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2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle) (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle) (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

Canadian International Auto Show

The end of boring: Auto industry has reinvented itself Add to ...

While we’re talking about the Germans, collectively they have thoroughly shaken up the marketplace. Porsche sold more than 3,000 cars in Canada last year, which is unheard of, and is pushing for 4,000 and 5,000 later this decade. Yes, the latest 911 Carrera4 is here and just arriving in dealerships now, but this is also a relatively thrifty 911 – with lightweight materials, stop-start systems and other tips of the hat to lowering Porsche’s footprint on the planet. You will find all the other car companies doing much the same in terms of introducing lightweight materials, aerodynamic designs and efficient powertrains.

The Germans are also leading the charge to bring in younger buyers. They are doing so by pushing down-market with vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class wagon (less than $30,000 to start) and the four-cylinder Mercedes CLA. Mercedes, BMW and Audi have made no secret of their desire to target buyers in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. This group, said Daimler CEO Dieter Zetche at the recent Detroit auto show, rivals the aging baby boomers in size and cannot be ignored.

As the industry publication Automotive News recently noted, “the three German brands say they can offer lower priced models thanks to a combination of streamlined engineering and manufacturing operations that can produce vehicles at lower cost. The weakening of the euro’s value against the dollar as Europe’s financial crisis has ground on also makes it easier for the German brands to sell their small, European-built models profitably” in North America.

That largely explains why the Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche brands together sold nearly 90,000 vehicles in Canada last year and will sell even more in 2013. At this year’s Toronto show, these Germans have the metal and they plan to move it – in some cases at the expense of mainstream car companies like Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Honda and others. How? The push down-market represented by cars like the B-Class and the CLA which, on price, compete against the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Honda Accord.

Then we have big pickups. Last year, Ford topped the Canadian sales charts by selling more than 100,000 F-Series pickups, the first time any model in Canada has passed the 100,000 post. The pickup wars will continue with the arrival of new ones from GM (Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra) this year and the ongoing success of the reinvented Ram pickup from the Chrysler Group. And while Toyota does not have the 2014 Tundra on hand, it was recently shown at the Chicago auto show. It’s worth asking Toyota Canada why Chicago got what Toronto didn’t when pickups matter so much to buyers.

Pickups are big, working rigs, and while they represent a huge chunk of the Canadian market, what Canadian retail buyers love even more are car-based crossover and SUVs. I’ve already mentioned little rigs like the Trax and Encore and Honda’s Urban Concept, which is based on the Honda Fit subcompact and is surely coming to showrooms later this year. But there’s more to the story of change than that. By 2016, market forecasters expect the crossover/SUV market to reach 500,000 vehicles a year – or nearly a third of every new light vehicle sold in Canada. In a word, massive.

A decade ago, what we saw in Toronto was a smattering of new crossovers – a Chevrolet Equinox Concept and the production version of the Nissan Murano stand out from 2003 – but truck-based and highly fuel-thirsty SUVs dominated. That’s all changed. Essentially, the truck-based SUV died with the arrival of the latest Ford Explorer. You can still find big SUVs, but they sip fuel carefully compared to those of a decade ago. Case in point: the latest Nissan Pathfinder with its three rows of seats and the impressive fuel economy. Nissan is hardly alone, of course. SUVs, crossovers and wagons like the Prius v and Ford’s C-MAX are steadily replacing boring old sedans. No one expected that in 2003.

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