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Despite gas prices, luxury car sales up

Wheels contributor John LeBlanc files his weekly roundup of auto industry news and views.

Published May 13, 2011
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Despite the increasingly higher costs of driving caused by rising fuel prices, Canadians continue to like their imported new luxury vehicles.


With sales up 3.5 per cent compared with the first four months of 2010, to 38,579 vehicles sold through to the end of April, sales from the 10 leading import luxury brands kept on pace with the overall new car sales market in Canada, which was up by a similar margin with sales of 216,409 vehicles overall.


And so far in 2011, the three German luxury brands have led the way, according to data from DesRosiers and Associates.


With sales up 3.8 per cent, Mercedes-Benz is the best-selling luxury brand in Canada with 9,378 vehicles sold so far in 2011.


BMW is in second-place, up 7 per cent with sales of 8,129 vehicles while rival German brand Audi ended up in third spot with 5,924 vehicles sold, up 19.4 per cent compared with this time in 2010.


In fourth spot, Toyota's luxury Lexus brand saw its sales increase by 1.6 per cent, with 4,600 vehicles sold, just ahead of fifth-place Acura. The Honda luxury brand's sales are off 17.1 per cent this year, with just 4,231 vehicles sold.


The remaining five luxury brands sales are a mixed bag of ups and downs so far for 2011.


Nissan's Infiniti's numbers are down 8.5 per cent, to only 2,168 vehicles sold, just ahead of Volvo, which saw a slight increase of 2.1 per cent to 2,087 vehicles.


Rounding out the bottom three, Jaguar/Land Rover's sales of 1,176 vehicles is an increase of 11.8 per cent, compared with the first four months of 2010. Porsche sales are up by a substantial 41.1 per cent to 845 vehicles sold while the remaining few Saab dealers in this country have managed to sell 41 cars so far in 2011.


Got $25.2 million? I've got a Ford factory for you


If so, Ford has put its St. Thomas assembly plant up for sale, ahead of its expected closing later this year, for an asking price of around $22 million with an adjacent vacant parcel of land going for an extra $3.2 million.


While the facility has most recently built the large, rear-wheel drive Ford Crown Victoria/Police Interceptor, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car/limousine, the St. Thomas facility (which is actually in Talbotville) has been building cars since it opened in 1967 and has seen a string of Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles — such as the Ford Falcon, Maverick, Pinto, Fairmont, Escort/EXP, Mercury Zephyr and LN7 — roll off its assembly line.


To replace the outgoing St. Thomas-made Crown Victoria and Town Car commercial vehicles, Ford is launching a Taurus-based police interceptor and a Lincoln MKT-based limousine that will be made in the United States.


Prius plug-in capability to be standard by 2014


As the automaker moves towards adding more electrified vehicles to its lineup, a report in Japan's Nikkei business publication reports Toyota is planning on making plug-in capability on its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid standard by 2014.


Toyota has already confirmed that a plug-in version of the Prius — which can be recharged from an ordinary household electricity outlet — will be launched in Japan, the U.S. and Europe by early 2012.


The plug-in version will feature high-performance lithium ion batteries, allowing it to drive more than 60 km per litre of gasoline, compared with 38 km for the current version, the newspaper said.


An electrified version of the Toyota/Scion iQ city car is also in the works.


Also set to go on sale in 2012, the EV version of the iQ will have an electric powertrain based on the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system and a new “flat” lithium-ion battery pack. Toyota says this will allow for the iQ to be driven to a “potential” range of up to 105 km on a single charge.


The iQ EV is being tested in Europe this year. More than likely, when it arrives to market in 2012, it will be a lease-only proposition.


Toyota has already announced its plans to put the car on the market in the United States. In regards to the Canadian market, the automaker will only say it's “investigating its viability.”


Jaguar puts hybrid super car concept into production


Jaguar has announced that the surprise hit of last year's Paris auto show, its C-X75 extended-range hybrid super car concept, is going into production.


“The C-X75 received an incredible reception as a concept car. We've been building on that momentum and there is a clear business case for this exclusive halo model,” Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar brand director, said in a statement.


Ranging in price between 700,000 British pounds ($1.1 million) and 900,000 pounds ($1.4 million) depending on the local market and taxes, only 250 production samples of the C-X75 will be built with British Formula One race team Williams as a partner.


Jaguar said the C-X75's chassis would be made of carbon-fibre. “Advanced technology” will be used to deliver low CO2 emissions (less than 99 grams per km).


As well, the automaker is claiming the production C-X75 will be “one of the fastest production cars in the world”, with a “sub-three second 0-60 mph time” and a 322-km/h top speed.


Unfortunately, the C-X75 concept's revolutionary micro-turbine engines will not make it to the production versions. Instead, Jaguar said a highly boosted internal combustion engine with one powerful electric motor at each axle would deliver a 50 km range when driven only using electric power.


The automaker did say it will develop the micro-turbine engine technology as a “medium-term aspiration that will play a part in Jaguars of the future.”

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