Korean cars. Canada. Pretty simple timeline, right? Hyundai come along in 1983 with the Pony and later the bigger Stellar, then they introduce the Excel which meets American emissions regulations and can be sold in the US too, so they sell it in the US. Then Kia enter markets like Europe in the early Nineties with stuff like the Pride and later enter the US with the Sportage SUV and Sephia sedan, entering Canada rather later on in 1999, essentially a reverse of Hyundai. Now, hoever, a comment on an article about how the Jeep Wrangler for it’s first two generations wasn’t actually called the Wrangler in Canada (just YJ and TJ, like the CJ, yes, that happened) because GM had already made a trim level for their trucks called the Wrangler, this gets sprung up on me. And now my world will never be the same.
“But For Canada”, you ask, “Isn’t that just a boring Japanese 1980s van? Like a Delica or a TownAce? Why is that interesting?”. Well, dear reader, because this is no Japanese van, well it is, a Mazda Bongo to be specific, but if you take a close look on the grille you might see something interesting.
Yes, that is an early Kia badge. In all of it’s 1980s graphic design glory. Kia, for some strange reason, actually entered the Canadian market rather significantly before most other Western countries, with the Besta van. And only the Besta.
I can find barely any information about the Canadian market Bestas on the internet. Even less than really obscure stuff like Canadian-market Innocentis or Dacias. This is probably one of the most obscure For-Canada-But-Not-The-USA vehicles out there. What I do know is that they entered the market sometime in the mid-late 1980s, and they supposedly only sold them in Western Canada although that may or may not be true. Mazda dealers were apparently the ones in charge of selling them, and a single shipment of less than 400 made it here before they were pulled due to safety concerns.
Now, the part about possibly only being sold in Western Canada is an interesting tidbit on it’s own. Not many vehicles are sold only in certain regions of Canada, due to Canada being a relatively small market. But, our tastes are not homogenous, and there are cases where it’s happened. I can think of three other cases where it’s happened, including a current case.
- The Chevrolet Spectrum and Pontiac Sunburst. Only sold in Western Canada. Based on the Isuzu i-Mark, the Spectrum was also sold only in the West when it was sold in the United States, at least initially. The Sunburst was the same as the Spectrum, just with a Pontiac badge to appease Pontiac dealers who were jealous of the Spectrum (because the Spectrum was so jealousy inducing).
- The current generation Toyota Yaris. Only sold in Quebec. The current Mazda 2-based Yaris is only sold in La Belle Province, and only in hatch form. Now, this has a bit of a caveat, as Toyota’s website does seem to suggest that you can order one from another part of the country and have it delivered to you, but Toyota dealers outside Quebec won’t have any on lots. Also, we get a manual in Canada, and the USA doesn’t. So suck on those apples or whatever the saying is.
- Dacia and ARO, the entire brands. From what I gather, these were only sold in Ontario and Quebec. The ARO only was sold in Northern Ontario alongside Quebec, but I believe the Dacias were sold province-wide in Ontario. Information about these cars is very very very spotty, even more so for the ARO than the Dacia, so new information could arise and I could very easily be proved wrong.
Now, for all of these cases, I have a sneaking suspicion that I know why. For the Yaris, I know for sure since it’s a brand new car that’s currently on sale. Quebec like their small hatches, while the rest of Canada only really buy cars smaller than the Corolla/Civic segment if they’re really cheap. See the Micra, Spark, or Mirage. Therefore, since the previous Yarises/Yarii didn’t sell well outside Quebec, Toyota thought it would be a safe bet to only sell it in Quebec, and let the weirdos who would want one and don’t live in the land of tabarnac special order it like the filthy Anglos they are.
For the rest, imports are the reason I suspect they were all sold in only certain regions. The West is just much closer to Asia than the East, and the East is much closer to Europe than the West. I looked at a map and now I know this for a fact. Unless maps are wrong, which they could be. Cartographers are idiots. ARO/Dacias and presumabely Kias were sold by very small importers, who potentially couldn’t afford to ship their cars across this very vast country of ours, so they just decided to stick close to where the ports were, or to places which were easily accesible from places that had ports.
For GM, I only assume they were just too lazy or didn’t care enough to ship their cars. Or maybe they did after a while, as a lot of information on the US Speccy seems to suggest they made it East eventually, and the Western-only sales experiment was mostly a test run to see if the Spectrum would work in the US. They could’ve just done the same thing in Canada, but it’s just possible they never made it east of Winnipeg. One thing that does lead me to believe that they weren’t ever sold out East is the fact that most of the images that I can find of Sunbursts have BC plates. This could also just be because Isuzus are Isuzus and they’re prone to rusting, and BC has by far the best weather for cars to not rust in Canada, especially compared to the east coast. So once again, take that with a grain of salt, no pun intended.
If you don’t like going down weird rabbit holes, don’t look up information about weird Canadian cars. Just to leave you off, for some reason Plymouth sold the Horizon as the Expo for it’s last few years in Canada. I guess because of Expo 86 in Vancouver? For some reason? I guess???? Life is futile. Eat at Arby’s.