December marks bright end to bleak year; auto sales down 10.7 per cent in 2009

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - December marked a bright end to an otherwise bleak year for Canadian auto sales, with monthly numbers up significantly compared to a year earlier, but full-year sales down more than 10 per cent overall, the largest annual decline in nearly two decades.
According to data released Tuesday by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Canadian light vehicle sales were down 10.7 per cent to 1.46 million units in 2009 - their lowest level since 1998 and the largest year-over-year drop since 1990.
However, with sales showing a substantial improvement in December, analysts predicted slightly better sales for 2010 in the 1.5-million range.
Four of the five biggest automakers saw substantial Canadian sales declines last year, but General Motors took the biggest hit with a 29.1 per cent drop.
Chrysler's sales for the year were down 26.7 per cent, Honda saw a 19.1 per cent drop and Toyota sold 9.5 per cent fewer cars. Of Canada's biggest automakers, only Ford managed to secure a positive number for the year, with sales up 6.8 per cent.
"When four out of five of the largest players struggle (each for different reasons) then it leaves a lot of room, and I mean a lot of room, for others to do well," industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers wrote in a commentary.
South Korean manufacturer Hyundai was the biggest beneficiary of the new space created in Canada's vehicle market by the shrinking sales of some of its bigger rivals. Hyundai saw its 2009 sales jump by 28 per cent to their highest level ever, breaking 100,000 units for the first time and increasing the company's Canadian market share from 4.9 per cent in 2008 to 7.1 per cent in 2009.
"I've said before that there is a new automotive industry in Canada, and our results for 2009 make that clear," stated Hyundai Canada president and CEO Steve Kelleher. "No longer is there a 'Big Three' or a 'Detroit Three' or what have you. There's a new 'Big Six,' and we're delighted to be a part of it."
GM clung to its top spot in terms of market share in 2009, selling 17.2 per cent of the vehicles bought in Canada. Ford was second with 15.4 per cent, Toyota third with 13.0 per cent, Chrysler fourth with 11.1 per cent and Honda fifth with 8.4 per cent.
The face of the North American auto industry has been changing for years, but the pace of that change accelerated dramatically in late 2008 when the financial crisis and global recession hit. Many of the world's biggest automakers suffered from a steep reduction in sales as a result of tight credit conditions for consumers and dealers as well as a general economic slowdown that has resulted in higher Canadian unemployment.
In addition, when GM and Chrysler both filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection in the spring, a lack of confidence in those brands sent many consumers searching for a new place to spend their money. This shift in brand loyalties has benefited up-and-coming automakers like Hyundai that have offered incentives to attract new customers.
Incentives, combined with the fact that sales in the comparable month of 2008 were very weak, boosted overall light vehicles sales in December by 17.8 per cent to 111,186 units - the only positive month of sales in 2009.
Of the big automakers, Toyota led the way with an astonishing 86.2 per cent leap in sales to 16,472 units while its luxury Lexus brand sold 1,235 units, up 36.3 per cent. Ford's December sales gained 25.4 per cent to 17,902 units. Honda's added 20.9 per cent to 10,830 while its luxury Acura division sold 1,533 units, down four per cent. Chrysler saw a 12.9 per cent boost to 13,739 and GM's sales declined 9.3 per cent to 18,825.
Hyundai's sales increased 37.4 per cent to 5,154.
Nissan sold 4,652 vehicles in December, up 15.1 per cent, while its Infiniti luxury brand sold 489 vehicles, up one per cent.
Among other luxury brands, Mercedes-Benz reported Canadian sales of 1,819, up 14.5 per cent, while BMW's sales gained 5.9 per cent to 1,848.
Volkswagen sold 3,205 vehicles in December, down 10.9 per cent, while Audi's sales fell 5.1 per cent to 701.
Kia sold 2,645 vehicles, up a remarkable 61.1 per cent, while Mazda sales fell 5.5 per cent to 4,261, Mitsubishi sales were up eight per cent to 1,609 and Subaru sold 1,945 vehicles, up 27.2 per cent. Of all the automakers, Volvo saw the most impressive increase of all last month, with sales up 133.2 per cent to 625 units.

Organizations: General Motors, Hyundai, Toyota Big Three Big Six North American Lexus Acura Infiniti Mercedes-Benz BMW Volkswagen Audi Mazda Mitsubishi Subaru Volvo

Geographic location: Canada, TORONTO, Detroit U.S.

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