The Automobile Protection Association Issues Its Annual Review of the Auto
Industry

MONTREAL, March 24 /CNW Telbec/ - APA Director George Iny said that despite all the media attention over safety recalls, the value proposition in 2010 is very good. This is a transition year for the industry. Carmakers are racing to introduce new, friendlier, sport utility vehicles built on lighter car platforms that will wreak less damage on the vehicles they hit in a collision. There are some innovative smaller vehicles like the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube, with more to come shortly, like the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2.

The APA expressed dismay over the decline in standards for new vehicle advertising. Chrysler is now pushing very long 84 and 96-month loans which promise low payments, but will leave consumers owing thousands if they try to sell the car to pay off the loan early. Also more prevalent in this year's new car ads are bi-weekly and even weekly payments. "Consumers are used to budgeting with monthly payments," said APA's George Iny. "Weekly payments make the deal look cheaper, when it may not be."

Carmaker roundup

Ford is in the best shape among the domestic carmakers, with competitive mid-size cars and crossovers like the Fusion and Edge. Canadian sales are likely to increase with the arrival of the subcompact Fiesta this summer and a new Focus next year. GM has appealing products like the Malibu sedan and Chevrolet Equinox SUV, but quality issues linger on several models. Chrysler is in a holding pattern, with lacklustre small cars and most changes a year or two away.

Canada is a big exception to the weak market for luxury vehicles in most western economies. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have been breaking records thanks to high sales of entry-level sedans like the BMW 3-series and Audi A4, and compact SUVs like the Mercedes GLK. The APA says the competition is so intense that it's possible to lease an entry-level car from a German automaker for similar or less money than a loaded Japanese intermediate.

Volkswagen is now off APA's list of vehicles to avoid. The APA says VW's reliability has improved to average or better for several models, and most VW products rate at the top of their class for performance, finish and safety. Hyundai and Kia experienced explosive growth in the last year, as consumers looked more closely for value in their purchases. All the new Hyundai and Kia products offer superior value and several redesigned Hyundai models have generated fewer complaints recently than their Japanese rivals. Kia offers innovative designs with democratic pricing; APA particularly likes the Rondo which is rated best in its class.

... and then there's Toyota

Toyota has attracted a lot of media attention because of the controversy surrounding reports of unintended acceleration with its vehicles. The APA believes the two most frequent causes for unintended acceleration are 1) interference between the pedal and floormat, because of an incompatibility between the Toyota accelerator pedal on certain vehicles and floormats installed by owners for winter and 2) pedal misapplication. For other incidents, the cause is undetermined and will likely remain so, due to a lack of investigation when first reported by consumers.

The APA continues to recommend most Toyota models. The automaker's quality has slipped a bit recently, and launches of some redesigned models like the 2007 Camry and 2009 Corolla were not trouble-free, but the APA's Iny says Toyotas continue to offer superior reliability and low operating costs. Resale values have slipped a bit but continue to be significantly better than average.

However, the APA says Toyota's conduct during the sudden acceleration investigation has exposed weaknesses in the way Canada investigates safety defects. The APA is recommending the following changes:

    
    - Dealers should be required to log complaints about potential safety
      defects reported by their customers and file them with Transport
      Canada. Toyota dealers made early reports of unintended acceleration
      "disappear" by not recording them, or telling owners their cars were OK
      without checking further.

    - Automakers must have field engineers on staff or on contract to
      investigate reports of safety defects. Until recently, Toyota had no
      engineers available in Canada to investigate field reports of sudden
      acceleration made by consumers. Iny called this situation
      "irresponsible" and a possible violation of the Motor Vehicle Safety
      Act, which makes it the carmaker's duty to ensure the safety of its
      products.

    - Canadian law requires automakers to notify Transport Canada when they
      become aware of a safety defect. The APA says the language in the Motor
      Vehicle Safety Act may need to be reviewed to determine if it requires
      cooperation with the government during an investigation. Had Toyota
      informed the government it was possible to download data from its
      vehicles earlier, it would have helped identify the causes of
      incidents, and possibly resolve suspected electronic interference
      issues.

    - Transport Canada needs more resources for its small defect
      investigations department. This includes adding a couple of engineers
      specialized in vehicle electronics, and ensuring it has adequate
      staffing to handle the large recall investigations that go critical
      every four of five years and result in a large influx of reports.
    

According to George Iny, Toyota's response in the sudden acceleration file has cast an unwarranted shadow over recalls from other carmakers. APA's Iny says a comprehensive technical solution to address the unintended acceleration problem needs to take into account the potential for pedal misapplication, because the gas and brake pedals are located close together and outside of the field of view of the driver; Canadian owners are also more than likely to install rubber floormats in winter, so the floor and pedals need to be compatible with them on Canadian-market vehicles.

    
    The news conference will be held:
    ---------------------------------

    Date :      Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Heure :     10 h 30

    Lieu :      Salon du président
                Centre des sciences de Montréal
                (corner of de la Commune and Saint-Laurent)
    

The owner of a Camry Hybrid that experienced two unintended acceleration events will be present at the conference with his vehicle and will be available for an interview.

SOURCE AUTOMOBILE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (APA)

For further information: For further information: George Iny; Antoinette Greco, Association pour la protection des automobilistes (APA), (514) 273-1662, (514) 867-1662, apamontreal@apa.ca

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AUTOMOBILE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (APA)

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