New vehicle sales in Canada held steady in January, up just 0.3% compared to the same month last year. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of sales (SAAR) was about the same as for last January too, right around 1.7 million.
Actual sales for full calendar year 2013 were 1.742 million, the best in Canadian history.
The January results across manufacturers were anything but consistent, however, with significant variations from the mean in both directions (see table below).
Among mainstream brands, Nissan ( 37.1%) and Subaru ( 27.9%) had a spectacular month, while Ford (-10.3%) and General Motors (-20.1) suffered, as did Hyundai (-8.8%).
Chrysler ( 3.9%), with its 50th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases, claimed the top spot, giving it an immediate 3000-plus vehicle advantage over Ford in the year-long race for sales leadership.
Chrysler has typically started the year strongly, for the past few years, but then been passed by Ford as the year progresses. In 2013, Ford outsold Chrysler by about 2000 vehicles per month on average.
Among the biggest gainers in January were luxury brands, which included Jaguar ( 56.5%), Infiniti ( 41.3%), Land Rover ( 38.1%) and Mercedes-Benz ( 28.1%).
According to automotive analyst, Dennis DesRosiers, January is never a good month on which to base long-term predictions for the year. Not only is it the lowest sales month of the year, its results are often affected by severe weather conditions, which could also be a factor this year.
Plus, DesRosiers says, "In December some vehicle companies are under tremendous pressure to meet specific sales targets and will often go to extraordinary lengths to move product off of dealer lots … dumping vehicles into fleets and (offering) aggressive dealer and consumer incentives."
That pull -forward effect can dramatically distort the market for January sales. So They really aren't much of an indicator as to what to expect for the rest of the year.
Still, the fact that sales held steady in the midst of all that turmoil, can be taken for a positive sign.