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Canada to get Smarts, different GM models

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08:30 March 12, 2004)

Wanna Get Smart? Go north, to Canada, for cars we can’t get

By ALEX LAW

CANADA HAS ALWAYS HAD A FEW CARS that the United States didn’t get, but there has never been anything like the current situation, with more than a dozen unique models either on the market or coming. And thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, some of those vehicles could be owned by Americans.

The Canada-only models reflect a different economic situation, since Canadians generally have less disposable wealth than Americans, thanks to higher income taxes (to pay for such things as universal health care) and higher fuel taxes. They often buy smaller and more fuel-efficient models, and fewer luxury cars. In response, car companies have always equipped their models differently to suit Canadians, but then, about a decade ago, they started to create unique Canada-market models.

Mercedes-Benz launched the Classic lineup of C-Class models in the early ’90s, taking stuff out of the regular base car to drop the entry-level price. In a variation on the theme, Honda Canada added content to the Civic sedan in 1996 and created the Acura EL.

Later this year, Nissan will bring the inexpensive X-Trail sport/utility vehicle to Canada, and Jaguar will debut the X-Type Estate (wagon). Clever U.S. consumers who want a Smart in their driveway by this summer—well in advance of the mid-2006 introduction of the Smart ForMore mini-SUV in the U.S.—would do well to consult with importers who have already received approval to bring Canadian Smart micro-cars into the States, the trade paper Automotive News reports.

No company has bigger plans for Canada-unique models than General Motors.

Historically, that meant little more than putting a Pontiac badge on a Chevrolet, a strategy that continues today with the Pontiac Pursuit, based on the Chevrolet Cobalt sedan. Canada also gets its own batch of GM-badged Daewoos and a low-priced version of the GMC Jimmy SUV.

That was all prelude to what GM is about to do with its revamped minivan lineup to accommodate Canadians. When the Chevrolet Uplander and Pontiac Montana SV6 ‘‘crossover sport vans’’ replace the Venture and Montana minivans later this year in the United States, they’ll all sit on the long-wheelbase version of the chassis. But Canada will get regular-wheelbase models with unique looks (mainly an unseen D-pillar at the rear), since about half of GM’s minivan buyers north of the border prefer the shorter version.

Theoretically, once these cars are even slightly used, they can be exported from Canada to the United States. It’s not always easy and not as inexpensive as it used to be. But any dealer or importer worth his or her salt should be able to help you if you really want a car that no one south of the border owns.

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