By on July 26, 2011

I spotted this Opel Vivaro CDTI on the University of Illinois campus.

How did this apparently-European vehicle end up in Illinois?  Opel’s website suggests that they don’t do business in Canada, but this Vivaro has Quebec license plates, and a stuffed animal in the window that suggests it is a personal vehicle.

Does anyone have any idea how such a vehicle could end up legally touring the American Midwest with Canadian plates?  What say you, readers of TTAC?

 

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67 Comments on “Stump The Best And Brightest: How Did This Opel Vivaro End Up In Illinois?...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    It’s an Oldsmobile Silhouette with a nose job. Gad.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Personal import into Canada (it’s a bit easier getting grey market cars into Canada than it is into the US) –>

    The US allows Canadian-registered cars into the US.

    (Actually, cars with any foreign registration are permitted to enter the US, just so long as they are properly registered, don’t pose any obvious hazards, and are removed within one year. Registering them in the US is a completely different story.)

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @Pch101…..I looked real close at bringing a used Mustang up from Florida. If you cross all the t’s and dot all the I’s pay all the taxes. Then you jump through all the hoops.

      I didn’t see a cost savings.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I didn’t see a cost savings.

        It would depend upon the exchange rate and the particular car.

        My point was that it would be easier to get a Euro-spec car into Canada than it would be to get the same car into the US. Between DOT and EPA regs, it’s next to impossible to federalize a personal import. The rules are designed to make it too expensive to bother.

        The question that I would ask is why someone would go to the trouble for a car like this.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendon from Canada

        @mikey – you need the right car at the right time. I’ve done it twice; we imported an ’05 Mini Cooper S several 4 years ago for 19k, sold it just over two years later for 19k. We were out of pocket for tax/registration/gas/insurance – however the savings in gas versus our truck wiped out most of that amount!

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right. You can drive any car, that is registered properly from any country, here in the US. We take this for granted when we get used to seeing Canadian-plated and Mexican-plated cars driving around everywhere. We find it odd to see any car from any other country driving around the US though.

      I once saw a Renault camper van, with French plates, driving north on I-75 through Georgia. I thought it was odd, but it was perfectly legal.

      I’m not 100% sure, but I think the gray-market importation of cars is much easier in Canada and Mexico. Considering you can have a car shipped from the EU for about $2000 (sometimes less) then it may be worth it, to some, just to get something different if you can.

  • avatar
    mikey

    My guess..with all due respect to “La belle provence” they operate under a different set of rules.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Imports into Canada are a federal, not a provincial, matter.

      The US rules were revised in the 80′s in order to make it difficult to import grey market cars from Europe. (The then-Big 3 and Daimler all wanted these changes in order to protect their US sales.) Canada has its rules, but they don’t go as far as does the US.

      And those rules don’t apply to visitors. I’ve seen cars with UK, Swedish, German, Japanese and Saudi registration, among others, on American roads, and Canadian and Mexican registration is not that uncommon. There’s no problem if the paperwork is in order and the cars are here only temporarily.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Pch101….yes and no…Each province has its own tax structure. Also the ‘ministry of transportation” rules vary from one province to another.

    For example, if you want to registar a vehicle in Quebec and drive in the winter,buy four snow tires.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      Mikey, vehicle federalization, importation, and the CMVSS standards are administered at the federal level in Canada (Transport Canada). Individual provinces set regulations like emissions testing, registration, speed limits, driver licencing and winter tire rules. This van could just as easily have had Ontario plates. It is likely on a Quebec dealer plate or under a restricted registration through Transport Canada or NRCAN. The vehicle would not be able to be sold to a private customer in Canada. Once the evaluation period ends, the car would either have to be exported to its country of origin or crushed.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The vehicle would not be able to be sold to a private customer in Canada. Once the evaluation period ends, the car would either have to be exported to its country of origin or crushed.

        Apparently, Canadian rules allow vehicles that weren’t made for the Canadian or US market if they are at least 15 years old:

        http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/safevehicles-importation-other-than-index-446.htm

        But as far I can tell, they didn’t make this model 15 years ago. So you may be onto something.

      • 0 avatar
        RRocket

        I’m a Canadian…and TCragg answer is the correct one. We get many Euro cars over here for Ministry testing.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        There are two JDM cars in the parking lot where I work (on the east coast of Canada). One is a mid-90s Civic hatch, and the other is an older generation EVO. It’s quite simple to get them, honestly. There are quite a few dealers across the country where you can just walk in and buy one off the showroom floor. They will all be 15+ years old and from what I hear, I wouldn’t drive them in the winter on our really salty roads.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Canada allows grey-market imports that are at least 15 years old; in the US they must be at least 25 years old. (There are a number of exceptions, of course; for example Bill Gates lobbied for one in Washington state for a long time so he could keep his Porsche 959.)

