Car trouble

Victoria News editor Keith Norbury was fired today, Public Eye has exclusively learned, two days after one of his senior reporters - Brennan Clarke - resigned. The firing follows an advertiser complaint about an article published earlier this month by the newspaper. In an interview, Vancouver Island News Group president Mark Warner confirmed Mr. Norbury's forced departure was, in part, connected to the complaint. "There were a number of issues," he said. "But that was certainly one of them." Mr. Warner declined to say what those other issues may have been. Nor would he elaborate on how the complaint was connected to the firing.

The article, authored by Mr. Clarke, discussed the case of a Broadmead resident who saved $13,000 by purchasing a Mercedes ML350 in Portland rather than from a local dealer. The woman, Rebecca Schevenius, and her friend are "planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled 'How to Import a Car into Canada' for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market."

In a interview with Public Eye earlier this afternoon, Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. dealer principal Dave Wheaton said, "I was upset with the paper for doing it because it was one person's opinion" - referring to Ms. Schevenius. "And they are by no stretch of the imagination an expert at it. And why that was news I don't know."

"From a customer's perspective, the risk of buying a U.S. car over buying a local Canadian car is just not worth it. The declaration of history and accidents and ownership and state registration is just not the same as it is in Canada," he explained, adding most cross-border car shoppers don't get "as much of an edge" in price as Ms. Schevenius.

As a result of the article, Mr. Wheaton said, "I barked at them. But that's normal. They have a responsibility to their readers. But they also have a responsibility to the business community as well. And that was a poor article. And it's just not true."

And did he get a favourable response to that barking? "Oh absolutely. Oh sure. They understand. I just don't know how that gets past an editor's desk. I think they know perfectly well, if you read it, it's one person's experience. It's just not right." Mr. Wheaton confirmed the news group offered to publish a follow-up piece. "But I just feel it adds more fuel to the fire. So I'd just as sooner (the story) fades away."

Asked whether he had pulled or would pull any advertising dollars in the future, he responded, "No. I'm a quiet protester. No." He later added, "I don't have a contract with any of the medias - none. I am a by-the-day business. Somedays I advertise and somedays I don't. I don't run a very sophisticated business from that perspective. So I do it as I see fit."

For his part, Mr. Warner declined comment on the specifics of his conversation with Mr. Wheaton. "I'm not going to discuss that - about what I talk to with a client," he said. Mr. Warner said he didn't know whether Mr. Clarke's resignation was connected to Mr. Wheaton's complaint.

Update: In a subsequent interview with Public Eye, Mr. Wheaton stated, "I never did complain about the article until I was asked (about it by a news group representative) and it was several days after it had run. My opinion was solicited and I gave it to them in an honest, straight-forward manner, in a meeting, at their request, in my office. They phoned me. I never called them."

The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned article.

***

Strong Canadian dollar encourages car buyers to cross the border

Rebecca Schevenius has always been willing to go that extra mile for a good bargain.

Or, in the case of the Mercedes ML350 she purchased last month, an extra 300 miles.

Schevenius, a Broadmead resident, says she saved about $13,000 by shopping for the vehicle on the Internet and then flying down to Portland to pick it up.

Prices for quality used cars in the U.S., historically lower than in B.C. to begin with, have become even more attractive due to the strong Canadian dollar.

"With the foreign exchange rate the way it is, it really is on the purchaser's side to go down to the states and buy a car," Schevenius said. "I love a good bargain."

The Mercedes, listed at $22,000 in Portland, would have cost closer to $38,000 north of the border. Even after the taxes were paid, the savings more than justified the time and airfare it took to bring the vehicle back.

Vehicle importers do not have to pay duty on car made within the borders of the North American free Trade Agreement, she said.

Schevenius and a friend are planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled "How to Import a Car into Canada" for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market.

She said it's important to sign a purchase agreement ahead of time stipulating the vehicle must pass a mechanical test. If the deal in Portland fell through, Schevenius had a list of other possible vehicles to buy in the area as a back-up plan.

Peter Tolsma of Sussex Insurance in Langford said the rising Canadian dollar - sitting at 95 cents US as of Friday - has piqued interest from cross-border buyers of in both new and used cars.

"There is way more interest and it's probably not as difficult as most people think," he said.

"A lot of it is just sheer number. Take California, it has about 25 million people and there's just a lot more cars available."

However, new car dealers say the market isn't big enough to have an impact on them.

"I haven't really come across that many because we're on the Island so it's a bit different, but I know some of the dealers near borders are conscious they are losing a few deals to that," said Saunders Subaru sales manager Edie Foster. "Most of those people are going down for really exotic or expensive vehicles."

