Over the weekend I searched far and wide for vehicles to replace my rusty Volkswagen Touareg VR6 as my daily workhorse. Before I landed on a manual BMW X5, I looked for imports, and one caught my eye as particularly bewildering. Someone went through all of the work to import a Chevrolet Orlando from Canada to the United States. Just about all of us at the Autopian are scratching our heads over how this thing made it over the border, and why.
The Chevy Orlando is a crossover that the United States almost got. Back in 2008, Chevy hit the Paris Motor Show with a concept for a future crossover. The Orlando Concept sported muscular bodywork, flush door handles, and flashy wheels.
Americans got to see it the next year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the Chicago Auto Show after. Chicago is where a 16-year-old version of yours truly saw it. That was my very first auto show and I still remember being amazed by the Orlando Concept. Its door handles especially wowed teenage me.
On the stage, a presenter stated that the Orlando Concept had three rows comfortable seating so a whole family of seven could travel in comfort. They also touted that the car-based crossover would get car-like fuel economy thanks to a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four making 150 horsepower 235 lb-ft torque. That gave it minivan-like practicality with sleek looks.
When the Orlando finally made it to production, there were a number of notable changes. The muscular bodywork was toned down dramatically, and North American models would not get the diesel engine.
Instead, Americans got the 2.4-liter Ecotec LAF four. And oh, only Canadians got it, not us in the United States. Talking to the press in 2010, Chevy product marketing director Margaret Brooks said that the automaker decided to focus on the Equinox, Malibu, Traverse, and the then upcoming Cruze for the U.S. market.
Built by GM Korea at its Gunsan plant, the crossover landed on Canadian shores in 2011 for the 2012 model year. It was an early success, with 7,199 units selling in 2012. But sales fell sharply from there, and GM eventually pulled the plug after the 2014 model year. Just 12,038 of them hit Canadian roads, and now one has appeared south of the border here in the United States.
The seller for this 2012 Orlando doesn’t know how it made it across the border. But it has a clean Michigan title and a CarFax that claims that it was cleared by Customs back in 2018.
That puzzled us in the Autopian’s Slack chat. How did this car get here, and assuming the CarFax is correct, how did it get cleared?
One popular theory in the chat is that General Motors may have done all of the work to ready the Orlando for U.S. sales, and just decided not to sell it here.
The Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, also known as the “25-Year Import Rule” bans the sale of imported vehicles in the United States unless that vehicle complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. There are a few ways around the law, from converting a vehicle to regulation to temporarily importing as a tourist. You could also get a “Show Or Display” exemption or just wait 25 years. Some importers also say that they can work with the government so that an illegal vehicle may stay, usually after the owner pays a large fine.
But the easiest way would be import a vehicle that meets FMVSS in the first place. And the way that you can tell that is by looking at the manufacturer label adhered to the the B-pillar. The law says that the sticker must say: “This vehicle conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) in effect on the date of manufacture shown above.”
Alright, so what does that sticker say on an Orlando? I was able to search hundreds of Orlandos currently for sale and sold in auctions. And all of them have variations of this sticker in the door:
That sticker notes that the Orlando meets CMVSS, or Canada’s version of our FMVSS. The language for the United States is missing. That yellow sticker next to it only talks about tire specs. So, that means that the Orlando is illegal for the United States, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated than just that.
Pop the hood and you’ll see another sticker.
The EPA is another regulator that you have to please to import a vehicle. EPA bans the importation of vehicles into the United States for 21 years unless the vehicle is built to EPA standards. The Orlando actually appears to meet EPA standards, which would mean that the regulator likely would be fine with you bringing one over. So that just leaves you with satisfying FMVSS.
There is a clause in importation law that could be applicable here. You are allowed to import a vehicle that is “substantially similar” to a vehicle already sold in the United States that meets FMVSS. This law is largely for folks moving out of Canada who are driving models that are also sold in the United States. CMVSS is similar to FMVSS, and thus, a Canadian-spec Toyota Camry should fall under “substantially similar.”
However, the Chevy Orlando is not a vehicle that is also sold in the United States. It rides on the GM Delta II platform, which means that it shares DNA with the Chevy Cruze. But the Cruze is not an MPV, and its engine isn’t even shared with a Delta II platform mate.
Alternatively, if someone did the work to federalize a non-conforming vehicle for importation (like what happened with some first-generation Smart Fortwos) then it could be added to the list of non-conforming vehicles eligible for importation. The Orlando is not on the currently-published list.
It could have also been imported by a tourist or by a member of the military, but those cars are usually required to be sent back to where they came from after a year. The CarFax claims that this car has been here since 2018, so that’s probably out. But the CarFax does state that the vehicle was imported in December 2018, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection declaring the vehicle as meeting FMVSS and releasing its bond in February 2019. So someone somehow pulled it off.
And what did this person get? This Orlando has 189,000 miles and three rows of cloth seating. That’s good for six people, seven if your rearmost passengers are really tiny.
General Motors baked in some neat practicality into this thing, from seats that fold flat to the radio that swings up, revealing a secret compartment.
None of this is extraordinary; I remember driving a rental Impala that had a similar secret compartment. But it is minivan levels of seating in something that at least tries to be somewhat different.
As mentioned before, power is delivered through a 2.4-liter four making 174 HP. This is said to average 34 mpg with the current owner, which is right there with its official highway fuel economy rating. The engine drives the front wheels through an automatic transmission. Amazingly, this crossover was available in Canada with a manual.
The seller tells me that he is not the person who did the importation. The previous owner didn’t, either. And that makes sense, as the CarFax claims that the seller is the third owner since the car came to Michigan and the sixth overall. Another possibility is that whoever imported this got a letter from GM stating that the vehicle meets FMVSS. Sadly, the details on this vehicle’s importation remain a mystery.
I reached out to The Import Guys, a Washington state-based importer. The shop believes the Orlando to meet EPA regulations, but is also unsure how it got through NHTSA.
And none of this explains the question of why? Though, I firmly believe that every car has at least one enthusiast. So, perhaps someone really wanted to have an Orlando. If you’re that kind of person, this Orlando can be yours for $4,950 in Montrose, Michigan.
Huh. Always wondered what these were about when I’d see them on trips to Canada.
Great article. I owned an Orlando for just over 3 years in Ottawa. I compared this vehicle to Mazda and Subaru wagons when shopping and it was no contest after a drive. The Orlando wasn’t as nimble but it had real power and solid braking, twice the space inside and at a much better price. Plus Mazda and Subaru sales staff were absolute snobs and wouldn’t let me test drive without a sales person in the car with me. The Chevy dealer gave me the keys and let me drive it for the afternoon. That drive sold me.
The fuel economy was better than the Kia Rio I traded in over the whole 3 years. Absolutely no mechanical problems. I’m an experienced licensed mechanic and I expected no problems from a 3 year old car.
It wasn’t made to tow so I ended up trading it in but I didn’t want to let it go. The US lost out on a gem. Chevy should have tested the US market with this model.
Now I drive a Cherokee. A headache from day 1.
Diplomatic import ?? Diplomats are known to bring weird cars with them to their postings.
The concept car looks sooo good. And they had to go an ruin it.