March 21, 2007
The Automobile Protection Association released its 2007 new vehicle ratings today. The release coincides with the publication of Autos 2007, the annual car guide published jointly with Protégez-Vous, the French language consumer magazine. The APA ratings are compiled with information from its new vehicle testing program, and complaint assistance and referrals.
New vehicle sales were around 1.6 million in 2006, continuing an amazing 10-year run of strong vehicle sales activity. Uncertainty over gasoline prices has impacted the market in different ways across Canada. In Quebec buyers have rediscovered a new generation of subcompact cars from the Japanese carmakers. This size of vehicle had almost disappeared from North America by the end of the 1990s.
The shift to “Small is beautiful” is more apparent in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. Although they comprise about one quarter of the new car market, consumers in the Province of Quebec buy almost half of the highest-rated small cars -- vehicles like the Mazda3, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Civic. Quebec also counts for slightly under half the Mazda5 minivans sold in Canada – the Mazda5 marks the return of the compact minivan to Canada after a 10 year absence. Sales of less highly rated small cars, like the Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus are currently average in Quebec, at one quarter of the total Canadian sales. Consumers in Quebec want more than inexpensive transportation. They are looking for vehicles with style, and that are fun to drive.
Reviewing the brands
Formerly a small car company, Hyundai’s strongest models this year are in the mid-size and SUV segments. Hyundai continues to renew its line-up at a breathtaking rate, with most of its models either new or significantly redesigned in the last 18 months. This year for the first time, a Hyundai vehicle has earned the APA’s coveted “Recommended” rating.
The domestic automakers will likely have another difficult year, with some further erosion of market share. Incredibly, General Motors, which once appeared to have the largest turn around job, appears to be ahead of the other two domestic carmakers. Chrysler’s future is anybody’s guess, as DaimlerChrysler is looking for a buyer for its North American brands, and is reported to be talking with American venture capitalists.
The year of the crossover
Crossover vehicles combine the enclosed cargo area and all-wheel drive of a truck, with the suspension and floor height of a car. They are very popular this year, with new models attracting buyers from the mid-size domestic passenger cars, minivans and larger truck-based SUVs. There are a lot of new products in this segment, including a trio from GM, the Mazda CX-7 and CX-9, and the Chrysler Patriot, Compass and Caliber.
New car advertising: time for a big spring cleanup
A recent APA investigation of new car advertising, undertaken with the aid of APA’s mystery shoppers, revealed that many car new ads hide expensive surprises in the fine print, and others are deliberately misleading or incomplete.
APA President, George Iny, says Kia’s lease deal at $165 a month, with “available” $0 down, is an example of advertising smoke and mirrors that is all too common in the industry. You need to look at the fine print to realize that you would have to put down about $4,000 to finance a Kia Spectra at $165 a month, and that the $0 down “available” refers to a much higher monthly payment that is not specified anywhere in the ad!.
At Rond Point Dodge Chrysler in Longueuil, the APA mystery shoppers learned they could not buy an advertised Dodge Caravan at the $16,992 cash price. The shoppers were told they had to purchase a $1,555 extended warranty, and 6-year financing arranged through the dealership. With additional charges not listed in the ad, transport, preparation and taxes, the total all-inclusive price came to over $29,000!
APA president, George Iny, says when it comes to lease advertising, General Motors and Toyota provide the best information with downpayments that correspond to the advertised monthly payment included in the bold print. In January, Quebec recently tightened up rules for used car advertising; the APA says the new rules have improved the shopping experience for a used vehicle and that similar changes are needed for new car advertising.
Some carmakers are paying closer attention to the condition of lease-return vehicles, and billing consumers for excess wear and tear to interior trim and upholstery as well as body and windshield damage. If you’re in doubt, the APA recommends using an independent appraisal service that will prepare an estimate for you before returning the car to the leasing company. If necessary, the appraiser will tell you how to obtain cost-effective repairs. Currently, only one lease-return appraiser in Quebec offers a service geared to consumers. (Auto Check Canada at 514-839-7358)
APA’s complete 2007 New Vehicle Ratings are available on the APA website (English) at www.apa.ca, and in the annual Autos 2007 car guide published with Protégez-Vous magazine (French).