International Newsmaker Q&A: Brian Osler

Jan. 1, 2020
Brian Osler is president and CEO of the North American Automobile Trade Association (NAATA), an association of dealers that buy and sell vehicles across international borders within North America and overseas.
Brian Osler is the president and CEO of NAATA.

Brian Osler is president and CEO of the North American Automobile Trade Association (NAATA), an association of dealers that buy and sell vehicles across international borders within North America and overseas. Osler is also a lawyer with extensive experience in the automotive industry, particularly with issues related to the import and export of motor vehicles and consumer protection issues.

What has been the impact of higher gas prices on consumers' buying habits?

Some Canadians are driving less to the extent that they can and people are buying smaller vehicles. It looks like dealers are having a relatively hard time moving the big gas guzzling vehicles off their lots. And rider volume on public transportation systems is up.

Do Canadians typically drive long distances for their work commutes as in the U.S., or do people tend to live closer to their places of employment?

Generally larger Canadian cities tend to be more spread out with a lower population density, so people often have to drive longer to work. The public transportation system is also not as well developed as in some U.S. cities, which complicates the trip for drivers. Traffic can be a nightmare in large Canadian cities. Outside the major urban centers traffic isn't so bad.

Are people now driving less due to the price of gas?

Some people are driving less. With limits on the usability of public transportation systems, people often don't have much practical choice. They need their cars. Many people are cutting out long trips that aren't necessary and some businesses are encouraging employees to work more from home. Canadians pay more for gas than Americans, even though we are a major producer. High gas prices are having an impact on driving behavior.

Have heightened U.S. border restrictions had any impact on Canadians' driving habits or purchasing patterns?

With the currencies the way they are right now, Canadians have a lot of interest in shopping and traveling in the U.S. Certainly border restrictions have an impact on the desirability of traveling to the U.S. But unless the border restrictions cause a price increase in certain goods in Canada, there is otherwise not much of an impact for domestic driving or purchasing decisions.

Are they relying more on professional importers to assist with cross-border issues?

People rely on professional importers when buying goods that involve a more complex importation process. Canadians are buying tens of thousands of vehicles each month from the U.S. As the import process for vehicles is somewhat complex, many people use the services of professional importers to help them save money. When Canadians buy other products with a less complex importation process, such as books, they do it on their own. Often they leave the logistics to the seller.

Have Canadians over the years been buying larger vehicles such as pickups and SUVs because of the winter weather? And are they now opting to purchase smaller vehicles as in the U.S.?

Absolutely. High gas prices are causing people to scale down on both sides of the border.

Are foreign (non-North American) nameplates becoming more popular?

Foreign nameplates have always been popular in Canada. They continue to gradually take away market share from the Big 3.

Are Canadians buying new vehicles in large numbers, or are they holding onto their existing vehicles and having them repaired?

Interestingly enough, new vehicle prices have come down recently in Canada for the first time in years. The reduction is partially the result of less expensive vehicles being imported from the U.S. Dealers and manufacturers are having a hard time reconciling this change in the Canadian market. But sales still continue to rise. The number of new vehicles sold in Canada has gone up each year from 2004 through 2007, inclusive.

Do most communities have roadside plug-in heating devices to keep engines warm? Do people have these also installed at their homes?

In certain places, plug-in heating devices are a necessity. The prairies can be brutal in winter. The people there are great and the country is beautiful, but you don't want to be outside for too long in February. You also don't want to leave your car out there without some assistance. A lot of people have them (block heaters) at home. The same goes for anywhere in northern Ontario and Quebec.

Does the winter also lead to increased sales of replacement items such as door handles that break in the cold, etc.? What are some of the more common components that need repairs?

People will often replace their heater and radiator hoses if they seem brittle as the cold weather hits. If they wait too long, they are forced to do a replacement. Locks and parts often freeze in the winter, so lubrication related products always do well when the thermometer drops. Potholes cause lots of damage, both to tires and the vehicle itself. Wheel cover disappearance and cracking is a common occurrence. You see them littering the sides of the road when the snow melts in spring.

How does the Canadian do-it-yourself market compare to do-it-for-me purchases? In general, how is business going for repair shops?

I don't know if there is much of a difference in Canada. In this market, our market is similar to that in the U.S.

Given Canada's large size, how big of a challenge is it to keep businesses (such as car dealerships and parts stores) properly stocked? What are some of the strategies used to deal with vast travel distances?

Canada's large size is always a challenge for distribution. We also have a hard time because of our smaller population base. It doesn't always make business sense to service particular markets because the potential customer base is too small or too spread out. But the dealers and parts suppliers in those markets need to service their customers too and they do it as well as they can. Canadians in rural places are deservedly proud of their ability to get by. Distance and isolation is a way of life for some people, and if it means making special arrangements to service a particular need, they do it.

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