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2012 Vancouver Auto Show

April 9, 2012
Cadillac ULC

Cadillac ULC concept (Orin O'Neill photos)

Yes, here’s another one. I dunno, given that, unlike the U.S. motorcycle/scooter biz, the auto industry is most definitely NOT in a death spiral makes these things much more enjoyable to write about. And Vancouver is a great place to visit. The story follows the jump.

VANCOUVER, B.C.—Back in the day, the Canadian automotive landscape was vastly different from the U.S. There were Meteors, which looked like Mercurys. There were Mercury pickup trucks. General Motors sold something called the Acadian, a name applied to a lot of different cars over the course of its life. There was a Plymouth Valiant that was a U.S. Dodge Dart from the cowl back. You could buy a Lada Niva, a small, agricultural Russian SUV, vich had reputation for being strong like ox, da? And so on.

Pontiac Acadian

Early 1960s Acadian was a rebadged, retrimmed Chevy II (Curbsideclassic.com)

These days, aside from a few exceptions we’ll talk about shortly, Canada’s roads are inhabited by pretty much the same vehicles we see in the States. The Auto Pact of 1968, then NAFTA, sounded the death knell for Canada’s unique automotive offerings. OTOH, a lot of vehicles sold in the U.S. are made in Canada, most notably the “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler 300 (Brampton, Ontario) and Town and Country minivan (Windsor, Ontario, just across the river). Derp.

Turnabout would be fair play in the case of Volkswagen, which sells the new Chattanooga-built Passat and Mexico-sourced Jetta north of the 49th parallel. Sadly, they no longer sell the Golf City and Jetta City, which were the previous versions, loaded and cheap. VW does this in many markets, especially ones where the idea of Certified Pre-Loved™ hasn’t caught on. In spite of gas prices well over $5 CDN/U.S. gallon (they sell gas by the liter in Canada, which makes it seem cheaper, anyway), VW will not offer the Up! to Canadian buyers. Dang.

Ford F-150 Raptor

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor - The name used to be written that big on the back...

As in the U.S., the best-selling light vehicle in the Great White North is Ford’s F-Series pickup truck, which has been king of the (Parliament) hill for nearly half a century. Unlike the U.S., the runner-up spot is taken by Ram, Chrysler’s truck division. You see lotsa vehicles like this in Canadian traffic, being driven with a heavy foot in spite of that pricey gas.

Canada’s best-selling passenger car (and third best overall) is the Honda Civic. This has been true for quite a long time. And it’s the same dumbed-down 2012 Civic Consumer Reports can no longer “Recommend.” Well, it still gets good gas mileage, and the relatively large number of 20-year-old Civics still running around in spite of the copious amounts of salt dumped on the roads here speaks volumes.

However, Hyundai’s sensational Elantra is coming on like gangbusters, registering a 57% sales increase to take the runner-up passenger-car spot in calendar year 2011 (by contrast, Accent sales in Canada have dipped 7%). While it doesn’t differ meaningfully from the U.S. version (they’re made in Alabama, too), there are four trim levels, which among other things add a letter with each step (in the U.S., a Hyundai called a GLS is the base model). A bit more logical, methinks.

Naked shifter

The manufacturers still believe shift knobs will be stolen...

Canadians got to buy Hyundais before Americans; the truly awful Pony proved popular (most likely because it was dirt cheap) in spite of its rather nasty habit of randomly self-destructing. Hyundai Canada ended up buying a lot of them back. Well, you gotta learn somehow. How far they’ve come since is truly amazing.

Canadians also got to buy the OG smart fortwo (with the diesel engine) when Americans didn’t. Or I should say, couldn’t if they didn’t want to pay the company that was paying retail for used ones overseas and marking them up accordingly in the States the 26+ grand sticker price. But Mercedes-Benz Canada is having the same problem as in the U.S. and everywhere else—everyone in the world who wanted a smart fortwo now has one. And has nothing to trade up to.

