With the inflammatory publicity surrounding the rapid rusting of Ford cars in particular, the number of complaints received by the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs in Ottawa this year has jumped from hundreds to thousands. All too often, the rusting cars aren’t oneof-a-kind lemons but assembly-line standards. Last month, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Minister Anthony Abbott sent a letter to the domestic auto manufacturers and the importers, asking them to meet him “at the policy level” for discussions on the corrosion issue. Tentatively scheduled for mid-December, the meeting is intended to find out if the auto companies
can produce a reasonably priced car that can last 50,000 or even 100,000 miles without rusting, and if they can upgrade their warranties.
As things now stand, Ford is the only domestic company that provides a warranty specifically mentioning rust. Stimulated by the hostile publicity, which rapidly translated into a significant loss in sales, it has introduced a three-year warranty covering all its 1977 North-American built cars, as well as using more metal and preventive treatment. Any rust-induced decay, except that associated with a car’s exhaust system, will be patched up free of charge. The other domestic manufacturers maintain there’s still little cause for concern—certainly no need for changes to their present warranties. Says one: “Most people in this country seem to accept that rust is inevitable. Ford’s warranty is to cover a problem of its own making.” If there is a villain at all, the companies say, it is the increasing use of winter salt—up 300% in the past 10 years, by one estimate—with the result that cars rust faster in Ontario than in Alberta, where salt is little used.
Abbott and his aides recognize that salt is a contributing factor but they reason that the road and weather conditions under which cars in Canada are driven are well known to the manufacturers and cars should be designed to meet those conditions. To do otherwise would be to design a shower cap that should not be wetted. Abbott says that “an essential part of the solution [to the rust problem] lies with the companies.” He is evidently dissatisfied with the existing bodywork warranties, emphasizing that he is “extremely concerned at the economic losses suffered by consumers.” But his department has no legal authority over the auto industry. It cannot demand; only ask. Abbott’s letter to the companies is therefore gentle, stressing the need for cooperation.
If the companies will not admit to any responsibility, then the meeting will accomplish little. “I don’t want to prejudge it,” says Phil Edmonston of the Automotive Protection Association, “but there’s already an overabundance of meetings in government, and an under-abundance of legislation.” Abbott himself concedes that solutions are not going to be reached overnight, and suggests that after the initial meeting, the next step may be to form a “technical committee” that will study the problem further. Like the rust itself, the rising number of complaints has shown that the problem will not just fade away of its own accord,
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