Excitement and optimism

Fleet-worthy new vehicles at the Canadian International Auto Show

May 7, 2012
by Tony Whitney

Purchasingb2b March/April 2012 print edition: Fleet Management

In recent times, the news has been good for automakers serving the North American market, despite daunting economic challenges. Consequently, it’s no surprise that the auto industry brought us an impressively wide array of new products this auto show season.

Most of these vehicles, following debuts at Los Angeles, Detroit and other US auto shows, took their Canadian bows at Toronto’s Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS). The show attracted more public interest than ever this year, with a record 316,751 visitors. Most automakers serving our market have been reporting strong sales for the first quarter of 2012, with records in some cases, and judging by the crowds in Toronto, this trend is not showing signs of faltering.

2013 Ford Fusion

Canada’s biggest auto show resonated with excitement and optimism as all-new cars, SUVs, crossovers, trucks and utility vehicles in profusion came out from under wraps. There were scores of newcomers to be seen, mostly for the 2013 model year. There were vehicles of every imaginable type, from tiny urban runabouts to mega-luxury sedans with price tags rivaling those of fair-sized homes in most parts of Canada. We’ll focus on some of the highlights among 2013 vehicles likely to attract interest from the fleet market.

Ford was getting a lot of attention for an all-new 2013 Fusion sedan boasting eye-catching styling and a wide variety of powerplant options. The sleek and practical Fusion is a critical product for Ford and a car that faces intense competition, so it’s not surprising that the company is offering something very unusual in the powertrain department: a choice of three basic types. Fusion buyers can choose from either a conventional EcoBoost engine, a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. All three have their advantages, and buyers will be able to make the choice without moving to other brands. This new Ford will be produced and sold all over the world, often under the Mondeo nameplate.

Ford also showed its new Escape, always a big seller for the automaker and a popular fleet choice for its simplicity and low cost. The Flex crossover has benefited from a work-over too, but it retains its appealing low-slung look. Ford’s upscale division, Lincoln, took the wraps off its new mid-sized MKZ, which is a cousin of the Fusion and is also available with a hybrid drivetrain.

Toyota Prius

Upscale rival Cadillac was also showing a mid-sized product—the XTS—which should give this GM division a foothold in the entry-level luxury segment. Both these models are likely to attract buyers looking for executive fleet contenders with domestic nameplates.

At the lower price points, Chevrolet aroused a lot of interest with its tiny Spark hatchback, which slots in below the larger Sonic (see Roadtest feature on page 15). Also on view were several versions of the 2013 Malibu sedan.

Acura unveiled its ILX sedan, a new entry-level compact from this luxury nameplate and a distant relation of the Honda Civic. Three powertrain choices are available for the ILX, including a hybrid, so this is another product with upscale pretensions combined with low running costs.
Honda showed a concept of its next Accord Coupe and although two-door vehicles are not popular fleet choices, this vehicle does give us a hint of what a future Accord sedan will look like. It’s a “tease” Honda has used before at auto shows.

Toyota’s Prius family continues to grow. Prominent at its displays in Toronto were the extensively revised basic Prius, the inexpensive Prius c, and the company’s new plug-in hybrid (PHV). The Prius PHV can be used like an electric car on short trips, but has a gasoline engine for charging when needed. It’s possibly a “best of all worlds” concept. The compact-but-roomy Prius c will be the most affordable hybrid on the Canadian market and could attract even more fleet use than the larger version enjoys. On an even more economical note, Toyota revealed its all-electric RAV4—the only SUV on the market that falls into the pure EV category.

2013 Dodge Dart

Kia showed off its new entry-level Rio, which though a conventional gasoline-engined hatchback or sedan, has hybrid-like fuel economy. It also stands as one of the best-looking subcompacts on the market right now.

Dodge used the CIAS to debut its new Dart sedan, which borrows from Chrysler partner Fiat for much of its technology. It promises a lot of car for less than $16,000, and could reinforce Chrysler’s marketplace revival. The segment the Dart competes in accounts for 21 percent of car sales in this country, so it faces plenty of rivals. Italian car fans in Toronto were trying to wistfully imagine this attractive sedan with an Alfa Romeo nose job, because that’s where its origins lie. Even so, the “Alfa DNA” is worth having.

Volkswagen brought its refreshed CC to the CIAS, an updated version of the car that many said was the best-looking VW in the company’s long history. Leaning heavily on the four-door coupe design philosophy, it looks a lot like a Mercedes-Benz CLS, but costs less than half its price. The build quality is outstanding too. Volkswagen also had a Jetta hybrid at the show—a surprise to those who thought the company’s path to more sustainable vehicles involved only diesels.

Nissan eNV200

Subaru gave visitors a glimpse of its new XV urban crossover, but the main aim of this display was to gauge public interest before taking the plunge into full distribution here. It’s sold in other markets already, but we’ll have to wait for a decision from Subaru as to whether Canadians will be able to buy this appealing and practical rig.

One of the most intriguing cargo-carriers seen in Toronto was Nissan’s e-NV200 commercial van—a concept electric version of a gasoline-engined product that will soon be reaching the Canadian market. The NV200 is clearly aimed at a market slot occupied by the Ford Transit Connect. It’s good to see some options coming along for fleet managers and users who can’t find happiness in either pickup trucks or full-size vans.      b2b

See also “Electric Avenue” for more CIAS coverage.