Occupying the number four spot overall is the Dodge Grand Caravan. Yes, a MINIVAN. See, Canadians are… grownups. They rather like the practicality minivans offer (not to mention way better gas mileage than an SUV), and buy them in much greater quantities, proportionally, than Americans. And for the most part they don’t seem too worried about not being thought of as cool. In fact, GM offered short versions of their last minivans in Canada, but not in the U.S., for this very reason.

2013 Ford Escape

2013 Ford Escape is called the Kuga in Europe

As in the U.S., Ford’s Escape is Canada’s number-one crossover; as with the pickups, the runner-up is another Chrysler (which lots of folks here pronounce “CRYZ-ler”) product, the Dodge Journey. I couldn’t tell you why, since this one also differs not at all from the stateside version (And even the Europe-only Fiat Freemont, which is a Journey with a Fiat grille. And a diesel engine.).

There were not one, but two 2013 Escapes at the Ford stand, one of which you could actually climb into. I dearly loved my 2005 Escape, and it broke my heart to have to sell it. But this one has me thinking I’d trade it in if I still had it. The acceptance of the notion that vehicles of this type are really not off-roaders makes this new Escape more useful, not to mention more honest. It’s said to have more cargo volume than its boxy predecessor, and it really doesn’t need all-wheel drive. It will be more fuel-efficient, but just as useful.

Acura ILX

Acura ILX is the latest in a long line of Acura-badged Honda Civics

For a long time Acura’s Canadian lineup has included a Honda Civic with an Acura grille. This is due to high sales taxes in most provinces (except Alberta, which is the Oregon/New Hampshire/Alaska of Canada in this regard), which tend to be built into sale prices. This year’s version is the ILX (God, when are they going to go back to MODEL NAMES?), which at least can no longer be called the Acura EH.

Chevrolet had a couple of interesting tidbits: a 2013 Spark, which will go on sale in Canada and the U.S. this summer, and an Orlando. Never heard of it? You must live in the U.S., the only country on Earth where Chevrolet does not sell it (remember, Chevrolet is now a global brand). Why? Beats me. It’s a 7-seat crossover with no pretensions of off-road capability, and it gets decent gas mileage. It’s not fabulous, but it is rather nice, and would be easy to picture with kayaks, mountain bikes and other such lifestyle accoutrements attached to its roof. An aspirational vehicle for owners of ’96 Subaru Legacy wagons, if you will. And nowhere nears as cringe-worthy as the Chevrolet HHR.

Chevrolet Orlando

Chevrolet Orlando is sold everywhere but the U.S. WTH?

One other car Canadians can buy that Americans can’t—at least, not just yet—is Mercedes-Benz’ B-Class. It’s rather like a VW Golf, but priced like a Mercedes-Benz. Which is probably why Daimler hasn’t sold it in the U.S. Hatchbacks are so… downscale. But five-buck gas (not to mention the still-tanked economy) in the U.S. may cause people to consider something like this. We’ll see. This model’s replacement will be available to Americans soon.

Scion’s display looked like a Hot Wheels Collector Set, albeit a slightly smaller one. Yes, a DJ was spinning 160-beat-per-minute techno grooves. But the star of the stand was something decidedly old-skool: A sports car.

Scion FR-S

Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are honest-to-God sports cars.

That would be the Scion FR-S, also to be sold as a Subaru BRZ in North America and a Toyota GT-86 in markets outside North America. It’s something car buyers haven’t had a chance to buy in decades, a volume-production 2-seat automobile that’s about performance. It has a cloth interior, a decent stereo and a 4-cylinder Subaru (Toyota owns 20% of Fuji Heavy Industries) boxer engine. Which was chosen because it is compact, and lowers the car’s center of gravity.

In fact, product specialist Jason pointed out a couple of interesting facts. First, the emblem on the front fender represents not only the opposed cylinder layout (those are pistons), but the middle ’86’ represents a car in a 4-wheel drift. And he knows what that is!

He also mentioned that folding the FR-S’ back seat down creates a space exactly big enough to hold an extra set of mounted wheels/tires. For when you go, say, autocrossing and need to bring your sticky tires. Geez! Nobody thinks of stuff like this anymore!

