April 23, 2024


The ideal Automotive

Driving By Numbers: 10 Canadian auto sales predictions for 2021

We’re saying 2021 will be the 24th consecutive year in which the Honda Civic will be Canada’s best-selling car. The Ford F-Series will be Canada’s top-selling vehicle line, and Ford will end the year as Canada’s most popular auto brand. Subcompact cars and full-size sedans will fade even deeper into the dark shadows. Overall, sales will be wildly stronger than they were in 2020.

These are utterly predictable predictions. They’re virtual locks, akin to another Lewis Hamilton F1 Drivers’ Championship or a Maple Leafs’ playoffs disappointment.

However, we’re willing to place bets on some less-predictable outcomes for the 2021 Canadian auto industry. These are a blend of less-foreseeable events, specific forecasts, and offbeat prognostications.


That’s not to say we’re willing to randomly put money behind lost causes. Stellantis, for instance, will not produce more Canadian sales with Alfa Romeo than it will with Ram in 2021, or ever. The Subaru Ascent will not ascend to the top of its segment, and the Honda Ridgeline won’t take over the pickup category.

No, we’re hypothesizing, rather than haphazardly guessing. We’re taking guidance from trend changes over the last decade – mindful of some pronounced 2020 shifts – and a first quarter that put 2021 on pace for a 2015-like performance. Yes, that 2015, the one that produced record Canadian sales volume, bettered only by the subsequent four years.

Check back in nine months to rate our performance, assuming we don’t choose to delete all traces of this early 2021 forecast.

Kia Will Be the Fastest-Growing Brand (Again)

In 2021, no auto brand gained market share at a faster clip than Kia did. In an industry that lost 20 per cent of its volume compared with 2019, Kia’s decline was a modest 5 per cent. Kia’s share of the Canadian industry rose by more than 7/10ths of a percentage point to 4.7 per cent, and second-half sales actually rose 14 per cent in 2021.

With an all-new Carnival MPV attacking the affordable end of the van market; an all-new Sorento following up two successful generations; and Seltos being one of the hottest sellers in one of the hottest segments of subcompact crossovers, Kia should be able to repeat as Canada’s fastest-growing brand in 2021. The problem? Kia wasn’t Canada’s fastest-growing brand in the first quarter, and inventory issues continue to plague most of the brand’s lineup.

EV Market Share Will Rise — a Bit

Electric cars are a modern headline-maker, not only in the enthusiast automotive press, but in mainstream media as well. Yet while news of every upcoming electric car seems irrevocably linked to a utopian near-future, EVs remain supremely rare and – generally – reserved for high-end buyers. Even while electric-car sales volume increases, EV market-share growth is slowing. Based on third-quarter info, EV market share grew roughly 160 per cent, but to barely more than 1 per cent, between 2017 and 2018. It then grew by “just” 54 per cent in 2019, and “only” 25 per cent in 2020.

EVs will be held back in 2021 by the typical 2020-2021 issue of weak inventory, and by a lack of government incentives in Ontario, the country’s largest market, since EVs fail to gain significant momentum if they’re not accompanied by rebates.

Nissan Leaf charging

Minivan Market Share Will Fall, Despite Rash of New Product

There’s an all-new, all-hybrid Toyota Sienna, an all-new Sedona-replacing Carnival from Kia, a Pacifica-related Grand Caravan at Chrysler to replace the outdated Dodge version, and a recently-refreshed Honda Odyssey. But minivan market share in 2021 will fall anyhow, because that’s what minivan market share does. In fact, minivan market share slipped from 3.7 per cent in the first three months of 2019, to just 2.3 per cent over the same period in 2020.

Fifteen years ago, 10 per cent of the vehicles sold in Canada were minivans. A decade ago, minivans owned 6 per cent of the Canadian market, and half a decade ago, it was 5 per cent, and the slide continues.

Toyota Will Sell 70,000 RAV4s

For five years, the Canadian-built Toyota RAV4 has been Canada’s top-selling utility vehicle. RAV4 volume rose 4 per cent in 2017, its second year on top of the leaderboard; then 9 per cent in 2018; and then 18 per cent in 2019 before stalling during 2020’s collapse. But the RAV4 ended 2020 on a strong note, as volume shot up 20 per cent last summer and 4 per cent in the final quarter. It sets the stage for a record-breaking 2021 in which the RAV4 will become the first SUV/crossover to ever top 70,000 sales in Canada. Year-over-year, that would require a 21-per-cent uptick.

