Canada's Unique Autoscape
So close and yet so far apart

Canada—the great white North. Home to beavers, Mounties, and the Pontiac Pathfinder. If that model name doesn’t sound familiar to you, there a reason for that. Many Americans don’t realize that your neighbours to the North actually have their own unique automotive history, filled with cars that have never graced the roads of the United States of America.

Contributor Post: Craig Pitman

It may seem odd that America Junior would receive cars that aren’t for sale south of the border. It’s a much smaller market and at first glance doesn’t seem to make sense (or cents?) from a financial standpoint. Car buyers in the land of the maple leaf, in general, buy smaller cars and/or cars at lower price points than Americans do, and we also manufacture cars for sale in Canada, the US, and abroad.

Pontiac Pathfinder

Pathfinder brings to mind Nissan more than Pontiac, but Pontiac was the first to use the name.

Automakers began to realize early on that the cost of manufacturing cars built for Canadians in Canada was ultimately cheaper than shipping in complete cars from outside the country, and that they’d sell more if they were built to suit our specific tastes.

Canadian "Plodge"

Plymouth or Dodge? Nicknamed “Plodges”, Plymouth cars with Dodge front ends were marketed as Dodge models in Canada to keep costs down.

Canada is also a prime market to use as a guinea pig. Canadians are not all that dissimilar to Americans. If you have a new small car and you’re unsure whether it’ll be a sales success on US soil, Canada then becomes an optimal test market. Release a car in Canada, and if it sells well it’s a good indication that Americans will like it too. If it doesn’t, the cost of failure is less for the much smaller market.

This series of posts aims to educate you on some obscure cars you may not have known to exist. And what better place to start than at the beginning.

As was the case elsewhere across the globe, there were many upstart car companies that arose in Canada at the beginning of the 20th century only to fizzle within a couple years. Although they hold a place in Canada’s automotive heritage, I’m going to skip past them to talk about the cars that endured longer.

There is a couple worth mentioning from this time period however, in the early days of the automobile. One is McLaughin-Buick—a carriage making company that struck a deal with Durant motors to produce their Buick cars in Canada, before Buick merged with other brands to become the General Motors empire we’re all familiar with today. Often produced with local, coachbuilt bodies, these cars became synonymous with royalty, often being used by our British overlords when they visited our fine country. This partnership is important, as McLaughin-Buick ultimately became General Motors of Canada. The second is Maxwell Motors, who started building Chrysler-branded cars in 1916. This company became the Chrysler Corporation of Canada in 1924. Ford Motor Company of Canada had already been in operation since 1906.

As General Motors and Chrysler in the US grew larger, the Canadian operations became simply a series of factories building cars from parts shipped from the US—the larger market for the most part dictating the development of future products. The cars were the same on both sides of the border, differing only in the location of the final build. Why not just import complete cars directly from the US? Prior to the 1965 Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), importing complete cars from the US meant they were subject to tariffs which, therefore, made them more expensive and is why the majority of the cars sold in Canada were built there from parts made in the US.

Continue this story on page 2.

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