2010? Why can't I buy a super-efficient non-hybrid car right now?

Brian Smallshaw

I am delighted to see more hybrid cars on the roads these days; here on tiny Saltspring Island there are said to be more than 35 on the road, and in nearby Victoria it seems that a good proportion of the taxis on the roads are Priuses. This is great and I'd love to buy one myself, but a new Prius costs $31,280 and a Honda Civic Hybrid costs $26,250. I can't afford that, but I could afford to buy one of super-efficient conventional cars that are available in Europe and Japan. These cars are available right now, and I could walk into a Tokyo showroom today and buy a Honda Fit that costs under $18K, seats four, meets Canadian crash test standards and gets over 60mpg. They sell the Honda Fit in Canada, but with a bigger, less fuel-efficient 1500cc engine.

Links to information on some of these vehicles can be found in an earlier blog posting:

Canada's New Government's Dirty Air Act has promised us fuel efficiency regulations by 2010. What's with this? Why can't I buy these right now? Is this an effort to protect Ford and GM, which might be doing even worse than they are now if we had fuel efficiency regulations?

It seems that despite the efforts of our government, the free market may be finding a solution: direct imports of used vehicles from Japan. Under current regulations, vehicles 15 years old and older can be imported with almost no restrictions. A number of entrepreneurs have begun importing all sorts of interesting vehicles from Japan, from small trucks to super-efficient microcars with engines of 660cc or less.


These are appearing with increasing frequency on our roads here in BC, and talking with my local ICBC agent here on Saltspring yesterday, she said she'd personally registered three of these vehicles in the past month. In our local paper this week, there is an article on two friends of mine with their recently purchased 1990 Nissan Pao, a funky little 'retro' vehicle that I remember from my days in Japan - they are reporting highway mileage of 69mpg, and in addition to being almost unbearably cute, the Pao is incredibly practical.


They got theirs from:
in New Westminster.

I'm glad there are business people stepping forward with a means to workaround the backwardness of government, but it's not a perfect solution. Vehicles intended for the Japanese market are left-hand drive; those who are driving them here say that you actually adjust pretty quickly to driving a 'wrong-hand drive' vehicle, but it would obviously be better not to have to make that adjustment. Also, though Japanese vehicles tend to be very well looked after and have to pass rigourous shaken inspections every couple of years, buying a 15 year old vehicle is not the same as buying a new vehicle.

In any case, our ancient Tercel 4WD wagon is reasonably fuel-efficient and has served us well, but it is getting pretty decrepit. I'm seriously considering getting one of these vehicles to replace it.