Industry Canada estimates that Canadians purchased more than 112,000 cars from the U.S. in 2006.

23 Comments

Looks like a well balanced article to me. I imported a car from California 5 years ago and complications were few. Must say though, that when I went to sell it in BC a year later there was definitely a definite price discount. Many people wanted to pay less for an imported car. It should not have made a difference but it did.

Seems like a fair article to me too. That being said, I won't miss Clarke's blather.

Seems to me this here's the only part that's a bit sketch.

"Even after the taxes were paid, the savings more than justified the time and airfare it took to bring the vehicle back."

Good work Mr. Holman. It looks like the Vic News has some explaining to do to its readers.

Oh, this is too much. First, Vivian Smith gets fired at the Times-Colonist for angering the big boys in Victoria's tourism industry, and now Norbury & Clarke get axed.

As for this being just "one person's opinion," that's BS, pure & unadulterated. The July issue of BC Business Magazine ran an article, Wheels in Motion by Don Whiteley (published on p.112 of the July print issue), which profiled a whole slew of cross-border buyers and why they're doing themselves a favour by buying their cars in the US (caveat: it works best for used cars, not necessarily new ones b/c it's trickier to get the service contracts if you bought your *new* car out of country).

Writes Whiteley:

Joan (not her real name) is one of thousands of Canadians – a high proportion in B.C. and Alberta – who have discovered that it’s far cheaper to buy a new or used car in the U.S. than it is to buy the same vehicle at home.

This is good news for customers, but not so much for many of the major automobile manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, the local dealers who sell their cars. Manufacturers do not want buyers crossing borders to get wicked deals on new cars, and most put roadblocks in the way to try and discourage the trade.

Whiteley adds that "the cross-border auto business is booming," and the high value of the loonie helps. In other words, this is news and it's very timely.

It appears Mr. Wheaton is barking up the wrong tree.

Hard to know the full story, but...since when does a reporter have a " have a responsibility to the business community..." as Mr. Warner apparently does? I will have to bear this in mind the next time I read a Victoria News story!

I'd like to hear what the editor and the senior reporter have to say. The businessman seemed pretty candid about his barking. I'd like to hear what the journalists have to say.
Hopefully, public eye will do a follow-up on the advertising-editorial dustup.
I work at a paper where I have yet to personally encounter interference from advertising issues. In fact, the advertising crew is top-notch and understands both of our roles.
Really interested to read a follow-up. Thanks for the read.

The article is good and I think that if you want to buy a good used car in the states you can save alot of money. The higher end vehicles are the ones that really stand out. Check out ebay and make purchases through certified eBay car dealers as a way to make sure you are getting good product. There is even eBay insurance against being ripped off from a bad dealer (although that is not likely as they are vetted by eBay and past buyers) Not every car is a bargain so make sure you really compare carefully and do your research.

I am not understanding how this piece caused such upset. The auto dealer is complaining that this is "one person's story". Well, it also seems like this is "one person's complaint." Really, this article could have appeared in ANY Canadian newspaper and never caused such a stir. Small-town thinking at its best, I guess.

Anyone interested in the state of journalism and corporate media ownership should read the 1981 Royal Commission on Newspapers report(the Kent Report). The report's recommendations were, sadly, ignored.

That's just ridiculous. Not news... I love it when other people who have vested interests consider themselves an expert on what news is. As if I'd ever go into his car dealership and suggest I'm an expert on what he does and question his business acumen. What really galls me is the fact that this guy wrote an article about a topic that everybody is talking about right now. I was considering writing a similar article when my dad found he could save $5,000 by going across to bellingham and buying a motorcycle as opposed to picking one up in Abbotsford. The article served a purpose. Pandering to every advertiser who issues a complaint isn't going to do the Victoria News any good, and if the publisher thinks it will then he should give his head a shake. If the publisher wants to offer an "advertiser," or a shopper, he should get rid of the editorial department all together and see how well his circulation does as a result.

It seems to me that every week when the TC or News Group issues a glowing review on a new car nobody complains that it is only one person's view.

In my opinion, used cars are overpriced in Victoria partially as a result of the concentration of dealership and lot ownership. Go to trade in your car and no dealer is going to give you a premium to the blue book value because the car was driven in Victoria, yet they sure will sell it back to you at a huge profit.

If someone can save themselves a lot of money by purchasing a car out of Province or in the US then more power to them and attaboy to the News Group for pointing this out.

I amazes me that Dave Wheaton claims to be so smart in how he advertises and promotes his business, yet rather then letting the story go un-noticed he sticks his neck out. I wonder if his next step is to try and get a court injunction to stop the 18 page guide from being published?

