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2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Joe Lawrence is a smiling and happy man.

April was Porsche Canada's best sales month ever, with 2011 first-quarter sales up 40 per cent since the company announced wholesale price cuts in January and the company has enjoyed record sales for eight of the last nine months. Lawrence, Porsche Canada's president and CEO, says it has much to do with those price cuts that started as currency credits.

"I've found you get a lot of fence sitters - they're going to buy the vehicle, but it feels better to look to the U.S. and see they paid close to what was paid there," said Lawrence in an exclusive interview at Porsche Canada headquarters recently. "By lowering prices, you see the results."

On top of costs, profitability and new vehicle sales, Lawrence tracks two numbers closely: the exchange rate, and the number of new or prior year American Porsches imported into Canada. In spring 2008, even after Porsche cut its Canadian list prices by an average eight per cent the previous September, there were about nine new Porsches being imported from the U.S. for every 10 new Porsches sold here, said Lawrence.

That number is now down to one or two, and there are always going to be a few due to colour or availability issues, says Porsche, so the grey market issue has basically been resolved along with the resultant battles over warranty coverage.

Porsche Canada sales were already very strong last year and making a case to reduce prices was not an easy argument to win with Porsche AG.

"You have to look at the voices from our customers, and those voices are echoed by our dealer network," said Lawrence. "Everyone's happier, and you gain a lot on the volume what you lose per unit."

Some customers were really happy with the price cuts, because they had already ordered the vehicles - and sometimes paid for them - so they received unexpected cheques from Porsche for $5,000 to $11,000 after the fact. Many manufacturers and dealers would not want to surrender this profit.

Yet while most car makers eventually followed Porsche's lead when the dollar hit par in 2007, very few Canadian auto makers have announced plans to do so this time including, most glaringly, Porsche's rival luxury manufacturers.

However, even with the Porsche Canada price cuts, achieved by aligning its option packaging to more closely line up with its American counterpart, Porsche Canada vehicles are still notably more expensive. For example, a base Porsche Cayenne starts at $47,700 (U.S.), but $55,900 in Canada.

It could be closer, but it's close enough to discourage those willing to pay the 6.1 per cent duty at the border. Most buyers would no longer bother with the hassles involved.

Toyota denies Prius going plug-in only

Toyota will make all its Prius hybrids plug-in capable vehicles in 2014 - and for about the same price as today's Prius hatchback, according to Japan's Nikkei business daily.

However, a Toyota U.S. spokesperson subsequently denied the report, saying that the company doesn't think most buyers will be willing to pay more for a plug-in Prius. "We see this market as being a small percentage of our hybrid market," says John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota told USA Today. "We don't see it as a car for everybody."

The plug-in Prius is expected to go on sale in 2012, with a much smaller battery and shorter all-electric range than the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. The PHEV Prius offers 22.5 km of gas-free driving, and it will cost $5,000 to $8,000 more than the current one, estimated a Toyota U.S. spokesperson.

It's too early to know if that price estimate will apply to Canadian Prius PHEVs, but it will be the new green car benchmark of the Toyota line when it launches. You can be sure there'll be a premium for that.

i-MiEV's next stops: Ontario and Alberta

Mitsubishi also had its best April sales month ever in Canada - and it recently announced that it will deliver various Euro-spec i-MiEV electric vehicles to fleets in Ontario and Alberta starting in early June in advance of the EV's Canadian launch in late fall.

The small four-door subcompact Mitsu hatchback is already being tested by fleets in Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba, but the new ones coming to Toronto, Burlington and Calgary will be the first models to sport the slightly wider European body, which is what North Americans will likely receive by the end of this year.

The vehicles are scheduled to arrive for Canadian Environment week (June 5-11), and will go to test fleets belonging to the City of Toronto, ENMAX Energy Corporation and Eaton Corporation.

Jaguar to build million-dollar C-X75 exotic hybrid with Williams F1 team

Jaguar has teamed up with the Williams Formula One team to produce a hybrid supercar, a street-going version of the low displacement, high power Jaguar C-X75 concept car unveiled at the Paris show last year.

The Porsche 918-fighting Jaguar C-X75 - or whatever it will be called - will cost about £700,000, said the Williams team recently, or about $1.1 million Canadian. It will be the most expensive Jaguar ever built, and the most exclusive, with only 250 planned for production. The C-X75 will be more rare than Jag's last supercar project, the beautiful but commercially plagued XJ220 of the early 1990s.

The car will be built in the U.K., with a 0-96 km/h target of less than three seconds, and a top speed of more than 322 km/h. All this with two powerful electric motors that will help propel the low-slung Jag to 50 km worth of all-electric driving, thanks to its lightweights carbon-fibre chassis.