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MONTREAL, Quebec — Of the Big 3 automakers, the one that appears to be in the "best shape" is Ford, while General Motors is still dealing with a few quality issues and Chrysler remains in a "holding pattern," according to the Automobile Protection Association, a Canadian nonprofit association.

In its Annual Review of the Auto Industry released this week, APA examined a few trends within the industry, including a "Carmaker roundup" that discussed how some of the automakers are faring in Canada.

Looking at domestics first, the report indicated that "Ford is in the best shape among the domestic carmakers, with competitive midsize cars and SUVs like the Fusion and Edge. Canadian sales are likely to increase with the arrival of the subcompact Fiesta this summer and a new Focus next year."

Not to mention, Ford's new vehicles have become more reliable each year since 2007, officials noted.

As far as GM, the automaker boasts such "appealing" models as Chevrolet's Malibu and Equinox, but several vehicles in its lineup are still challenged by "quality issues."

These include quality issues with steering, front brake and electronic components, and these often lead to heavier maintenance and repair costs, APA emphasized.

Officials added: "Chrysler is in a holding pattern this year, with a lackluster line of small vehicles and not much new to offer for another year or two."

Moving on, APA examined several import automakers, as well, including Toyota, which obviously has been the center of the attention in the auto world as of late.

APA suggested that the unintended acceleration is most likely spurred by two causes: "interference between the pedal and floor mat and pedal misapplication, because of an incompatibility between the Toyota accelerator pedal on certain vehicles and 'pantsaver' style mats installed by owners in winter."

The reason for other incidents has not been figured out, and it will likely stay this way "due to a lack of investigation when first reported by consumers, in many cases attributable to Toyota and its dealers."

That said, most Toyota vehicles are still recommended by the association. However, Toyota has seen it quality decline "a bit" lately, and some redesigned model launches weren't "trouble-free."

However, the automaker's models still boast "superior reliability and low operating costs," said APA director George Iny. Not to mention, Toyota's resale values are still "better than average" even though they have fallen slightly.

But, in light of "Toyota's conduct" during sudden acceleration investigation, it has become apparent that Canada has some problems when it comes to examining safety malfunctions, according to APA. With that in mind, APA offered four recommendations:

—"Dealers should be required to log complaints about potential safety defects reported by their customers and file them with Transport Canada," officials suggested. "Toyota dealers made early reports of unintended acceleration 'disappear' by not recording them, or telling owners their cars were OK without investigating further."

—"Automakers must have field engineers on staff or on contract to investigate reports of safety defects. Until recently, Toyota had no engineers available in Canada to investigate field reports of sudden acceleration, even when incidents resulted in a collision," APA noted. "Iny called this situation 'irresponsible' and a possible violation of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which makes it the carmaker's duty to ensure the safety of its products.

—"Canadian law requires automakers to notify Transport Canada when they become aware of a safety defect. The APA says the language in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act may need to be reviewed to require cooperation with the government during an investigation," the association suggested.

Officials claimed: "Toyota appears to have concealed from both American and Canadian regulators the fact that several models were equipped with onboard event data recorders that record data like accelerator and brake pedal position in the seconds before an impact. Had Toyota or the government been able to download data after the early reports of collisions, it would have helped identify the cause of complaints, and possibly rule out electronic interference issues."

—"Transport Canada needs more resources for its small defect investigations department. This includes adding a couple of engineers with a specialty in vehicle electronics, and ensuring it has the bench strength to handle the recall investigations that go critical every four of five years and result in a large influx of reports," officials suggested. 

Iny went on to suggest that an unnecessary "shadow" now hangs over other automakers' recalls, due to how Toyota dealt with its unintended acceleration issues. APA alleges that Toyota's Canadian executives haven't been very detailed about what the automaker needs to do on a corporate or dealer level as far as being more "responsive" to safety issues.

"Toyota's insistence that there are only five complaints for 'sticky' accelerators — while true — is self-serving and lacking in candor, given the much higher number of reports of unintended acceleration for other causes including undetermined causes," officials commented.

A comprehensive technical solution tackling the acceleration problem must consider drives potentially applying the wrong pedal, as they gas and brake pedals are in proximity and the driver cannot see them while looking at the road, said Iny.

Officials also pointed out that Canadian drivers are more prone to put rubber floor mats in their vehicles during winter, so floor and pedal designers should bear that in mind when dealing with Canadian-market vehicles.

"The APA predicts that now that Toyota is sharing its event data retrieval equipment with government investigators in the US and Canada, it will likely take another 6 months to a year to definitively identify the causes of unintended acceleration," APA added.

Moving on, Iny noted that even though the media has been flooded with recall news, the overall quality and value proposition for vehicles — both new and used — is "good" this year.

APA also called 2010 a "transition year." Officials said automakers are running neck-and-neck to roll out "new, friendlier" SUVs that are put together on lighter car platforms. These vehicles are designed to cause less damage to other vehicles during collisions.

As far as smaller vehicles, the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube are some of the more "innovative" models, in addition to the soon-to-be-launched Ford Fiesta and Mazda2.

The APA did say it was a bit troubled by what it considers to be lower standards when it comes to new-vehicle advertising.

For example, Chrysler's 84- and 96-month loan offers may look attractive to shoppers, "but will leave consumers owing thousands if they try to sell the car to pay off the loan early."

APA also had some concerns with the biweekly and weekly payments being offered in some advertisements.

"Consumers are used to budgeting with monthly payments," Iny stated. "Weekly payments make the deal look cheaper, when it may not be."

The association also took issue with some luxury lease deals that put $350 to $600 monthly payment options in bold print.

"To get those monthly payments, says the APA, you may have to add over $5,000 in initial payments, fees and charges buried in the fine print, and the total for up-front money should appear in the bold print next to the monthly payment," APA stated. "Price advertising by used-car dealers in Quebec, on the other hand, is much more transparent, and proves it is possible to advertise with integrity, says the APA."

Offering a report on some other automakers, APA talked about how European OEMS are faring.

Interestingly enough, Canada has not seen the same weakness in luxury sales that has been prevalent in other Western economies. In fact, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have been reporting record sales. They have been pushed by strong performances in entry-level sedans such as the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4, as well as strength from compact SUVs (Mercedes GLK).

"The German luxury automakers now offer four-wheel drive almost exclusively on their Canadian market sedans and are attracting customers from other luxury brands like Acura, Volvo and Jaguar," officials noted.

"The APA says the competition is so intense that it's possible to lease an entry-level car from a German automaker for similar or less money than a loaded Japanese intermediate," they added. "Cadillac will have to wait for a return to leasing in Canada to be truly competitive."

Meanwhile, looking at more affordable European brands, APA no longer includes Volkswagen on its "list of vehicles to avoid," as several models in its lineup have shown average or better reliability. In fact, the majority of VW's lineup leads their respective classes as far as performance, comfort and safety.

Moving on to Asian brands, Hyundai and Kia, in particular, have emerged quite rapidly in light of consumers putting more of an emphasis on value in purchases.

APA said that all new vehicles from both brands "offer superior value." Not to mention, customers are complaining less about the redesigned models Hyundai than they are about units from other Japanese brands.

"Hyundai recently declared its intention to post best-in-class fuel economy in every segment it competes," the association stated.

"That's no small feat as it will mean making vehicles that use less fuel than Honda and Toyota, and will certainly require the automaker to introduce a hybrid. Kia offers innovative designs with democratic pricing," officials added. "APA particularly likes the Rondo which is rated best in its class, and the Soul, which is a unique vehicle."