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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 ...

Also, take note in Toronto of the cutthroat competition among the car companies. In 2003, Ford, GM and Chrysler were stampeding to bankruptcy – a U.S. Chapter 11 story that culminated in court and government protection for GM and Chrysler. Ford has tried not to be smug about avoiding bankruptcy, but we all know that the company only just escaped the gallows thanks to some savvy borrowing practices prior to the 2008-2009 financial collapse. But now, the Detroit Three are profitable and intent on reinventing themselves with all-new models that look nothing like the tired ideas they had in showrooms a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia, when combined, represent Canada’s fourth largest auto retailing group, ahead of Toyota with its three brands – Toyota, Lexus and Scion. Five years ago, DesRosiers notes that these two were together moving barely 100,000 vehicles off dealer lots. Last year, Kia and Hyundai had combined sales of 214,083 (77,800 for Kia and 136,283 for Hyundai). These two South Korean brands from the same parent company out-sold Toyota/Lexus/Scion (192,058) in Canada. The Japanese have noticed and are fighting back with new models (the 2013 Honda Civic comes to mind), but the point is that the marketplace has expanded with many more choices from many more viable car companies.

Finally, this Toronto show contains a message about quality that is reflected in the latest reliability study from Consumer Reports. What’s clear from the research is that traditional mechanical systems are improving, says CR’s auto testing boss Jake Fisher, and that the overall problem rate across the industry is similar to five years ago.

But the industry would be able to boast big quality gains if only it were not so challenged by electronic problems. They’re increasing with the complexity of the latest models and no one company is immune to this issue. Anyone using the Toronto show as a shopping trip will want to look closely at not so much mechanical issues, but the ease of use and reliability of all those various gizmos and gadgets that dominate today’s new models.

Ten years ago, the floor of the Toronto auto show was a mix of mid-size sedans, small sedans, pickups and largely truck-based SUVs, almost none equipped with alternative power trains or advanced electronics such as voice-activated command systems, touch screen displays and crystal clear sound systems that can make your ears bleed.

And a decade ago, the Detroit companies were racing to oblivion, the Japanese were ascendant, the Koreans were a blip and the Germans were mostly about fancy luxury cars and dare we say arrogance. Today, Detroit makes money and continues to rebuild product lines with highly, highly competitive models. The Japanese today are fighting to reclaim the lost market share of the past several years, but they won’t have an easy time of it, and not just because Detroit is back in the game. Indeed, the Germans have swallowed their pride and seeing rich profits are moving down-market and challenging old ideas about luxury brands. In doing so, they are chasing young buyers. And did I mention that the Korean car companies are real and aggressive competitors, where once they were merely the butt of jokes?

Oh, how things have changed since Liberal Jean Chretien was ending his run as prime minister. Today’s PM, Conservative Stephen Harper, is as much a Chretien contrast as the cars of the 2013 Toronto show are to what we had in 2003.

For more Toronto AutoShow coverage, please click here.

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