        Personally, I think it’s stupid: collisions and emissions standards are not all that different in Europe and Japan; we should have a unified standard by now so that automakers don’t need to spend millions of dollars on testing per model three different times.

  • avatar
    TCragg

    Transport Canada/Natural Resources Canada maintains a test fleet of various European and Asian vehicles for fuel efficiency and various suitability tests for the Canadian market. Transport Canada vehicles will usually be registered either in the greater Ottawa (Ontario) area or Gatineau (Quebec), both of which are located in the National Capital Region, where both departments are based. It would make sense that the vehicle was seen at a university; perhaps it was there for evaluation or testing of a diesel drivetrain in a small North American van? The Office of Energy Efficiency of NRCAN has a display at the Toronto Auto Show every year where they exhibit some “exotic” Euro hardware like the Accord Wagon diesel, or the 3-Series diesel, years before it appeared in North America.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    I don’t know if any Canadian servicepeople are serving with NATO, but it’s not unusual for US military to bring vehicles home when their deployment is up.

    Man, that is one ugly vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I don’t know if any Canadian servicepeople are serving with NATO, but it’s not unusual for US military to bring vehicles home when their deployment is up.

      Those are US-model cars. Those can be brought back to the US and registered here, just as would any car purchased through a European delivery program. You wouldn’t be able to bring back an Opel like this one.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      We do indeed have servicepeople serving with NATO.

      I’m thinking, TCragg is on the right track.

      And yes, it is one ugly vehicle

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      I was stationed with a guy at Shaw AFB that brought his Nissan Skyline back from Japan. Had the wheel on the wrong (right hand side). I have seen other examples like this at other bases but this one sticks in my mind. Not sure what hoops you need to jump through to make it happen. I found it easier to get a used car when arriving and selling it when moving on.

      • 0 avatar
        conswirloo

        Generally, the rule for military is that if you took one with you when you deployed, you could bring one back. My brother and his wife took a plymouth duster to germany, and brought a camry back. For something non-US spec though, you could probably bring it back, but registering it to drive legally, not so much. A friend at work has a RHD civic type R from Japan, but its VIN numbers don’t all match up. The title and the dash match, everything else doesn’t. He pays a guy extra every year to “pass” emissions.

  • avatar
    fleeecy

    If the license plate number starts with CD, it’s a diplomat’s car. We have a few Alfas, Fiats and at least one old Lancia here with CD plates.

  • avatar
    Doc

    More interesting to me is, if you brought a gray market car into Canada. What do you do if it needs repair? I suppose you could try bringing this to a GM dealer.

  • avatar
    threeer

    US service members cannot simply bring back any car they owned overseas back to the States. There are rules and regs regarding the year of the vehicle…although I’ve been dieing to ask how a guy here in Huntsville was able to bring back an Opel Meriva…I think the age has to be older than 25 years (for the car) before you can bring it back without major headache, but we never brought back anything other than a US-spec car from our tours…

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      You are right about the 25 years or older, but I have seen one or two newer non-US spec cars brought back. I’d like to know how they did it.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        I’m not sure what the exact process was, but I bet it happened in a state with no safety or emissions inspections.

        Also, they might have used some “farm”/”dealer” registration loophole (i.e. plates not tied to one specific car).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I have seen one or two newer non-US spec cars brought back. I’d like to know how they did it.

        Either they paid a lot of money to federalize them, or else somebody at the state DMV screwed up.

        The rules for importation are federal. You would think that foreign title would be a giveaway to the state vehicle office that some due diligence is needed before issuing plates, but perhaps there is some sort of workaround that one can use to fool the system.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    It’s obvious. A rich American bought an old Opel in Quebec and junked it while keeping it registered at a Quebec remail address, then bought the Opel in Germany, drove it to France where he/she attached the Quebec plates, and shipped it “back” to Quebec after his/her “vacation”, and gave it to a son/daughter for use in college in Illinois, avoiding all the taxes, import duties, etc. Rules are for the little people.

  • avatar
    jmo

    The link to the pic of the rear plate seems to be broken, from the tiny image the plates don’t look red…but, as an idea:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BC_diplomatic_license_plate.jpg

    Does the plate start with a CD, CX, XT or XOR? If it does those would be diplomatic plates and would explain how the van got here.

    “The Ontario plates are white on red. There is no country coding so that the general public cannot target particular diplomats. The plates have been permanent since 1987 and have a 3-number, 3-letter format, coded as follows:
    CDx = Diplomat
    CCx = Consular
    XTx = Non Diplomatic Embassy Staff
    XOR = Foreign missions without diplomatic status.”

