THE STRONG DOLLAR: CROSS-BORDER AUTO BUYING
Buyers of barred cars can drive home, but no farther
GREG KEENAN AND STEVEN CHASE
November 20, 2007
TORONTO and OTTAWA -- Michael Hill saved $15,000 on a Toyota Sienna minivan, but he can't drive it around Calgary because it's sitting on a dealer's lot 320 kilometres away in Kalispell, Mont.
Mark Perry saved $11,000 on a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck that remains parked in his brother's driveway in Spokane, Wash.
They and dozens of other Canadians have cars and trucks that are stuck in legal limbo because their vehicles don't have a theft immobilization device that meets a new Transport Canada regulation and thus were banned from entering Canada. There's no similar requirement for U.S. cars.
Now, in a bizarre twist in the saga of the high Canadian dollar and low U.S. car prices, cross-border car shoppers can drive their vehicles home, but nowhere else.
Buyers of new vehicles that lack the proper theft immobilization device may now import them, but must park these cars or trucks until Transport Canada finds a permanent solution to the regulatory snafu that prompted the ban. The reprieve may be temporary and the ban put back in place, Transport Canada spokesman Patrick Charette said yesterday, but for now Mr. Hill, Mr. Perry and others are allowed to bring their vehicles home.
"But that doesn't solve the issue," Mr. Charette cautioned. "If their vehicle is not admissible, they will not be able to plate their vehicle and it's not a guarantee that their vehicle will be allowed permanent importation and licensing in Canada."
Ottawa banned vehicles sold by several manufacturers in the United States because they didn't have theft devices that met a new standard established by Transport Canada for vehicles manufactured after Sept. 1. The ban was rescinded after the Canadian Border Services Agency raised the problem of cars being denied entry to Canada, Mr. Charette said.
There are "dozens and dozens and dozens" of Canadians affected, said Robert Lamb of Kirkland, Que., who has a 2008 Honda Civic EXL in his garage that he bought in the United States, but can't drive in Canada. Mr. Lamb is leading a group seeking to persuade Ottawa to eliminate the regulation or find some other way to permit them to drive their vehicles in Canada.
Mr. Charette said Ottawa wants to "find a fair and balanced solution," but declined to elaborate. In the meantime, importers are allowed to drive these vehicles to a parking lot, but won't be able to do much more because they remain in legal limbo.
"Right now we appreciate that there's obviously an issue with the anti-theft immobilizer, but it's the requirement and it was long planned," Mr. Charette said of the new regulation, which Ottawa announced more than two years ago would take effect on Sept. 1.
Blocking U.S. vehicles because of the theft immobilization devices "is discriminatory to Canadians as it is allowing automobile manufacturers to maintain their high pricing structure for new cars in Canada," said Mr. Hill, a Calgary financial consultant who bought a 2008 Sienna last month. "This is either collusion or unintended consequences."
Several auto makers have pointed out that they actually opposed the change in the regulation on theft immobilizers, that discussion of the change first started more than four years ago and that the timing of the new regulation accidentally coincided with the rise in the Canadian dollar.
The list of banned vehicles was broadened last week to include 2008 models manufactured after Sept. 1 and sold in the United States by Ford Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. All 2008 General Motors Corp. models, several Honda Motor Co. Ltd. vehicles and about half of the Toyota Motor Corp. lineup are also affected.
"It was just a matter of timing," Suzuki Canada Inc. spokesman Mike Kurnik said yesterday. Suzuki vehicles sold in the United States either don't have the device or it doesn't meet the new Canadian regulation, he said.
In the case of its models that are inadmissible, Honda Canada Inc. is not aware of a compatible after-market kit that meets government requirements, senior vice-president Jim Miller said yesterday.
"If there is and it is installed the question becomes who is going to certify that the vehicle is compliant with the regulation as no testing has been done?" Mr. Miller said. "Who is responsible for any warranty problems as you are cutting into the wiring system of the vehicle?"
Neither Transport Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency or the Registrar of Imported Vehicles was able to provide a definitive figure - or even a guess - at the number of Canadians who bought vehicles in the United States but were turned back at the border because their cars did not meet the new standard.