Buyers’ advocacy organization the Automobile Protection Association (APA) released the results of its annual review of the auto industry.
The results show that despite all the media attention over safety recalls, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year.
It’s also shaping up to be a year of transition for the auto industry.
For instance, the APA says carmakers “are racing” to introduce new sport utility vehicles built on lighter car platforms in order to wreak less damage on other vehicles if hit in a collision.
Carmakers are also coming out with innovative smaller vehicles, including the Kia Soul, the Nissan Cube, the Ford Fiesta and the Mazda2.
The review included the APA’s assessment of the status of several of the major automakers.
• In the APA’s view, Ford is in the best shape among domestic carmakers with its mid-size cars and crossovers like the Fusion and Edge.
• GM’s Malibu sedan and Chevrolet Equinox SUV appeal to consumers, 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.
• BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are breaking records in Canada due to high sales of entry-level sedans.
• Volkswagen has improved its reliability, and most of its products rate at the top of their class for performance, finish and safety.
• Hyundai and Kia experienced “explosive growth” in the past year. New products from these automakers offer value to buyers. Several redesigned Hyundai models have generated fewer complaints recently than their Japanese rivals.
The APA says Toyota has attracted significant media attention over the controversy surrounding reports of unintended acceleration with its vehicles.
The APA says it will continue to recommend most Toyota models, though the automaker’s quality has slipped of late.
The APA added that Toyota’s response during the sudden acceleration investigation has exposed weaknesses in the way Canada investigates safety defects.
It recommended a number of changes to improve the investigation situation, including the following:
• Dealers should be required to log complaints about potential safety defects reported by their customers and file them with Transport Canada. The APA claims Toyota dealers made early reports of unintended acceleration “disappear” by not recording them, or telling owners their cars were fine 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. The APA calls this 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 co-operation with the government during an investigation.
• Transport Canada needs more resources for its small defect investigations department. This includes adding engineers specialized in vehicle electronics, and ensuring it has adequate staffing to handle the large recall investigations that emerge every four or five years.
Photo courtesy of Toyota.