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      That was my guess. I used to work in Toronto around where several embassies were located saw a few oddballs like this. Ottawa is similar, and practically on the Quebec border.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Maybe someone moved and brought it with them?

  • avatar
    mhadi

    Any new immigrant is allowed to bring their personal possessions tax-free (as a one-time deal) into Canada. Seems like someone moved to Quebec from Europe.

  • avatar
    fleeecy

    Quebec laws prevent anybody from importing recent cars from anywhere in the world except the US, pretty much. These laws are no more permissive than standard canadian laws.

    The only way to get recent euro cars in Quebec AFAIK is to be a diplomat. This status allows you to import your private car and use it as long as you are a diplomat here. You can see this as diplomatic immunity for cars, if you will.

    Here in Montreal, diplomats drive around in Alfa Romeo Breras, SEATs or Lancias, to name a few. All of these cars bear a license plate number that starts with CD or a CC (as in “Corps Diplomatique”).

    You won’t see these cars under any other circumstance, if they are less than 15 years old. Older models are allowed more loosely, and most are RHD imports from Japan (Skylines, other small/weird JDM cars like the Figaro).

  • avatar
    M 1

    Who cares where it was seen?

    The real mystery is why anyone would buy this monstrosity.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I drove the Renault-badged version while I was a bicycle guide in France/Switzerland. They’re very practical, amazingly efficient on diesel, and drive remarkably well. Even its truckier cousin, the Master, handled the Alpine roads surprisingly well and cruised the Autoroute at 150 km/h.

  • avatar
    Morea

    In Washington DC and environs you can see not-imported-to-the-US cars because diplomatic staff can bring in their cars no questions asked. On the other hand they would have diplomatic plates and cannot be re-sold in the US.

  • avatar
    mcs

    If you want an Opel Insignia in the US, there’s a company selling conversion parts for the Regal.

    For diplomats, Opel has their IDS program.

  • avatar
    Advo

    I’m not sure why I find this article and the comments rather interesting, but I do. Is it because I’m Canadian and it’s about something out of the mainstream and not brought up very much? Maybe it’s because I’m impressed about the nuggets of knowledge readers here have.

    I’ll look for diplomatic plates if I see a car parked illegally outside of a fancy restaurant in the future.

  • avatar
    Mechie

    Quebec, for the time being, is still a part of Canada. So vehicle importation into Canada is covered by federal law, under Transport Canada. TC operates the RIV (Registrar of Imprted Vehicles) Program.

    There are a bunch of exemptions to the requirements that all vehicles imported into Canada meet Canadian Safety Standards here:

    http://www.riv.ca/RIVExemptions.aspx

    Some highlights:

    - vehicle is greater than 15 years old
    - visitors to Canada up to 12 months; foreign students in Canada; and holders of work permits up to 36 months.
    - diplomats
    - visiting military
    - “US pre-clearance personnel” working in Canada – i.e. those nice US customs people working at Canadian airports
    - vehicles entering temporarily for “exhibition, demonstration, evaluation, testing, or other special purposes”

    Take your pick!

    • 0 avatar
      Advo

      TTAC is going to have to do an article about the state of infrastructure in Montreal/Quebec. That would be an eye-opener!

      Hmm. I wonder if some rich person can get a year-long evaluation period for some car that isn’t ordinarily available – the latest Zonda comes to mind.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      There are a bunch of exemptions to the requirements that all vehicles imported into Canada meet Canadian Safety Standards here

      The vast majority of people on that list wouldn’t have Canadian registration. It isn’t necessary to re-register vehicles every time that they cross a border.

      The quesiton here is how it ended up with Quebec plates. It isn’t fifteen years old, so the age exemption doesn’t explain it. If it was a temporary import, then it wouldn’t have Quebec plates on it at all.

      The diplomatic answer might be a good one if the plates confirm it. (In the US, consular plates are federal-, not state-issued, and clearly say “CONSUL” on them. That’s apparently different in Canada.)

      • 0 avatar
        Mechie

        Good point Pch101.

        Except, I doubt a someone in Canada on a 3-year work permit would have an understanding auto insurer back home willing to insure his car in Canada for that long.

        And Canadian insurers would insist the car is registered in a Canadian province before insuring the beast.

        Besides, if you’re going to be driving around Quebec for three years, and you’re from the UK… would you like to advertise the fact you’re one of those hated “Anglais” with your original plates? ;-)

        I suspect many temporary residents would want to blend in, and got ‘Canadianized’ plates.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Except, I doubt a someone in Canada on a 3-year work permit would have an understanding auto insurer back home willing to insure his car in Canada for that long.

