Canadian Imports Go Loonie

canadian imports go loonie

The Canadian dollar is back. After a thirty-year slump, the “loonie” is now staring eye-to-eye at the American greenback. The strong Canadian economy, the worldwide thirst for oil, and George Bush using The Fed as a money tree have all converged to push the Canadian dollar skyward. The meteoric rise of the dollar has given Canadians incredible arbitrage opportunities with American products; especially cars. The Canadian car industry ain’t pleased– and for good reason.

In 2006, Canadians imported 112k new and used vehicles from their neighbors to the south. That stat represents over 50 percent growth in US imports over the last two years. The crux of the problem: many retail prices in Canada are based on an exchange rate more appropriate for the Clinton era. To wit: Buying a Nissan 350Z Coupé in the United States will cost you $29,000. A similarly optioned car in Canada will cost – wait for this – $51,000.

Now, converting the US price of $29k at a rate of about 1.06 yields $30,740. Throw in $2k for shipping (you can drive it up yourself on a temp plate), $1800 in import duties (which you don’t pay on any vehicle assembled in the NAFTA zone), $5,200 in taxes (assuming Quebec and Ontario’s rates) and you’ve pocketed a cool CA$13k by buying your new Z stateside.

The downside, of course, is that Nissan, like most manufacturers, doesn’t honor warranties in any country other than the country of purchase. One notable exception (of course): Toyota. The Japanese automaker honors warranties all across North America. It’s good for the whole family, too: Lexus, Scion, Toyota and the newest addition, Subaru, are all included. Still, if you’re not expecting 13 grand’s worth of warranty repairs on a reliable car like the 350Z, the deal is hotter than a dancing bobcat with its ass on fire.

The other problem is red tape. In order to get a US-spec vehicle on the road in Canada, it must first be admissible for import. The government has printed a list of such vehicles on http://www.riv.ca. Conspicuous by their inadmissibility are the Pontiac GTO and the Mistubishi Lancer Evolution IX, which have failed Canadian bumper and emissions tests. Export papers need to be filed at U.S. customs, and import papers at Canadian customs, including a manufacturer’s letter stating that no outstanding recalls apply to the vehicle in question.

Once imported, a vehicle has to be converted to display kilometer-based readings, and have daytime running lights installed. Finally, the vehicle must be inspected and (possibly) emissions tested before it can be registered in a province of Canada. Other annoyances may apply. For example, if the vehicle comes from a state with lax tint and modification laws, you might end up needing to make cosmetic adjustments as well.

The fact that new cars start so much lower on the MRSP ladder in the U.S. also has ramifications in the used market. A 2005 Honda Accord EX-L with 14k miles will fetch about US$18k stateside. The same car will cost $23,400 in Canada. Converting 18-grand to Canadian and applying taxes will give us a car that costs $21,050. The best part? Since the Accord is assembled in Ohio, it’s a NAFTA car! On savings of $2,350, the day trip to upstate New York pays for itself. Even greater savings can be had on big-time depreciators like the Cadillac CTS-V or the Porsche 911 Turbo.

I picked the 350Z scenario because it’s a more extreme example of manufacturers being too greedily lethargic to adjust their Canadian pricing. Driving.ca recently quoted an average difference to be about $5,800 across international lines in one of its articles. The difference is still important enough to encourage a steady, increasingly large parade of vehicles across the border.

The government of Canada is hemming and hawing about ways to protect Canadian dealers while in some ways paying lip service to NAFTA. For their part, manufacturers are now threatening U.S. dealers with a loss of franchise if they continue selling to Canadians. Meanwhile, the market is busy reacting predictably. For those too lazy to go through all the hoops, vast arrays of brokers and importers have put out a shingle and are waiting for your business.

Eventually, something will break. Either the manufacturers will adjust Canadian pricing, outright ban the sale of cars in the United States to non-residents or the Canadian government will impose an automotive tariff.

The medium-term outlook for the U.S. dollar is particularly bearish. Therefore, there is no reason to expect an abatement of any kind in Canadian imports. It’s a strange role reversal for many Americans, to think their country has become Canada’s automotive outlet mall. Quite soon, Canadians will be making fun of that “funny, two-tone money,” too.

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  • AGR AGR on Oct 12, 2007

    The media is siding with the Canadian consumer with their coverage of the price disparity, it would seem that RIV is also siding with the consumer. The "popular opinion" is with the consumer.

  • Gentle Ted Gentle Ted on Oct 12, 2007

    For Canadian if you want help and advice on purchasing a vehicle in the USA, look at this web site Carhelpcanada.com or phone them at 416-651-0555. Someone made a comment on this site about where or who to contact, this organization is a non-profit group and I purchased my last Car from them, Gentle Ted

  • Islander800 That is the best 20-year-on update of the Honda Element that I've ever seen. Strip out the extraneous modern electronic crap that adds tens of thousands to the price and the completely unnecessary 400 pd/ft torque and horse power, and you have a 2022 Honda Element - right down to the neoprene interior "elements" of the Element - minus the very useful rear-hinged rear doors. The proportions and dimensions are identical.Call me biased, but I still drive my west coast 2004 Element, at 65K miles. Properly maintained, it will last another 20 years....Great job, Range Rover!
  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Corey. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
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