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Driving By Numbers: 2021’s unexpected Canadian sports car sales surge

The pandemic may have aided in a sports car sales boom

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Who’d’ve thunk it? Over the past year, rumours pointed toward the death of the sports car due to the side effects of the pandemic, but those rumours have been put to bed.


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Coronavirus spending is a curious thing. From renovations and motorcycles to pools and home furnishings, the demand quickly – and quite unexpectedly – accelerated across much of the economy over the last year.

While many members of society have suffered significant blows to their personal economies, great swathes of the population are insulated from COVID-19’s impact. Pair an increase in personal savings with low interest rates, and then combine those factors with an inability to spend on once-popular options such as travel. What do you get?

A sports-car sales boom.


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No, it’s not exactly what any of us were expecting when much of the planet’s retail network locked doors last spring, when the markets went into a tailspin, and when Canadians began looking to the federal government for CERB payments. Yet in the first three months of 2021, a wide variety of famous sports-car nameplates sold far more often than the season and circumstances would suggest possible.

Granted, the Canadian auto industry is motoring forward with meaningful growth. The first quarter of 2021 improved upon 2020’s first three months to the tune of a 16-per-cent increase across the entire market. What does that amount to? Think of it this way: 2021 got off to a start that roughly resembles 2015. And 2015 was, at the time, an all-time record-breaking year.


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Yet, as much as the industry is certainly on a much better footing than last year, high-octane sports cars are revving up on an entirely different level. Audi R8 volume jumped 200 per cent in 2021’s first-quarter, Mercedes-Benz SL-Class sales shot up 133 per cent, and the Lexus LC produced a 620-per-cent improvement.

Such low-volume cars are prone to severe fluctuations, though, right? So we won’t examine any vehicle that failed to produce at least triple-digit sales in Q1. Relatively speaking, these are the 10 vehicles that created a Canadian sports car sales explosion in 2021’s first quarter. Collectively, these 10 sports cars combined for nearly 3,700 sales in Q1, nearly 1,500 more than during the same period one year ago.


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2021 Porsche 718 Boxster 25 Years
2021 Porsche 718 Boxster 25 Years Photo by Handout /Porsche

Porsche 718: 115, up 1,178 per cent

When you hear 718, think Boxster and Cayman. The two mid-engined Porsche siblings produced a greater first-quarter improvement than any other vehicle. In part, that’s a strong indicator of just how bad the start of 2020 was for these modern sports car icons.

Then again, the chilly months that start the year are always low-volume months for the Boxster-Cayman twins. Compared with the the half-decade prior to 2020’s collapse, 2021 volume for the duo is up 26 per cent.

Mazda MX-5: 318, up 361 per cent

How many Miatas can Mazda Canada reasonably expect to sell in an average month during the frigid first quarter of the year? Historically speaking, slightly fewer than 50. That all changed in 2021, when Mazda shot out of the gates by averaging more than 100 MX-5s per month for a 318-unit total in Q1. That’s more than double the typical Q1, and nearly five times 2020’s start.


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2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata 1.5L

BMW 2 Series: 476, up 207 per cent

Still centred around a two-door coupe, BMW’s three-pronged 2 Series lineup is the entry point to BMW’s car range and the successor to the 1 Series that earned critical acclaim as a 1M. Although BMW’s modern performance cars are criticized for not offering the level of connection of BMWs past, the sub-$50K M240i is no slouch. And as it turns out, buyers are fans, as well. Overall 2 Series sales more than tripled to nearly 500 in Q1.

BMW 4 Series: 396, up 139 per cent

Against expectations, BMW Canada actually grew its car sales by 38 per cent in 2021’s first quarter (a welcome outcome given the lack of growth from the brand’s far more popular SUVs, sales of which jumped less than 3 per cent). The 4 Series, a 3 Series offshoot that incidentally does include its own four-door variant, is a big part of that passenger car improvement. Now we’ll see how long BMW can continue to grow 4 Series sales once more shoppers spot the new 4er’s gaping grille.


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BMW 8 Series: 148, up 63 per cent

A grand touring car in the classic sense, BMW’s 8 Series is ostensibly a replacement for the now-defunct 6 Series. Prices for the 523-horsepower M850i start at an eye-watering $122,100 for the 8 Series (which, like the 4 and 2 previously mentioned, can be had with four doors). While BMW managed to pump out only 42 copies of the presumably more mainstream 7 Series, 8 Series sales were more than three times stronger.

Dodge Challenger: 417, up 47 per cent

By steadily upping the ante with more (and more, and more) horsepower, the Dodge Challenger that was launched in 2008 is still on sale today with basically the same architecture. With the development and tooling costs long since paid off, the Challenger is a moneymaker even in low-volume years.


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Pending inventory challenges, 2021 doesn’t have to be an exceptionally low-volume year for the Challenger, though Q1’s 47 per cent uptick to 417 sales pales in comparison to, for example, 2017, when 978 Challengers were sold in the first three months of the year.

2021 Chevrolet Camaro LS and LT

Chevrolet Camaro: 353, up 41 per cent

A 41-per-cent gain compared to 2020’s first quarter doesn’t drive Chevrolet Camaro volume back up to acceptable levels (Chevrolet sold over 1,000 Camaros in the first quarter of 2010). But in terms of market relativity, Camaro sales are growing far faster than the market at large. Only 251 were sold in the first three months of 2020.

Subaru WRX: 485, up 27 per cent

Clearly not a “sports car” in the traditional sense given its lack of even an optional two-door bodystyle, the Subaru WRX nevertheless is worthy of mention for a couple reasons. Two doors, on their own, does not a sports car make — the WRX is a more seriously focused performer than some other cars on this list.


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Subaru is also wise to share the WRX breakdown rather than tucking it into the Impreza’s overall total. The WRX’s 485-unit Q1 output is also worth mentioning because of the car’s growth: the 27-per-cent gain compares with a 39-per-cent drop in the rest of Subaru’s car lineup.

2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance
2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Photo by Chris Balcerak /Driving

Ford Mustang: 734, up 23 per cent

The Ford Mustang isn’t just the best-selling sports car in Canada — and yes, the sixth-generation Mustang is a genuine sports car. Ford loves pointing out it’s the top seller globally. Ford Canada’s 734-unit Mustang total in 2021’s first three months very nearly matches the combined total of its two closest rivals, the Challenger and Camaro.

Porsche 911: 219, up 16 per cent

Arguably the best-known sports car nameplate of all time, the Porsche 911 was bucking anti-sports-car sales trends even before the pandemic’s strange sports car surge. The 911 crushed its own Canadian sales record with a first-ever four-digit sales year in 2017, beat that record in 2018, and then reached yet another all-time high of 1,414 sales in 2019. After a predictably challenging 2020, the 911’s trajectory is yet again directed upward.


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