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Driving By Numbers: 11 segment winners in 2021's Canadian auto industry

Based on sales, we've got the 11 winners and runners-up in all the major categories

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2021 was not the year the auto industry wanted, expected, or for which it was prepared. Yet in Canada, auto sales bounced back from dreadful 2020 levels in strong fashion for much of the year as Canadian new vehicle buyers continued their rapid transition out of cars and into crossovers.

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Imagine, if only you could go back a decade, the mere possibility that subcompact crossovers — then a nascent segment defined by the Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Mitsubishi RVR — would outsell midsize sedans by a six-to-one count in 2021. Imagine only half a decade ago the perceived likelihood of a malnourished midsize pickup category virtually doubling its market share over the course of five years. Or, if your mental time machine could take you back to 2005, imagine how far-fetched it would sound to suggest that minivans earning more than 3,300 Canadian sales per week would in 2021 produce only 2,800 sales per month.

Indeed, one thing is constant. Change.

The auto industry’s evolution appears more revolutionary than it has at any point in any of our lifetimes. The topsy-turvy nature of only the last 12 months makes that all the more evident. Auto sales shot out of the gate in hyper-recovery mode, surging 33 per cent past 2020 levels in the first-half of 2021. At that pace, Canada was tracking towards a two million-unit sales year, the best year since a record 2017.

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An industry-wide supply crisis caused a hoped-for boom to turn into more doom and gloom in the second-half of 2021. Margins held their head high as incentives remained low, but there simply wasn’t anything like the inventory required to achieve even 2020-like sales outputs at the end of the year. 2021 closed with a more modest 7 per cent rise as pickup truck volume decreased and cars fell flat.

Regardless of which corners of the market fulfilled their end of the bargain, we’ve looked through all of the sales numbers to find the winners in 11 of the Canadian auto industry’s major categories.

After 75 years of production, Ford has buit its 40-millionth F-Series truck — a 2022 F-150 Tremor in Iconic Silver
After 75 years of production, Ford has buit its 40-millionth F-Series truck — a 2022 F-150 Tremor in Iconic Silver Photo by Ford

Full-Size Truck

Winner: Ford F-Series
Runner-up: Ram Pickup
Not only is the Ford F-Series Canada’s best-selling full-size pickup truck, it’s the best-selling truck overall and the best-selling vehicle line in Canada. The F-Series has actually been Canada’s No.1 vehicle since 2009. Ford lost market share in Canada’s full-size truck sector in 2021, largely at the expense of General Motors, which sold 105,441 full-size pickups. However, GM’s total is the sum of two trucks. That allows Stellantis’s Ram truck to grab the runner-up position despite a 12-per-cent decline that was twice as sharp as the segment’s overall loss. Full-size truck sales slipped 6 per cent to 350,325 units in Canada in 2021.

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Midsize Truck

Winner: Toyota Tacoma
Runner-up: Ford Ranger
Although Tacoma availability was severely restricted in 2021 — like virtually every truck on the market — sales still perked up slightly more than 3 per cent. Midsize pickups are a comparatively small market in Canada. While full-size trucks produced over 350,000 sales in 2021, midsizers didn’t quite muster 50,000. And while Ford sold 116,401 F-Series pickups, Canada’s No.1 midsize truck produced 14,878. Canada’s No.2 midsize truck is the Ford Ranger, which produced 11,201 sales in 2021, measurably more than GM’s two-truck 10,437-unit tally.

Compact SUV

Winner: Toyota RAV4
Runner-up: Honda CR-V
With 61,934 sales in 2021, the Canadian-built Toyota RAV4 reported 7-per-cent increase from 2020 levels and outsold all but two full-size pickup trucks. The second-ranked Honda CR-V (also Canadian-built) trailed the RAV4 by 10,999 units. The RAV4’s importance to Toyota is obvious: it now accounts for over one-quarter of the company’s total volume. In fact, if the RAV4 was the only vehicle sold in Toyota dealers, Toyota would still outperform Subaru and Volkswagen.

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2022 Lexus RX 450h F Sport Series 3
2022 Lexus RX 450h F Sport Series 3 Photo by Brian Harper

Luxury SUV

Winner: Lexus RX
Runner-up: Audi Q5
After six consecutive years in which the Audi Q5 outsold all other premium brand utility vehicles, the Lexus RX regained leadership in 2021 by the narrowest of margins. RX volume jumped 30 per cent to 10,332 units in 2021, thanks in part to a huge fourth-quarter despite the industry’s end-of-year slowdown. Audi, meanwhile, sold 9,969 Q5s. In Canada, 17 per cent of the RXs sold in 2021 were hybrids.