Another thing most car companies don’t think of is pricing a normal person can afford: The base FR-S goes for a bit less than $26K (a bit under $25K in the U.S.). The last time I saw Porsche 911 (which used to be pricey, not unattainable) being driven by someone in the demographic Scion occupies was… decades ago.

Lexus LFA

Lexus LFA

Of course, the more well-heeled of Vancouver’s street racers will be driving something like the Lexus LFA.

Nissan GT-R

Nissan GT-R

Or perhaps the Nissan GT-R. Your chances of seeing multiple examples of either on Vancouver’s streets are quite good. There’s a helluva lot of money floating around this town.

In fact, on the drive up I heard a radio report quoting the median price of housing in Metro Vancouver: $1.5 million. Remember, the U.S. and Canadian dollar are at par as this is written.

BMW 6-Series Gran Coupé

BMW 6-Series Gran Coupé's matte-finish paint job is all the rage at the moment...

I do find it curious that the new fashion in automotive finishes is paint that looks like it’s been exposed to the elements for 30 years or more. Whatever. Yes, the newly-introduced 3-Series was present and accounted for. A nice car, certainly, one that should prove popular because its monthly lease payment is reasonable. And I’ve come to believe the best way to have a car like a Bimmer is to lease it, given all the potentially expensive-to-replace-or-repair gizmos new BMWs come with. Drive it for three years and palm it off on some designer label-worshipping schmuck. Yes.

New Dodge Dart

The new Dodge Dart

Something much more down-to-Earth is the 2013 Dodge Dart, which will go on sale anytime now. Canadians will not have one with Plymouth Valiant front sheetmetal because, well, there’s no more Plymouth. Hasn’t been for a while now. In fact, Plymouth disappeared from Canada a couple years before going gently into that good night in the U.S.

While Chrysler Group LLC has said there are no plans for a B-segment entry in the U.S., they leave open that possibility for Mexico and Canada. I’d happily emigrate if it meant I could buy a Fiat Punto Evo badged as a… Dodge Colt?

Mitsubishi i

Mitsubishi i electric can be had with an ICE outside North America

Those Dodge Colts, once so numerous, were made by Mitsubishi. Which somewhere along the way decided the path to success in North America means building cars for people who don’t care about cars, and who hate to drive. So, Mitsu, how’s that workin’ for ya? In Canada, they moved less than 5000 units in 2011, which is about how many they sell in the States in a month. Mostly to rental fleets, I’ll wager.

All of Mitsubishi’s marketing energy is going into the i, which in its electric guise can be described as the World’s Nicest Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (though I did see one doing the speed limit on I-5 a while back). In Europe and Asia, the i is available with the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine found in the smart fortwo (which is made by… Mitsubishi!). It’s much less expensive (and examined objectively, greener) than the electric. Prolly not for U.S. sale, ever.

A recent survey done by (I think) Consumer Reports found people are noticing less and less difference between the various brands of cars. Speaking as someone who gets to drive a lot of different cars every year, I second that motion. Like Plymouth, Pontiac, Saturn and Mercury, Mitsubishi is poised to disappear from the marketplace if it doesn’t do something interesting, if not exciting, soon.

There were no scooters at the show this year. That seems to be true of auto shows generally. While Vancouver has lots more scooters on its streets, the place will not be mistaken for Taipei or HCMC anytime soon. And the carmakers are catching up. The next Mazda2, due in our neck of the woods in a few years, is being touted as capable of a scooter-like 70 mpg (3.36 liters/100 km), and it won’t be a hybrid. But it’ll have room for kids and groceries, and won’t expose you to the weather. Favicon

See lots more pics right here.

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2 Comments
  1. Alex Sargeant permalink
    April 9, 2012 12:25 pm

    Part of the “secret” of the success of the Civic in Canada is that it’s built there. Canadians are a polite but fiercely patriotic lot. Any car built in Canada that is any good has a great chance to be a top seller.

  2. April 9, 2012 12:48 pm

    Even not-so-good ones… back in the day there were a helluva lot of made-in-Canada Ford Tempos running around up there… : P

Comments are closed.