Bronco Sport Will Mark Beginning of the End for Escape

The fourth-generation Ford Escape does not engender the kind of favour often extended to its predecessors. It was struggling even before the newest Escape’s launch, with sales sliding 8 per cent in 2018, and 10 per cent in 2019. The Escape was Canada’s long-time number-one SUV up until 2015 but presently ranks 13th in the category, thanks to a 34-per-cent drop in the first quarter.

The softly-rounded, car-like Escape was having enough trouble on its own, but now Ford offers a burly-looking, squared-off Bronco Sport. While Ford lost 1,804 Escape sales in the first quarter, the brand added 1,511 Bronco Sports, and without even a full first quarter under its belt. Expect Bronco Sport sales to dominate in the small-SUV corner of Ford showrooms by the end of the year.

Pickups Will Tap 25-Per-Cent Market Share

A decade ago, just under 19 per cent of the vehicles sold in Canada were pickup trucks. Half a decade later, in 2016, little headway had been made, with pickups rising only a fraction to 19.3 per cent of Canadian light vehicle sales. But by 2020, the incremental increases began to add up, and over one-fifth – 21.1 per cent – of all auto sales were pickup trucks. In 2021, pending an end to chip shortages that are chopping supply at the knees, pickup market share will
hit 25 per cent. Perhaps it will occur in just one quarter, but the threshold will be breached, and the 1-in-4 headline will be written. In the first quarter of 2021, 24.6 per cent of sales were trucks.

Somebody Will Exit the Midsize Market

Sure, it’s not the most original observation, after more than a decade of nameplates dropping like flies. But given the scarcity of demand for intermediate four-doors from mainstream brands, it seems entirely likely that at least one participating automaker will drop out of the category in 2021.

After a disastrous end to the first quarter in 2020, and months of recovery thereafter, it’s not surprising that Canadian auto sales rose 16 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 – but midsize sedan sales plunged 20 per cent during the same period. Midsize market share slid to just 1.9 per cent, down from 2.7 per cent a year ago. How long will Subaru tolerate fewer than 100 Legacy sales per month? At what point does Nissan became dissatisfied with barely more than 100 Altima sales per month?

No Mainstream Brand Will Sell More Cars than SUVs

What do Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota all have in common? Every one of those brands sells more utility vehicles than cars, which makes complete sense in a market where SUVs/crossovers own roughly half the market, and cars roughly one-fifth.

In 2021, Volkswagen, the last remaining mainstream auto brand to produce the majority of its Canadian sales from cars, will switch sides and join those 11 competitors for an even dozen. Thanks to the arrival of the entry-level Taos, the continued success of the Atlas and Tiguan, and the sheer lack of demand for its shrinking car lineup, Volkswagen Canada will produce more than half its 2021 volume with utility vehicles.

2021 Will Be the Worst Year for Jaguar Since 2014

Though resurgent for much of the last half-decade, Jaguar has once again hit one of those walls it’s become so accustomed to hitting over the last nine decades. It’s a perpetual roller-coaster ride. Recent upswings occurred because of the initial success of vehicles such as the X-Type and S-Type, only to then slide downward prior to the arrival of SUVs.

In 2015, Jaguar sales jumped more than double to 3,034 units, thanks to the F-Pace, and the company then managed nearly 5,000 Canadian sales in 2017. But by 2019, it was clear the entry-level XE was a bust, and the smaller E-Pace SUV was ignored. Jaguar plunged 41 per cent in 2020, and with a shrinking lineup, sales tumbled 34 per cent in 2021’s first quarter to only 518 units.

2021 Will Be the Best Year for Midsize Trucks Since 2008

In spite of the pain caused by the pandemic across the Canadian auto industry — wait, scratch that. The pain wasn’t actually felt in every pocket of the market, as midsize pickup truck sales increased 11 per cent in 2020. A growing crop of non-full-size trucks is likely to power this sub-segment of the pickup market even higher in 2021. Granted, full-size trucks continue to be the typical choice, and they outperformed midsizers by more than eight-to-one in the first quarter of the year. But 2021 will be the first year since 2008 in which Canadians acquire more than 50,000 smaller pickups. And that wraps up our look into the upcoming-portion-of-2021 crystal ball.