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driving it home

Mercedes-BenzJACKY NAEGELEN/Reuters

J.D. Power and Associates reports the average vehicle sticker price in Canada is hovering around $31,000 and for that you can expect to drive away in a new ride that will last 320,000 km or more.

Yes, light vehicles have never been better, if you're willing to let longevity be your No. 1 measure of vehicle quality, notes auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

"In fact, in just ten years' time (2002 – 2011), the average vehicle coming off the road showed an odometer gain of approximately 90,000 kilometres (from about 230,000 km in 2002 to 320,000 km in 2011)," he notes in a recent report, adding, "If a single issue has defined change in the aftermarket during the 1990s and 2000s, it is the move to better built, longer lasting, higher quality vehicles."

And here's a second measure of vehicle quality: the actual age of vehicles registered. DesRosiers notes that about two-thirds of all vehicles purchased 11-15 years ago remain on provincial registration rolls today. And nearly a third of the 16-20-year-old vehicles remain in service, too.

The longevity data also argue for Japanese and European nameplates; they are clearly winning the quality race. More than 79 per cent of all 11-15-year-old Japanese nameplates remain on the road today, while 78 per cent of the Europeans remain in service. On the other hand, just 45.7 per cent of Korean nameplates 11-15-years old remain on the road. In the middle are 11-15-year-old vehicles from the Detroit car companies: General Motors at 64.2 per cent, Ford at 56.5 and Chrysler at 56.3.

The point is, the perceived superior quality of Japanese and European brands is backed by facts. Those auto makers have both been building longer-lasting vehicles than Detroit's manufacturers. Canadians have noticed: imports from those regions have been taking an increasing share of the Canadian market over the past couple of decades.

"With the spread of import nameplate vehicles, Canadian consumers have tasted quality," notes DesRosiers.

Here are the raw numbers: in 1990, Detroit nameplates held 79.8 per cent of the Canadian market and even by 2000, Detroit still had a dominating 72.3 per cent share. By 2010, however, Detroit's share had shrunk to 57.3 per cent.

During that same time, Japanese and European imports grew from 22.1 per cent of the market in 1990, to 27.7 per cent in 2000 to 42.7 per cent in 2010. That trend continues in 2012: GM, Ford and Chrysler have all lost market share this year.

I first started reporting and commenting on the auto industry and its products in 1985; I've witnessed this massive shift, year after year, for 27 years. Over and over and over again, I've heard Detroit's auto makers insist that they're making cars and pickups and SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) that are as good or better than the imports.

Unfortunately for Detroit, the facts on vehicle longevity say otherwise.


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