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The Rise of Light-Duty Trucks in Canada: Reversing the Trend

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While Canada has committed to the Paris Agreement and presents itself as an international climate leader, the country remains one of the largest polluters per capita in the world and is not on track to meet its various greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.

In 2020, the transportation sector accounted for one quarter of Canada's emissions, making it a key sector in the collective effort to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets. When it comes to Canadian preferences for personal vehicles, the numbers speak for themselves. Between 1990 and 2018, the number of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), pickup trucks and vans in the Canadian fleet rose by 280%. This light-duty truck segment reached a historic high of 79,9% of the new vehicle sales in 2020.


The rising popularity of light-duty trucks is incompatible with Canadian government’s GHG reduction targets. Significant problems caused by light-duty trucks include:

  • Between 1990 and 2018, GHG emissions from light-duty trucks rose by 156%, adding to the overall increase in emissions in the country (+20.9%).
  • In 2018, light-duty trucks produced an average of 31% more GHGs per kilometre than standard automobiles, and this was the only area in which emissions did not decline in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • They exert greater pressure on road infrastructure and exacerbate traffic congestion issues.
  • They increase the danger in collisions with other vehicles: accidents involving pickup trucks and SUVs are 158% and 28% more likely to result in the death of the driver of another vehicle than accidents involving smaller cars.
  • Because of their height, the injuries caused by SUVs to adult pedestrians in the event of collisions are more severe and are nearly twice as likely to produce hip or leg injuries, when compared to collisions with smaller cars.
  • On average, SUVs are much more expensive than smaller cars, adding to the overall Canadian household debt. They can cost up to 40% more to purchase and 15% more to fuel.


It is in this context that Équiterre, in collaboration with Polytechnique Montréal and CIRANO, has launched a wide-ranging study consisting of a series of reports on the increase in the number of light-duty trucks in Canada. The objective of this research is to understand the growing preference on the part of the Canadian public for energy-inefficient, oversized light-duty trucks, and to propose solutions to reverse this trend.

1. Limitless: Automotive Advertising in Canada

The first report explores the advertising strategies and practices used by the automobile industry to promote light-duty trucks. 

It answers the following questions:



Conducted by the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en analyse des organisations (CIRANO) and HEC Montréal, this component of the study highlighted the motivations guiding the purchase of SUVs and other light-duty trucks, in addition to offering a fresh look at the influence of the automotive industry's marketing strategies on SUV purchase decisions. It included: (1) a pan-Canadian survey, (2) a series of one-on-one interviews and (3) focus groups.

The report answers the following questions:

LIGHT-DUTY TRUCKS: DEFINITIONS AND how the supply has evolved

By Polytechnique Montréal

Prepared by the Mobility Chair of Polytechnique Montréal, this report explores the various definitions and classifications of light-duty trucks, and the changes in supply of light-duty vehicles over the decades. It also proposes possible typologies for political institutions to adopt.

The report answers the following questions :

Light-Duty Trucks: Factors Contributing to the Transformation of the Light-Duty Vehicle Fleet

Conducted by Polytechnique Montréal’s Chaire Mobilité, this report explores the growing demand for light-duty trucks. The various aspects examined include household income and expenditures, vehicle ownership costs and the public interest. The study also looks at the various historic, economic, social and political factors that explain the popularity of light-duty trucks in Canada.

The report answers the following questions :



The Rise of Light-Duty Trucks in Canada : Reversing the Trend 

A Feebate System to Promote Clean Vehicles in Canada
The Utopian World of SUVs by BESIDE Magazine
Car Wars: EVs vs SUVs and the battle for a cleaner future

Financial SUPPORT

Équiterre received funding from the Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in the report are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada or the Government of Canada.