Canadians Boosting Montana Car Sales

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Vu Tran of Calgary, Alberta, figures he saved about $14,000 when he recently bought a new car at a Montana dealership. After driving the 400 miles back to Calgary, he told family and friends about the deal and ended up coming back — to help them buy cars.

“What a bonus I got from Montana!” Tran said in a telephone interview.

Placer Motors, where Tran did business, has seen an influx of Canadians looking to take advantage of a hot combination: new cars at sticker prices below what they’d find at home, plus favorable currency-exchange rates. Placer owner Erick Anderson says he’s just one of a number of U.S. automobile dealers reaping the benefits of Canadian trade. There’s even a Web site, www.ucanimport.com, with tips about the process.

“There’s a huge price difference to begin with and then you take the exchange rate — it’s a no-brainer,” Anderson said. A Subaru Tribeca on his lot costs about $35,000, compared to roughly $55,000 in Canada, he said.

Anderson said Canadian business began as a trickle last year and increased, with his company in November selling 17 or 18 cars to people who then drove them north of the border.

Not everyone is happy with these sales.

Under a Subaru of America Inc. policy effective Jan. 3, new cars sold in the United States but registered in Canada no longer will count toward dealers’ bonus payments, spokesman Michael McHale said from company headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J. Ford spokesman Jim Cain said that company also is among those that discourage selling cars destined for Canada.

“Canadian dealers have their own business and we have our business here,” McHale said. “Their job is to sell cars in Canada and our job is to sell cars here, and we’re just trying to make sure we all do our own jobs.”

He did not elaborate on the policy and declined to discuss differences in car prices.

“They want to try to protect the Canadian dealer a little bit,” said Dave Terebessy, a market analyst in Detroit for CSM Worldwide, which forecasts automotive markets.

Anderson has standardized how he handles the Canadian sales.

“We agree on price and everything else before they (Canadian buyers) get here,” he said. “They transfer the money and if for some reason the car is not what they want, I give the money back. Nobody’s wanted the money back.”

Anderson said that over the past year or so he has seen customers from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta, the provincial capital about 600 miles from Helena.

In another border state, the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association of Buffalo, N.Y., reports little evidence of an uptick in new-car sales to Canadians. Restrictions in many franchise agreements stand in the way, said Paul Stasiak, president of the association. Restrictions do not apply to sales of used cars, and in upstate New York there clearly has been an increase in Canadians buying them, Stasiak said.

Tran said his two car-buying visits to Helena were simple.

“I get there and go to sleep and the next day, at the 9 o’clock opening, we go to the dealership,” the machinist said. Sixty to 90 minutes later, Tran said, deals were complete and he was ready to head back to Calgary.

Paperwork for crossing the border with new cars is faxed to the border station well before the buyer gets there, Anderson said.

“If it’s done right, they can drive right through with no headaches,” he said. “If you do it wrong, they’ll be there for days.”

Other than dashboard gauges emphasizing Fahrenheit over Celsius and miles over kilometers, a Subaru sold in the United States is hard to distinguish from one sold in Canada, Anderson said.

For Tran, the minimizing of metric hardly matters. He’s more interested in the finances of car buying.

“You can travel to Montana for one day, you’re back and you’ve saved all that money,” he said.