Winner: Toyota Sienna
Runner-up: Dodge Grand Caravan
Only 2 per cent of the new vehicles sold in Canada in 2021 were minivans. That’s a disastrous figure for a segment that accounted for three times that just one decade ago. The good news for Toyota, however, isn’t the newfound No.1 position (Canada’s minivan category has consistently been dominated by Chrysler/Dodge vans) but in the sales total. Toyota sold more Siennas in 2021 than in 2011 when minivans owned triple the market share. But rather than generating 57,942 sales as in 2011, Dodge and Chrysler sold only 13,339 minivans in 2021, 6,113 of which were discontinued Dodge Grand Caravans. Toyota reported 11,868 Sienna sales, equal to 35 per cent of the 33,648 minivans sold.

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Three-Row SUV

Winner: Toyota Highlander
Runner-up: Ford Explorer
Gone are the days when the overwhelming majority of three-row vehicles sold in Canada were front-wheel-drive vans with sliding doors. Canada’s primary people carriers are now three-row SUVs and crossovers. Toyota sold 19,885 Highlanders in 2021, tops among three-row vehicles, while Ford added 16,388 Explorers. That’s 36,273 sales across only two nameplates; more than the entire minivan segment even before vehicles such as the Volkswagen Atlas, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander, and many others are even taken into account.

2021 Tesla Model 3
2021 Tesla Model 3 Photo by Graeme Fletcher


Winner: Tesla Model 3
Runner-up: Hyundai Kona EV
According to estimates published by Motor Illustrated (because Tesla doesn’t report vehicle-specific, market-specific sales figures), there were 12,800 Model 3s sold in Canada in 2021. It wasn’t a close race. The second-ranked Hyundai Kona EV produced barely half that: 6,903 sales last year. If the 12,800 figure is accurate, it was enough for the Model 3 to outperform mainstream vehicles such as the Volkswagen Jetta, Nissan Qashqai, Ford Edge, and Mazda 3.

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Subcompact Crossover

Winner: Hyundai Kona
Runner-up: Subaru Crosstrek
Helped along by an electric variant that, on its own, sells nearly as well as some conventionally powered rivals, the Hyundai Kona topped 30,000 sales in 2021. The 17-per-cent uptick to 31,101 units pushed the Kona 7,759 sales ahead of the Subaru Crosstrek and made the Kona one of Canada’s 10 best-selling vehicles overall. Subcompact crossover sales jumped 22 per cent to nearly 190,000 units in 2021, equal to more than 11 per cent of the new vehicle market.

Luxury Car

Winner: BMW 3 Series
Runner-up: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Classic favourites sat atop the premium passenger car leaderboard in 2021, albeit well back of Canada’s top-selling premium brand utility vehicles. The Lexus RX and Audi Q5 dominated the SUV side of the ledger with 20,301 sales between them — the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class produced only 7,358. 3 Series sales ticked up 12 per cent to 4,348. C-Class sales, on the other hand, plunged 24 per cent. Excluding Tesla estimates, premium brands managed just under 43,000 car sales in 2021, down from 82,000 just half a decade ago.

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2022 Civic
2022 Civic

Compact Car

Winner: Honda Civic
Runner-up: Toyota Corolla
For a 24th consecutive year, the Canadian-made Honda Civic didn’t just reach New Year’s Eve as Canada’s best-selling compact car but as the best-selling car overall. Granted, it’s been more than a decade since the Civic was the No.1 vehicle overall. True, the Civic’s 43,556-unit total (3,537 more than the second-ranked Corolla) was a far cry from the Civic’s 72,463-unit record of 2008. The Corolla also outsold the Civic for much of the year. However, shaking the Civic from its lofty perch is proving all but impossible.

Midsize Car

Winner: Toyota Camry
Runner-up: Honda Accord
Barely relevant in 2021, midsize cars accounted for only 1.9 per cent of Canada’s new vehicle market. Only 32,034 midsize cars found homes last year, down 8 per cent year-over-year despite a growth market. Top-ranked Toyota was nevertheless on the rise with Camry volume growing 17 per cent to 11,896 units. That’s 37 per cent of all midsize sales. The next-best-selling Honda Accord trailed with only 6,403 sales; one-fifth of the market. Competitors are fleeing fast. The most recent departures include the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda 6.