Toyota in the crosshairs of a class action lawsuit

Car dealers | Customers who pay less have their arms twisted

Do you know the new fashion in the automotive industry? Hint: it is neither aesthetic nor mechanical. It is more strategic. Dealers adamantly refuse to sell vehicles at list price if the customer does not agree to purchase something else at the same time.

Posted at 6:30 am

It can be tire insurance, paint protection film, “replacement value” insurance, winter tires, rim locks. Customers have also received an invoice for standard equipment.

It’s that or nothing.

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) is well aware of this strategy, which is not as marginal as one might think. As proof, it receives complaints “almost every day these days”, says its director, George Iny, who speaks of “fraud” and “predatory behavior”.

Often these very lucrative forced sales of accessories and warranties are imposed on those without a trade-in vehicle.

Sébastien was the first to let me know. After his car was stolen, he had to find another one, and fast. But since he didn’t have a vehicle to sell, the Honda dealer told him straight up that he wasn’t a high-paying customer. Therefore, he was forced to add a number of accessories that increased the bill by $4,000. He felt trapped. Justly.

Without a trade-in vehicle either, Arthur Willett had a similar story at Toyota. He was offered two options: get $800 in options or agree to have the sale turned into a lease. After indicating his preference for the original contract, made months earlier, the sales manager walked out of the room. He came back with a stack of files. He “he told me that more than 50 people were waiting for a Corolla Cross and that he would prefer another customer who paid more. He picked up the bundle of files and put mine under it. »

The salesman Sébastien met justified himself by saying that the order came from above. “He wanted to make me cry. He fiddled with me, telling me things weren’t going well financially for the dealers. »


PHOTO ROBERT SKINNER, THE PRESS

George Iny, president of the Association for the Protection of Motorists (APA)

Don’t let yourself go soft. Because it is the opposite, argues George Iny.

The shortage of vehicles benefits dealers. They were able to eliminate discounts, reduce their staff, and significantly reduce the cost of financing their inventory, which is one of their biggest expenses. On the other hand, times are tougher for sellers. But that is no reason to hold clients hostage by not respecting the contract or the law.

At the Quebec Automobile Dealers Corporation (CCAQ), CEO Robert Poëti agrees that you can’t force someone to buy something they don’t want. “It’s against the law. But he seemed to downplay the issue when I spoke to him. “When you don’t want something, you say no. It ends there. »

In theory, it is true that you can always say no. But in real life, when you know that a “no” will come with a series of consequences, it’s not always easy. Especially in times of scarcity.

When your car has been damaged or stolen, it may need to be replaced very quickly. When you’ve been waiting for your new car for six months, you don’t feel like starting the process all over again knowing that prices (and interest rates) may have risen in the meantime. A client may be afraid of losing his deposit, he may be unable to resist the pressure of the seller, lark.

This is why the Consumer Protection Office (OPC) must act more quickly and take strong measures with more dissuasive fines. It has the means since it issues (since 2016) permits for road vehicle dealers that it can also revoke. In addition, five dealers have been on the brink of losing theirs for two years (see other text).

As a consumer, what can we do to protect ourselves? “Don’t buy a car!” suggests George Iny of the APA. The current market is too skewed in favor of retailers. Better to wait for things to return to normal, which is expected in “a year or two.”

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to wait. In this case, it is important to know your rights and the law. We can go to the dealership with a witness who can help us negotiate if necessary. If nothing helps, we get our deposit back and go to the competitor. We also call the OPC to file a complaint if we witness an illegal practice.

For the price of new vehicles, buying them should be a time of excitement and happiness. Without mistrust and frustration. It’s decided, I’m going to wear my old cunt to the bone.

Groupe Park Avenue forced to commit to respect the law

Groupe Park Avenue, one of the most important and prestigious car dealers in Quebec, with its 21 dealerships, was on the verge of losing its sales license. To continue its activities, the company formally committed itself to the Office of Consumer Protection (OPC) to comply with the law, I learned.

The agreement was signed on August 17 by Norman E. Hébert, president and CEO of Groupe Park Avenue for thirty years and son of the founder.

I didn’t have many options. He signed or lost his car salesman’s license, generally speaking.

The “suspension notice” had been sent to the company in April. Reason given: lack of respect for the Consumer protection law (article 224c) and the Decree on the application of rules of conduct to used car dealers.

The four-page document, which can be found on OPC’s site if you search for it, gives you an insight into the practices alleged against Groupe Park Avenue. In fact, it contains “the list of things that they have done and that they promise not to do any more,” summarizes the OPC spokesman, Charles Tanguay.

Thus, Groupe Park Avenue undertakes to comply with the prohibition on charging a price higher than that advertised. Clients ended up with inflated bills for “documentation fees”, “administration fees”, “file opening fees”, “inspection fees” or fees because the client did not want financing. Others also had to pay extra for transportation and preparation or the “My security” option.

Similar charges are sparking class action lawsuits.

The Montreal company also undertakes to attach to the sale or long-term lease of used vehicles the famous label that contains all the important information.

The signing of the agreement was made without “any admission or admission of guilt.” His spokeswoman did not respond to my request for an interview.

Four other merchants pinned

Groupe Park Avenue, which sells 15 vehicle brands, from Kia to Porsche to Jeep and Mazda, is not the only group that has been singled out by the OPC after analyzing 700 sales contracts in recent years.

Four other companies have received a two-year license suspension notice: Hyundai Drummondville, Chomedey Hyundai, Auto Durocher (Laval) and Autozoom.ca. All have signed a voluntary agreement to keep it.

Admitting that it is still curious that companies with permits sign documents in which they promise… to respect the law.

The OPC promises that it will “monitor” to make sure the agreements are respected, but refuses to say how it keeps its strategy on track. If the permits are not simply cancelled, it is to respect “the principle of the gradation of sanctions,” says spokesman Charles Tanguay.

“Permits should be suspended”

But for George Iny, director of the Association for the Protection of Motorists (APA), it is obvious that the OPC lacks bite.

“The fines are too low and too late to crack down on practices that bring dealers hundreds of thousands of dollars. If I cheat $500 per car, out of 1,000 vehicles per year, that’s $500,000. And I got fined $5,000 or $7,000 two years later. Trader licenses should be suspended. »

Permits “come with conditions, like a driver’s license,” continues George Iny. “It is not a gift from the state that allows someone to cheat at will. This is how some traders seem to interpret it. »

If used car dealers have lost their licenses because they reversed odometers, no new car dealer has suffered the same fate since OPC took over licensing responsibility (2016).

Looking at current industry practices, it is clear that repeated fines and criminal prosecutions do not sufficiently deter abusive and illegal practices. This hurts both consumers and all traders who respect the rules.

The good news is that those looking for a vehicle can go to one of the Groupe Park Avenue dealers with more confidence in their business practices. A promise is a promise!


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