How choosing a vehicle impacts the fight against climate change

By : Dominique Lamy

Équiterre is sounding the alarm: Canada’s roads are struggling with obesity! Vehicles are higher, wider, longer, and heavier. This goes against all the efforts being made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and to promote the electrification of transportation.

There’s no denying the popularity of light trucks—a category consisting of sports utility vehicles (SUVs), crossover utility vehicles, minivans, and vans. Consumers love their versatility, the sense of safety they provide, and the prestige they are associated with. And sales continue to explode as a result! In fact, 81% of new vehicle sales between January and September 2021 were light trucks. Certain auto journalists even go as far as to predict the eventual disappearance of the more traditional car. A great discussion to have with sedan fans . . .

This phenomenon will likely have an impact on the achievement of climate change targets. In fact, it has been analyzed from every angle in the latest Équiterre report on the increase in light trucks in Canada, which aims to understand the phenomenon in order to reverse the trend. Andréanne Brazeau, Mobility Analyst at Équiterre, summarized the issue live from the international summit on climate change in Glasgow (COP26).

Consequences on the environment and choosing electric

Light trucks require more natural resources for their manufacturing and more energy to use than cars. They therefore stand in the way of the government’s efforts in the fight against climate change. But to what extent?

“Because the sale of light trucks is increasing at the expense of less energy-consuming vehicles, GHG emissions in this area are increasing de facto,” the expert explains. These emissions have increased by 161% in Quebec between 1990 and 2018. And in 2020, 44.8% of these emissions were the result of transportation in the province, hence the need to consider quickly decarbonizing this industry!

The popularity of light trucks is even slowing down the governments’ electrification efforts.

“For every electric vehicle sold in Quebec in 2019, about 11 light trucks were also sold” – Andréanne Brazeau, Mobility Analyst at Équiterre

We can’t help but wonder if the success of transportation electrification depends on a reduction in the larger vehicle offering . . .

Équiterre therefore has a series of recommendations for government officials. “Adopting ambitious public policies is a must in order to guide mobility choices,” Brazeau says with confidence.

What power do consumers truly have?

Consumers should make their environmental values a factor in their buying process. In Brazeau’s opinion, they should carefully analyze their needs before jumping on a new vehicle. “Could a smaller vehicle also do? Is an electric vehicle also a possibility?” she asks. Here are three tips to help make an informed decision.

1. See through ads

Advertising has a significant influence on the choice of a new vehicle. Ad campaigns feature SUVs dominating the environment, against a beautiful, mountainous backdrop . . . A marketing practice that aims to make large vehicles more attractive. Notice how most of the time, the base price without financing and gas consumption are never even mentioned?!

2. Avoid impulsive purchases

Before speaking with a dealer, keep in mind that dealerships have financial interests associated with increased sales of large, gas-powered vehicles. Not only is there a greater profit margin for these vehicles, the dealer also subsequently earns the client’s loyalty. Electric vehicles require less maintenance compared to gas-powered ones.

3. Respect your budget

According to the report by Équiterre, a light truck costs approximately $10,000 more than a standard vehicle, on average. And then there’s the additional cost of gas and insurance! To keep the planet and your wallet healthy, make a wiser choice.

Noteworthy initiatives

Choosing a vehicle that meets your needs, but having access to a pick-up for a renovation or fishing weekend . . . is this possible? “A few cities in Quebec now offer their respective populations an electric minivan as a car-sharing option,” says Brazeau. Here, the vehicle is used by the City during business hours, but becomes available to residents during certain time slots on evenings and weekends, all at an affordable cost.

Could this initiative become more widespread and inspire other cities? “Fast forward to the year 2050: do we really want to see even larger vehicles threatening our living environments and contributing to traffic? Now’s the time to take action,” concludes Brazeau.