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Auto dealers' group marks centennial

In 1908, a small group of local auto dealers fought the city after it told them to put their cars on horse-drawn wagons for the annual Orange Day parade. One hundred years later, the group, the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is still battling city hall, although they don't always win.

  • The beginning of morning rush hour, cars on the highway traveling to and from downtown

In 1908, a small group of local auto dealers fought the city after it told them to put their cars on horse-drawn wagons for the annual Orange Day parade. Council didn’t like the noise and smoke.

But the dealers prevailed in the dispute and drove their models on parade day. One hundred years later, the group, the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is still battling city hall, although they don’t always win.

Earlier this year, the association, one of the GTA’s biggest business groups, were among those lobbying against the city’s plan to hit motorists with a $60 annual licence fee. Council postponed the fee and other new taxes. However council approved the fee this fall along with other levies because of the city’s deteriorating financial condition.

“Not much has changed,” chuckles Mike Karim, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association as the group starts celebrating its centennial year at a gala dinner tonight. “Instead of the city fathers then, we’re fighting Mayor (David) Miller now.”

“We’ve been around for 100 years so we must be of some use to our members.”

Karim, who owns Mississauga Mazda and Parkway Chrysler, said he understands the city’s dilemma, but it may be reaching the point where the extra charges are counterproductive.

“You will reach the point where it becomes unbearable and it will push people into the 905 area,” he said in an interview. “Is that a good thing?”

The association, which represents about 340 member dealers in the GTA, always seems to be battling something, whether it’s a tax, a regulation or, in the current economic climate, the high flying loonie.

Karim won’t comment on the issue any more because auto manufacturers are facing a class-action lawsuit over allegedly inflating prices in Canada in comparison to the U.S. and inhibiting cross-border shopping.

“It’s a very sensitive issue,” he said.

But he acknowledged the discrepancies in prices are denting sales of his members and it isn’t good for the economy.

“Every time a penny is spent in the U.S., whether it be lipstick or a car, it ultimately hurts all Canadians,” he said.

“There are taxes we don’t keep here; the poor retailer who loses the sales; his or her staff who may not get paid this month; the landlord who may not get the monthly rent; the banker who may not receive his mortgage this month and the worker who may lose his job down the road. It’s not a good thing.”

Canadians bought 24,873 vehicles in the U.S. last month, more than double the number from the same period last year. Consumers say they are realizing several thousands of dollars in savings south of the border.

Manufacturers here have responded to the lower U.S. prices in recent weeks by jacking up incentives for the holiday season.

In addition to lobbying and protecting the interests of dealers, the association owns and operates the Canadian International Autoshow, the country’s biggest consumer event. It’s a showroom for all vehicle manufacturers and now attracts about 300,000 visitors over 10 days every year.

The association’s members have also been major fundraisers for decades. They contribute about $2.5 million to local charities annually including about $750,000 in sponsorships to 22,500 boys and girls participating in amateur sports. Some 75 organizations, from food banks to schools and hospitals, receive dealers’ support.

“We’ll be making another major donation (tonight),” Karim noted.

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