In my opinion, Victoria is bad for car prices. It seems cheaper to buy a new car in Vancouver than in Victoria. As an example, my other half bought a new car last fall for about 20% less in Vancouver than the best price anyone in Victoria was willing to offer.

The car dealers in this town have become to used to being able to charge over the odds for cars new and used. This will only change when enough business leaves town, either going south to the US or over to the mainland.

The irony is that if you go to any used car lot in Victoria and run the VINs of the luxury / premium cars you will find that many if not most are from Arizona or California.

It is perfectly ok for a local dealer to buy a car in the US and import it into Canada with a $13K markup, but if a local resident tries to do the same thing to save the money then they are challenged.

All Mr. Wheaton had to do was write an opinion piece rebutting the article if he felt so strongly that the facts were wrong.

Even the Economist magazine mentioned cross-border car shopping in it's Aug. 4 issue (although not talking specifically about BC). Their tacit advice is demand lower prices in Canada by threatening to go south. Don't think the Economist is firing editors over that one...

http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9587827

$ 54.6 billion in Canadian new car/truck sales in 2006. Even if the Canadian market is over-priced by 10% (it's more), that's $ 5.46 billion the dealers and manufacturers stand to lose.

No wonder they are upset!

I work for this company. This incident makes me sick to my stomach and makes me question what I am doing here. As a reporter, if it's my job to roll over for the advertisers as this incident suggests, I don't want to do this anymore.

So, this story has come to light. How many other stories have been stifled by advertisers?

I would guess that many stories like this just don't get picked up in the first place by papers like this but this one is especially disgusting. But then again... a paper is in the business of selling advertising not news. So don't read it. Don't work for it. If the paper has no relevance then people won't read it... and then their advertising revenue will drop. It is possibly the only way to affect change here.

Applause to whoever "outed" it.

I like the way Wheaton says it's their 'opinion' that they saved all that dough.
I bought the guide from ucanimport.com and it's my 'opinion' that I just saved $12,000 on a new Subaru Outback.
All that article did was create some awareness of the disparity between US and Canadian auto pricing...which is truth, not opinion.

In my view, The Times Colonist is already starting to earn a bad reputation for pumping the Real Estate market with completely unballanced articles, and now in another news paper, when a reporter tries to tell it like it is, he and the editor gets fired. What the heck is going on with Victoria media?

And since when is a reporter responsible to the business community?!? Tell the truth, and stop spinning information to benefit some business because it spends a few advertizing dollars in your media.

CFAX 1070 AM Radio had a 2 hour+ session not 3 weeks ago on the very same topic (substancially cheaper prices in US), wherein multiple people called in saying that Canadian consumers are quite simply getting ripped off by businesses and they need to teach Canadian businesses a lesson by NOT buying in Canada for a while.

When the Canadian dollar was low compared to the US, premiums & price differences were justified. But as the Canadian dollar has come closer & closer to being on par with the US, Canadian prices have not changed! This translates to a significant buying power decline for (foolish) Canadian consumers, and also translates to huge profit margins for businesses.

The automotive industry in Canada is most certainly guilty of this, as are print magazines, book sales, and other sectors.

For the record, this is not a story about 1 consumer, but the story of ALL Canadian consumers.

As a Victoria resident, I bought my last used car from Vancouver 4 years ago and saved myself $1500 if I were to have bought it in Victoria.

Next time, I will most definitely consider a US purchase!

Larry

The story could have been better sourced, but it's hardly unbalanced. And it serves a useful public service in explaining how consumers can benefit from free trade. It's no reason to fire Norbury. If Victoria News canned him for that, it's a sad commentary on who's really calling the shots in Victoria news rooms. Obviously not the journalists.

To many of us it has seemed that Newspapers are just retail ad flyers for business, and the "news" they publish has to fit between the narrow boundaries of real facts (spell the names correctly) and what will not offend the readers who count, the advertisers. New employees at newspapers are confused at first by the use of the word, "news" and it does take a while to realize the job is to produce a manufactured product, worked on by many hands that fits the above specs.

In this case the remarkable feature is the employer who is so thick and local that he does not even know what has been widely widely known for quite a while, is supposed to be one of the advantages of free trade, and only becomes available to the ordinary citizen with the rapid run up of our dollar. But then this employer is a Victoria employer, and they are truly a slow thinking crowd of greedy pinch pennies. Just look at the downtown which is half tourist rabble and half slum rabble. Or look at the sewage which only Provincial money and a smell that finally reached to Halifax has compelled a planned (yes,only planned only) correction.

You could say this employer has done the public a great favor in demonstrating what audience the paper serves, since it is certainly not the public. But then he did not do that either, did he, the blog did that. Three cheers for the blog. And a super breaking wind salute to the soon to be famous editor.

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