        If Canada’s rule for this is similar to what is found in the US, a foreign registration would be allowed for up to one year.

  • avatar
    Mechie

    Great ideaa, Advo.

    All TTAC needs to do is fill out the proper CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) forms at the border, and be sure to export the Zonda after the year is up, or ensure it is crushed under CBSA supervision.

    On second thought, considering the state of the roads in Quebec, maybe it won’t need to be crushed when the year is up!

  • avatar
    NN

    I live in the Hampton Roads, VA area, where there is NATO headquarters as well as plenty of US military bases. I see non-US spec Euro cars on the roads here from time to time, privately owned. I’ve seen a Vivaro such as this, as well as European spec Ford Focus van, Mercedes A-class (with a local For Sale sign on it), a Euro-spec Accord wagon and others. I have always wanted to ask these people how they get these cars over here and registered with local Virginia license plates. In Virginia we do have safety inspections, but I don’t think the inspector has to do anything regarding the vehicle registration–he only needs to make sure the brakes, lights, and safety features work and then the car gets the inspection sticker. So I don’t see how a Euro spec car wouldn’t pass once it at least is registered somehow.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Some kind of test vehicle for GM? Maybe we’ll be seeing it on the streets as a rebadged Buick? Maybe?

  • avatar
    Petra

    While I think TCraigg has the right idea, I have yet another theory: This van could be from St. Pierre et Miquelon. I’m not sure whether cars there wear Canadian or European plates, but I know that they do drive Euro cars there.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Does Opel do business in the UK? If they do is it possible that Canada may allow cars bought in the UK to come over with different rules because of the relationship to the British Crown? I don’t pretend to know how the Canadian government and the British government are related, but just know that they are somehow. Psar, do you know (you’re the only one that I’m sure lives in Canada :))?

    • 0 avatar
      Mechie

      Hey tankinbeans -

      Although I hate to admit it, I’m a Canadian resident (and citizen as well).

      AFAIK, the only ‘special rules’ we have on importation of foreign vehicles, would be those that were sold in the US. (Lots of cross-border importation of those).

      The RIV program at TC was created to ‘lubricate’ the importation of US-market vehicles into Canada (www.riv.ca).

      The only thing we share with the UK is the Head of State (Queen Lizzie).

      We got rid of ‘special treatment’ of UK people back in the 40′s, I believe, when British Citizens stopped being Canadian Citizens automatically – they had to apply for Citizenship, like everyone else!

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Nothing wrong with being Canadian. I sometimes wish I could be Canadian. haha.

        I’ve learned something new today about the relationship between the two and that’s all I ask out of life, to learn something new.

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    Someone else saw it twice on the road in Québec:

    http://coolmontral.skyrock.com/2964390349-Opel-Vivaro-CDTI.html

    But the plate is european…

    • 0 avatar
      Mechie

      Damn that’s ugly!

      Did the accompanying French text say it had Belgian plates?

    • 0 avatar
      jsabino

      It’s funny because first picture I saw from that Opel Vivaro is the one parked in Illinois… But looking at rear of the car I could immediatly tell that the car was brought to Quebec from Belgium…
      Explanation: right above the OPEL brand you can something that looks like a sticker and I recognized that sticker!!!! It’s from a Opel dealer in Waterloo, south of Brussels, in Belgium! I know because not only I used to live there but also I bought an Opel Astra a few years ago at that same dealer!
      The dealer is Called Peeters Waterloo… and as you can see, the sticker says PW…
      Here the website of that Opel dealer in Waterloo, you’ll see that it’s the same:

      http://www.peetersauto.be/home

      But then someone actually saw that car in Canada with Belgian plates, which explains a lot!

  • avatar

    There is a bunch of Mexican rolling stock in southern states, e.g. Nissan X-trail and the like.

  • avatar
    BTEFan

    My educated guess is that someone from overseas is living and working in Quebec for a few years and brought their van over. I am guessing they are of the ‘Jon an Kate Plus 8′ types with lots of kids or something.
    There is a Peugeot 406 coupe that has been running around Vancouver for a few years. We tracked the driver down and he said they were here on a work visa for 2 years and ICBC allows them to register it as long as they take the car back when they return to thier home country. I have seen a few Chevy Joy and Swings (Opel Corsas) with BC plates on them for the same reason – ex Mexico. We have a lot of RHD cars that are more than 15 years old that are brought in. I have seen a few Mercedes A-Class Fuel Cell cars running around near Ballard Power in Burnaby and BC Hydro has a fleet of RHD 2011 Mitsubishi iMEVs running around for evaluation.
    They definitely spice up the sea of silver Civics and Corollas that is the norm here…


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