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TORONTO (Reuters) - The number of vehicles imported into Canada from the United States in 2008 is well on pace to break last year's record high, according to data compiled by the North American Automobile Trade Association.
Canadians imported 151,169 vehicles as of June 30, more than double the amount for the same period a year earlier, and fast approaching the 189,738 vehicles imported throughout 2007.
"The strong Canadian dollar is definitely the force behind that (trend) and I think that Canadians are becoming more and more aware of the vast savings on some vehicles," said Mark Sandelin, chief executive of Import Trader, a company that specializes in importing vehicles and heavy equipment from the United States.
Sandelin says once all the import fees have been taken into account, Canadians can expect to save, on average, between C$3,000 ($2,950) and C$4,000 ($3,930) on a vehicle selling for C$30,000 at a Canadian dealership. He added that Canadians can expect to save up to C$15,000 on luxury vehicles listed at C$75,000 and up in Canada.
On Nissan Motor Co's Canadian website the manufacturer's suggested retail price for the 2008 Pathfinder S V6 is C$38,298. In the United States, the same vehicle is listed at $26,300.
Vehicle imports from the United States began to pick up in 2007, when the Canadian dollar reached parity with the U.S. currency for the first time in three decades.
Sandelin says Canadian dealers reacted by offering price adjustments and bonuses, but major price gaps remain.
"They (Canadian dealerships) didn't make it the same price to import a U.S. vehicle after all your expenses as it is to buy one here."
The survey doesn't make a distinction between new and used vehicle imports, but Sandelin suspects it might be a 50-50 split.
"Manufacturers have told their U.S. dealers not to sell new vehicles to Canadians, however there are over 20,000 U.S. dealers and not everybody knows about the Canadian import situation," Sandelin said.
Last week, the Canadian government made it easier for Canadians to import vehicles from the United States by introducing new bumper standards to match those currently in place in the United States and Europe.
Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said the move will "offer more choice to Canadians who want to import vehicles while maintaining the safety of Canadians on the road."
Reporting by Lionel Perron; Editing by Peter Galloway