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The corporate logo of Toyota Motor Corp. shines on a vehicle on display at the company's showroom in Tokyo Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. Toyota said Wednesday it is recalling about 550,000 vehicles worldwide, mostly in the United States for problems that could make it harder to steer.Junji Kurokawa

Paul Timoteo wants you to buy the pricing reports he sells at and to tweak your interest – and mine – he does not shy away from controversy.

So when I asked him about the sales woes at prominent Japanese auto makers and what that means for buyers, he launched into quite the critique.

"It's amazing," said the president of The Japanese always have excuses for low sales. Tsunamis, parts shortages, floods, etc. It's never, 'We rested on our laurels for too long and the competition is now kicking our butt'."


The reality is that the Toyotas and Hondas of the world haven't seen their sales slide like this for a full generation. Going back three decades, the Toyota and Honda stories have been about uninterrupted sales gains and near-beatification by the truly committed and, ironically, the marginally initiated or those who cast a less critical eye on the entire auto industry.

What I mean is, rabid Toyota and Honda apologists come angrily out of the woodwork at the slightest criticism of their beloved companies. And those who take a fairly cursory interest in the car business generally just assume that if it's a Toyota or a Honda, it is by definition excellent and immune from criticism. The brands are that strong and they have served millions of owners well enough to create these powerful images of unquestioned quality and performance.

Toyota and Honda do, indeed, make excellent vehicles, reliable and safe ones for the most part. But the facts also point to an emerging problem at Toyota at least five years ago.

I wrote about Toyota's recall problems in 2006 and the Globe ran a cover story picture of a then-humbled CEO of Toyota publicly apologizing for quality woes – and promising to do better. Since then, Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide for various problems, the most recent coming this week. It involved a recall of 550,000 Toyotas.

Honda has also recalled shocking numbers of vehicles in recent years, though compared to Toyota, Honda has been generally flying under the radar. Honda is, indeed, the No. 1 mainstream manufacturer for quality in J.D. Power's and Associates latest study, but not all Hondas are perfect. Toyota also remains atop various quality studies, but can no longer be given a so-called free pass.

Yes, we're going to see just how good these companies can operate in a crisis, and when facing competent and aggressive competition. The once moribund auto companies in Detroit are displaying a new-found interest in making cars that masses of buyers might actually want to buy.

Hyundai and Kia, meantime, have fuel efficient, high-tech vehicles with a quality and design story of their own to tell. And no one should ignore Volkswagen, either; the big German manufacturer is finally, finally giving focused attention on designing and building cars for North Americans.

Here are some other facts: Toyota brand sales are down 10.8 per cent in Canada this year; Honda brand sales are down 15.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Kia Canada's sales are up 21.4 per cent; Hyundai Canada's sales are up 9.2 per cent.

Ford's sales in Canada are up 3.6 per cent and Ford is the No. 1 auto maker by sales. Volkswagen is up 19.9 per cent; Chrysler Canada is up 14 per cent; and General Motors, despite slashing four of its eight brands coming out of bankruptcy, is holding its own, with sales in Canada up 0.1 per cent.

Those who go digging will find interesting and illuminating stories behind the numbers and earthquakes and tsunamis and floods do come into play in a very big way. That said, Toyota and Honda have never had to operate in this sort of pressure cooker, at least not in North America. And neither has had to play the deal-making game to such an extent. Never.

For the consumer looking to save money, the offers remain rich but not always easy to find and understand.

"If anything, the incentives are as big as ever. But sometimes they're quite subtle," says Timoteo. "For example, you can now buy or lease a new 2012 Civic for less than a comparably equipped (Hyundai) Elantra, (Chevrolet) Cruze or (Ford) Focus.

"How? Lower MSRPs (manufacturer suggested retail price), higher residuals, lower lease rates and $1,000 cash rebate. It all adds up to a very attractive deal, whether you are financing or leasing. Civics haven't leased with payments this low for years."

Those who go digging will find that some of the best deals from the Japanese auto companies are on some of "the most popular models.

"Leftover 2011 Toyota Corolla, Matrix and RAV4 are a great deals at from $2,000 to $4,000 in rebates, depending on model and dealer discounts. A little long in the tooth, but if you don't care, they are a great deal."

Mazda is launching the updated 2012 Mazda3, but if you can find a leftover 2011 Mazda3, will find that on all but the base model there is "a choice of $3,000 cash or 0 per cent over 84 months. Pretty tough to beat on a solid car that went through a fairly big refresh in 2010 and is still one of the best driving small cars on the market," says Timoteo.

The market is also rich with deals on full-size pickups of all makes.

"It seems that getting a minimum of $10,000 off the price is simply the new starting point, even on many of the 2012s," he says.

"Same for the 2011 and 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan. I can't see how they can continue to sell this van for under $20,000, especially with all the improvements they've made over the past year or two. No wonder they continue to dominate this market."

Shy he's not, this Paul Timoteo. Have a look at the details on these four deals.

As usual, Deals of the Week obtained pricing information from, among other sources. Here are the numbers:

  • MSRP: $37,245
  • Freight, dealer prep, air conditioning tax: $1,500
  • Dealer discount (estimated): $1,500
  • Factory discount: $10,000 (Consumer Cash Discount factory-to-dealer rebate)
  • Taxable subtotal: $27,245
  • Total price with 13 per cent HST: $30,786.85

  • MSRP: $24,074
  • Freight, air conditioning tax and dealer prep: $1,490
  • Dealer discount: $900
  • Taxable subtotal: $24,664
  • Total price with 13 per cent HST: $27,870.32
  • Factory discount: $1,250 (Consumer Cash factory-to-consumer rebate)
  • Factory discount: $2,750 (Non-stackable Cash Discount factory-to-consumer rebate for cash purchases)
  • Final price: $23,870.2
  • Note: 0.0 per cent finance rate for up to three years is available

  • MSRP: $27,995
  • Freight, dealer prep and air conditioning tax: $1,500
  • Dealer discount (estimated): $500
  • Factory discount: $8,000 (Consumer Cash factory-to-dealer rebate)
  • Taxable subtotal: $20,995
  • Total price with 13 per cent HST: $23,724.35
  • Note: 4.99 per cent financing for up to 96 months

  • MSRP: $20,795
  • Freight, dealer prep and air conditioning tax and Green Levy: $1,595
  • Dealer discount (estimated): $600
  • Factory discount: $3,000 (Mazda Retail Cash factory-to-dealer rebate)
  • Taxable subtotal: $18,790
  • Total price with 13 per cent HST: $21,232.70
  • Factory rebate: $250 (Owner Loyalty factory-to-customer rebate)
  • Final price: $20,982.70