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Press release  •  2 min

Why are there so many SUVs on our roads? Answers in new study by Équiterre and CIRANO

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Montreal, June 16 2021 – A new Équiterre study, conducted by the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en analyse des organisations (CIRANO), looks at what motivates Canadian consumers when it comes to buying light-duty trucks, particularly sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

"The study shows that SUVs are Canada's preferred type of vehicle, due to a variety of socio-demographic factors, values, perceptions and external influences such as advertising. This trend is undermining our efforts to reduce the climate impact of transportation, the sector largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country," says Andréanne Brazeau, Mobility Analyst at Équiterre.

"Fortunately, with a better understanding of what is driving this trend, we can take action to turn things around," she adds.

The data for this report came from a survey conducted from October 27 to November 30, 2020 among a representative sample of Canada's population made up of 1,377 citizens. Individual interviews and focus groups were also conducted.

A MATTER of perceptions

The study shows that people who own an SUV:

  • Are convinced of its superiority, especially in terms of safety and comfort;
  • Believe that the vehicle's large size, height and weight create a sense of strength and stability; and
  • Are influenced by the concept of family, strongly associated with this type of vehicle.

"The popularity of light-duty trucks is largely based on perceptions. Large vehicles have become normalized - we’ve gotten used to them on our roads - a significant change from just 25 years ago. The automotive industry has convinced us that they are essential, considering our vast territory and northern climate, and for the comfort and safety of our families. Yet, the Canadian landscape remains unchanged, the climate is getting warmer and families are smaller than they used to be," says Andréanne Brazeau.

Multiple influences

The study identified some of the factors that influence people's intentions to purchase a vehicle. Those most likely to opt for an SUV:

  • Are a part of a family or social context where there is a preference for this type of vehicle. Social norms have the highest impact on the probability of purchasing an SUV;
  • Have weaker environmental values than people who choose an electric car (whose profile is associated with altruism, solidarity, respect for the environment and harmony with nature);
  • Have a strong emotional attachment to their vehicle and consider it indispensable;
  • Are less informed by specialized media such as car magazines and instead use traditional media (radio/TV) and social media.

How to counteract this trend

Whether it's regulating advertising or better informing the public about the environmental and road safety issues associated with the rise of light-duty trucks, measures must be deployed quickly to curb the trend toward larger, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"If our governments are serious about achieving their climate goals, they must ensure that the automotive industry's advertising and communications practices are more rigorously controlled. In the midst of the climate crisis, it is unacceptable to allow the industry to encourage the sale of environmentally damaging products by feeding inaccurate perceptions," concludes Andréanne Brazeau.


For more information:

Anthony Côté Leduc, Media Relations
514-605-2000 ;