Quebec's Obsession With No Frills Cars

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
quebecs obsession with no frills cars

Most estimates put the market share of manual transmission cars in the United States at less than 10 percent. Whether it’s a lowly Nissan Sentra or the mighty Porsche 911 GT3, it seems that Americans just do not want to drive a three pedal transmission. The die hard manual crowd, as vocal as they may be, can’t seem to get anyone to listen to them, for love or money. If only they knew that just a few hours north of Boston, there existed a land where automotive purity was considered as the full contact lap dance.

One of the quirks of the Canadian marketplace is the abundance of “Quebec specials”; stripped out models with no air-conditioning, a manual transmission and little else. It would be unfair to compare these cars to the Nissan Versa S because these are often variants of good cars, like the Honda Fit or the Kia Rio, but other crappier examples are out there as well. Nissan, for example, makes a Sentra with a 6-speed manual and no A/C for sale in Canada and not the United States, solely as a concession to the Quebec market.

Anyone who has peeked inside a row of parked cars in Montreal will know that Quebecers are the last holdout of manual adoration in North America, but the “no A/C” bundle is a bit more puzzling. Contrary to popular belief, it does get hot in Canada. Parts of British Columbia are technically considered desert, while Southern Ontario can be similar to Washington D.C. in the summer (stiflingly humid with temperatures approaching the mid-90s). In most of the country, A/C is a must-have, not only for the summer, but to help quickly defog the front windscreen in the colder months.

Quebec, being Quebec, insists on being the lone holdout, with their consumers demanding a stripper model with three pedals, no A/C while also refusing to speak English or sign Canada’s constitution. What gives?

The big motivator here is, of course, economics. Quebec is not as wealthy as other provinces, while taxes and fuel costs are a good deal higher. Canadians drive more modest cars than Americans, but Quebecers take that a step further, overwhelmingly opting for compact and subcompact cars.

The second factor is also geography. Not everyone lives in Montreal or Quebec City – a decent portion of Quebec is actually further north than the southern part of Greenland, and when you’re that far north, it doesn’t really get hot enough to use air conditioning. Even in less remote locales like Saguenay (a few hours northeast of Montreal), temperatures in June can barely break 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike in America, where internet commenters demand a no-frills small car and then fail to follow through on their promise to buy one, people in Quebec really do buy these things – at one point, 1 in 2 Hyundai Accents in Canada were being sold in Quebec, and you can bet that a good portion of them had three pedals and a block-off plate where the climate control system should have been. Offering a Quebec special is also good for the OEMs. It lets them advertise a rock bottom starting price, while charging around $2,000 more for the next model up, which has air-conditioning and the option of an automatic transmission.

Hyundai’s approach for the Accent is interesting itself. A bare-bones Accent sedan with a manual and no A/C is $13,339, but to get an automatic gearbox and A/C in a sedan body, you have to step up to the $16,749 GL Auto trim. The hatchback offers a bit more flexibility, but just A/C alone on a manual hatchback requires a $2,100 jump from the L hatchback to the GL hatchback.

While these stripper models would fail in America due to being an undeniable marker of poverty, Quebecers embrace their stripped-out econoboxes with open arms, and the OEMs are happy to serve this small but very vocal market segment. No wonder on whether Porsche will be serving this market with a 7-speed 911 sans air-conditioning, but we can still hold out hope that the GT3 RS will return, non

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  • Kjb911 Kjb911 on Jun 16, 2013

    gotta hand it to ford for having a choice for a their pedal in the fiesta, focus, fusion and mustang...not to mention adding a stick to the titanium trim of the focus allowing it across the board with all the bells and whistles while making the ST manual only...interesting though because I have seen a few STs being bought around here and the local dealership has said they cant keep them on the lot...perhaps they will be the savior to the manual crowd

  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Jun 16, 2013

    And even cars WITH standard A/C are different for you folks in "The Great White North": Honda made dual-zone automatic climate-control standard on all the 2013 Accords in the States, but made a manual A/C standard for the lowest-grade Canadian models. Just seems silly to do that, in terms of "economies of scale."

  • Dukeisduke Why the hell doesn't Farley just resign? Why hasn't Bill Ford fired him? I lay all this at Farley's feet.
  • Dukeisduke I tried watching the livestream (I'm a MT+ subscriber), but after 15 minutes of jawing by the presenters, I got bored and turned it off. I may watch it this weekend, when I can fast forward through that stuff, to get to the reveal.
  • Dukeisduke Electric power steering, I assume. First-gen Chevy Cruzes can suffer from similar issues, usually traceable to a flaky battery negative cable, a $10 OEM part. Weird, huh?
  • Kwik_Shift Once 15 Minute Cities start to be rolled out, you won't be far enough away from home to worry about range anxiety.
  • Bobbysirhan I'd like to look at all of the numbers. The eager sheep don't seem too upset about the $1,800 delta over home charging, suggesting that the total cost is truly obscene. Even spending Biden bucks, I don't need $1,800 of them to buy enough gasoline to cover 15,000 miles a year. Aren't expensive EVs supposed to make up for their initial expense, planet raping resource requirements, and the child slaves in the cobalt mines by saving money on energy? Stupid is as stupid does.