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These 10 luxury SUVs had a terrible year in Canada in 2019

Picture this. You’re the CEO of a major global automobile manufacturer. Times are tough. Margins are thin. Shareholders are antsy. The fundamentals of the market in which you’re supposedly an expert seem to be shifting under your feet.

You’re in desperate need of a hit, a vehicle that shows consumers, investors and your own employees that the company you lead is on the right track. You have an idea.

It’s not a headline-grabbing supercar. It’s not an affordable, back-to-basics sports car. It’s not a revolutionary electric car or a so-called “mobility solution.” Instead, you follow the cowpath to commerce with yet another luxury SUV.

Consider the Canadian market, for example. In 2019, as auto sales decreased by roughly four per cent, year-over-year, sales of premium brand SUVs and crossovers increased four per cent. Of the approximately 230,000 premium brand vehicles sold in Canada last year, nearly 70 per cent were utility vehicles. Top-sellers such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5 now produce more than 10,000 sales per year.

Yet despite the market’s rabid enthusiasm for luxury SUVs, automakers somehow manage to produce abject failures. Automakers also managed in 2019 to offer numerous luxury SUVs that sold far, far less often than in prior years.

Yes, even with a seemingly fail-proof SUV game plan, automobile manufacturers can absolutely bungle it.

With sales figures from Global Automakers of Canada, these are 10 premium brand SUVs that produced the most dreadful outcomes in 2019. Obviously, we excluded vehicles that were discontinued or on hiatus in anticipation of a re-launch. In some cases, certain vehicles’ arrival on such a dishonourable list isn’t surprising at all. But there are instances in which conventional wisdom and reasonable expectations were clearly misguided.

Acura MDX: 4,757, down 15 per cent

Acura’s larger-of-two utility vehicles is hardly a failure. Among premium brand utility vehicles that come standard with three-row seating, there’s still nothing that sells as frequently as the MDX.

But during a year in which the MDX appeared on Consumer Reports’ list of the 10 least reliable vehicles you can buy, the MDX’s Canadian sales volume fell to a 13-year low. MDX sales have fallen by nearly a quarter since the nameplate’s 2014 peak. Old age is doing the MDX no favours — the third-generaton variant has been around in its current form since 2014.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio: 458, down 46 per cent

Alfa Romeo’s cars are frighteningly uncommon. Only 242 Giulias were sold in Canada in 2019, less than half of the previous year’s total. The supremely rare 4C is certainly not a driver of showroom traffic, either, with only 39 copies sold last year. So it falls on the shoulders of the Stelvio to bolster the Italian brand’s Canadian fortunes.

Those shoulders appear weak. Just 842 Stelvios were sold in 2018, roughly double 2017’s output. But in 2019, Alfa stumbled as Stelvio volume was nearly cut in half. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear you say you’ve never laid eyes on one.

Audi Q7: 3,213, down 29 per cent

For years, throughout its first-gen tenure, the Audi Q7 toiled in relative obscurity. Overshadowed by SUVs from Mercedes-Benz and BMW that made it to market years before the Q7, Audi’s three-row utility vehicle was ignored by many. Prior to 2016, Audi had never even sold more than 2,000 per year in Canada.

That changed with the second-gen Q7, sales of which averaged in excess of 4,500 units between 2016 and 2018. But then Audi introduced some real showroom competition. Now the Q7 has to compete against its two-row offshoot, the Q8.

Fortunately for Audi, combined Q7/Q8 sales were up 8 per cent in 2019. Unfortunately for Audi, and unlike BMW with its X5 rival of the Q7, the brand was not able to source more Q7 demand when new vehicles were added to the fleet.

BMW X1: 4,420, down 17 per cent

Perhaps you wondered at the chances of success when BMW first launched the X1 in Canada in 2011. How many times could BMW slice the SUV pie?

But the X1 was ahead of its time, and as the market moved toward utility vehicles, it was also gradually moving toward premium brands. The X1 was a beneficiary, and sales ballooned to 6,120 units with the second-gen X1 in 2017. Competition, however, is growing ever more fierce, and X1 sales are now off that peak sales rate by 28 percent.

BMW X2: 1,383, down 25 per cent

BMW tried it first with the X6; then with the X4. Take a relatively mainstream shape, reduce practicality, add (allegedly) coupe-like design, and voila! The X5 and X3 have supplementary volume.

In the X2, BMW’s X1 donor became distinctly car-like. Yet it seems as though a low-slung hot hatch of a crossover might not be precisely what the market demands. The X2 now accounts for less than 6 per cent of BMW’s X-family sales, having suffered a sharp drop in volume in 2019.

Cadillac XT5: 4,928, down 17 per cent

As Cadillac prepares to launch the all-new Escalade, the brand’s clear flagship, the XT5 remains the brand’s biggest seller. Sitting in the heart of the luxury market, the XT5 outsells Cadillac’s entire car lineup by nearly 5-to-1.

Yet with the market shifting with increasing emphasis in the XT5’s direction, XT5 sales are falling. 2019 volume was down 17 per cent in Canada, a loss of more than 1,000 units. What’s to blame? The XT5 has a lot more showroom competition, both from the more affordable XT4 and the late-arriving three-row XT6. XT5 sales are down 25 per cent compared with 2017.

Jaguar E-Pace: 417, down 27 per cent

After releasing its first SUV, the F-Pace, Jaguar was riding a perfect wave. There were new sedans, the XE and second-gen XF, and a new entry-level utility vehicle on the way. But F-Pace sales are falling now, and the E-Pace flopped. Only 574 were sold in 2018, the model’s first year on the market.

And in 2019, E-Pace volume fell by more than a quarter. Jaguar, which jumped 617 per cent in Canada between 2012 and 2017, has now seen its Canadian volume fall by more than a fifth in the span of two years.

Land Rover Discovery Sport: 1,076, down 24 per cent

Perhaps it’s more capable in off-road scenarios than its competition. Perhaps its third-row option adds a layer of flexibility missing in its rivals. But it doesn’t seem to matter. The Discovery Sport, known in prior generations as the LR2 and Freelander, doesn’t feel all that premium.

So while competitors from Audi and Mercedes-Benz sell almost 10 times more frequently, the Discovery Sport is shedding sales. It’s Land Rover’s most affordable option, but it’s evidently not a desirable gateway to the brand: the more costly Range Rover, Range Rover Evoque, Range Rover Sport and Range Rover Velar are all more popular.

Land Rover Discovery: 693, down 22 per cent

Known globally for distinctively boxy design, mountain-goat capability, and an off-road focus that willingly compromised its on-road performance, the Discovery’s predecessors were quintessentially British and quintessentially Land Rover.

The new Discovery is, well, odd. The softer design shoots holes in the Discovery/LR4/LR3’s African-safari image. While Land Rover’s less practical vehicles sell in relatively high numbers – 3,199 Range Rover Sports were sold last year – the Discovery that could have mainstream luxury appeal is widely rejected.

Maserati Levante: 342, down 18 per cent

Nobody, not Maserati’s Fiat Chrysler overlords nor the Levante’s factory workers, ever thought the Levante would be a high-volume luxury SUV. Although the intention has always been to make Maserati into a money-making operation, something that’s proven difficult with wildly unsuccessful cars like the Ghibli, the Levante didn’t need to produce stratospheric sales volumes in order to hit the mark.

Have no fear, the Levante has certainly not produced stratospheric sales. Just 1,656 Levantes have been sold in Canada to date. The problem, however, is the Levante’s trendline: sales are down by more than half over the last two years.