009 bankruptcy not by this year's results, but by what GM achieves by the middle of 2014 when the company's entire lineup will have been essentially remade, top to bottom. If nothing else, 2012 was forgettable for GM of Canada. GM fell to third position in the Canadian market with sales of 226,825 units, down 6.6 per cent from 2011 sales of 242,815 units. A decade ago, notes DesRosiers, "GM's sales peaked in 2002 at 519,027 units, meaning that final 2012 results represent less than half of what the company was moving a decade ago." GM Canada's market share of 13.5 per cent "represents GM's smallest slice of the Canadian pie in over 100 years." For GM, 2014 can't come quickly enough, it seems.

5. Kia and Hyundai have become a juggernaut. With combined sales of 214,083 (77,800 for Kia and 136,283 for Hyundai), these two South Korean brands from the same parent company out-sold Toyota/Lexus/Scion (192,058) in Canada. If Kia and Hyundai reported combined sales, together they'd be the No. 4 auto maker in Canada – rather than Toyota Canada with its three brands.

6. Toyota is back and a force to be reckoned with. Toyota Canada's sales were up 18.4 per cent in 2012. True, as DesRosiers points out, 2011 was a year of depressed sales held back by various crises. But with new models such as the latest version of the made-in-Canada RAV4 arriving in dealerships this year, Toyota will have plenty of products to drive sales higher in 2013. Toyota remains dogged by lawsuits and such in the U.S., but loyal buyers are remaining... well, loyal.

7. Honda and its luxury brand Acura combined for sales of 148,712 units, an increase of 20.8 per cent from 2011. That was good, but the Hyundai brand still out-sold the Honda brand (136,283 for Hyundai and 131,558 for Hyundai). Acura's sales were up 12.3 per cent (17,154) and might improve for 2013 if the ILX compact finds some real traction in the marketplace. A new flagship sedan, the RLX, comes this year. So will Honda out-sell Hyundai in 2013? It depends on how well the upgraded Civic is received and if Hyundai can get enough supply of its most popular models, in particular the Elantra compact.

8. BMW is No. 1 in luxury sales.No, Mercedes-Benz is. BMW Canada says it managed to retain "premium segment leadership in 2012" thanks to 22 consecutive years of growth. Total BMW Group Canada sales: 37,707 of which 31,402 units were from the BMW brand. Mercedes-Benz Canada hit 35,503 in sales, including its smart and Sprinter models. Ah, but Mercedes says its passenger car sales in Canada totalled 16,817 units for the year, "which allowed Mercedes-Benz to maintain its leadership position in the luxury passenger car segment in Canada." I think it's fair to say both of these German car companies are doing quite well.

9. But not as well as Audi. Audi Canada hit 20,000 in sales last year, for a year-on-year increase of 18.6 per cent. Audi plans to overtake BMW and Mercedes by 2018. Who's betting against them?

10. Finally, Porsche is now, officially, a volume seller in Canada. Your Porsche is not all that exclusive any longer. Porsche Canada sold 3,003 vehicles in 2012, a sales increase of 35.6 per cent. What's interesting here is that Porsche Canada should keep moving the metal at a record rate in 2013. New models such as the next-generation Cayman will drive sales and when in 2014 the Macan small sport-utility arrives, well... Look for Porsche to top 5,000 in sales within two years. Or less.

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