Published on Friday, 23 September 2011
Twenty-five years ago next week, the Toronto Star published its first Wheels section.
During the next two and half decades, Wheels established itself as a prominent voice for car enthusiasts everywhere. It is a trusted source of news and analysis about this exciting industry.
The timing of the launch of Wheels in 1986 was prescient. The global auto industry was in the midst of a major transformation, which affected all segments of the industry, from design, manufacturing and marketing to branding, distribution and retailing.
Whether you’re an automotive veteran or a rookie, a weekend mechanic or a car lover who enjoys reading about automobiles, Wheels has served all ends of the automotive spectrum.
Each week, readers are treated to reviews of the latest passenger vehicles, light trucks, motorcycles and off-road vehicles from some of Canada’s top automotive journalists. And there is more, including sales trends, motor sport news, manufacturing processes, analysis on tires, engines, suspension systems and accessories.
Wheels has reported on all major trends of the past 25 years: the growth of the Asian brands in Canada, the relentless pursuit of quality, the re-imaging of dealerships, the restructuring of the North American auto industry and the push toward green (and cleaner) technologies.
The most significant changes since 1986 have been the improved quality of automobiles, the re-branding of dealerships and the progressive attitudes of educators and those employed within our industry.
In terms of quality, automobiles today are light years ahead of those built in the 1980s, with better fit and finish, fuel efficiency, safety features, exhaust emissions, aerodynamics, styling, performance and overall value.
How have dealerships evolved? Facilities built after the 1980s reflected new benchmarks for style, comfort, accessibility and customer service. Today’s dealerships are state-of-the-art extensions of the brand, complete with natural lighting, in-house cafés, boutique-style parts departments and drive-through service bays — all geared toward the needs of today’s consumers.
Attitudes among employees and the public have evolved as well. In the 1980s, the sexy industries were still investment banking, engineering, medicine and law. Few young people aspired to careers in the auto sector.
But automobile associations across Canada, educational institutions, auto industry veterans and political leaders recognized an opportunity to raise the stature of our industry. Great efforts were made to attract foreign investment, create jobs, promote a better educated workforce and improve efficiencies from the assembly line to the showroom floor.
In the past 25 years, dealerships have invested huge sums in their people. Most dealership positions today are considered “professional careers,” which require specialized training and ongoing professional development.
The Wheels section has also chronicled the development of new skill sets and educational initiatives, the formation of strategic partnerships between secondary schools and the auto industry, and skills competitions among students and certified technicians.
I’m proud to say that the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association has played a key role in the evolution of our industry, introducing new internal processes, best business practices and rules of conduct.
The TADA has also promoted the industry through its annual Canadian International AutoShow (the largest consumer show in Canada) and its various consumer programs.
That the auto industry has been able to achieve so much in 25 years is a testament to the vision, energy and resolve of thousands of dedicated men and women.
Throughout it all, Toronto Star Wheels has reported on the many developments with class and distinction, and with the contributions of great writers, photographers, layout artists and editors.
On behalf of the TADA, I want to congratulate Wheels for 25 years of excellence in automotive reporting, and to express our thanks for allowing our association this forum to discuss ideas from a dealer’s perspective.
We’re looking forward to the next 25!