(Quebec) The pandemic, teleworking and economic uncertainty have not reduced Quebeckers’ appetite for sport utility vehicles and vans. Their number even made a record jump on the roads of the province in 2020. Quebec had 140,000 new “light trucks” registered on December 31, compared to the same date the previous year. This jump is the largest seen in this category for at least 10 years, reveal fresh data obtained from the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ). The light truck category includes vehicles that are often larger, more fuel-intensive and expensive, such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs), minivans and pickup trucks. “Quebecers have had a passion for vehicles for a long time,” notes Pierre-Olivier Pineau, holder of the Chair in Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal. We have vehicle records on the road year after year. The pandemic has certainly not stopped this phenomenon, nor the preference of Quebecers for SUVs over smaller cars. Pierre-Olivier Pineau, holder of the Chair in Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal The passenger vehicle fleet, i.e. light trucks and automobiles, grew by 100,000 vehicles in 2020, reaching 4,906,302 racing cars. We have to go back to 2010, after the financial crisis, to find a stronger annual increase.
Small vehicles and sedans are no longer popular. The number of registered cars fell by 40,000 over the year, a drop more than offset by the increase in light trucks. Transport and environmental experts have been wondering for months how the pandemic will influence the travel habits of the population. Transit companies have seen significant declines in ridership and are grappling with revenue shortfalls.
SAAQ registration figures show that personal vehicles were very popular in 2020. And light trucks continue their inexorable rise. “It is a strong trend that is accelerating,” notes Fanny Tremblay-Racicot, professor at the National School of Public Administration (ENAP). Ms. Tremblay-Racicot is concerned about the impact of these choices on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Personal vehicles are responsible for approximately 22% of GHG emissions in Quebec. “The message is that we are going into the wall with consumer choices like that,” she says. The Corporation of automobile dealers of Quebec is also observing this enthusiasm. “Do people want vehicles with a little more space? The answer is yes. Do people want slightly taller vehicles with four-wheel drive? The answer is yes, ”notes its Chairman and CEO, Robert Poëti. “You have to know that you are selling what consumers ask for. But Mr. Poëti says he is tired of hearing “scathing comments” about SUVs. According to him, manufacturers are making efforts to reduce their gasoline consumption or offer hybrid or electric models. Some models that fall into this category are also barely bigger than cars, he adds. The figures from the SAAQ also leave him wondering. This is because the 900 or so member dealers of the Corporation declared a 20% drop in sales in 2020. We were closed for about two months. How we arrive at 100,000 more registered vehicles, I do not understand that. Robert Poëti, President and CEO of the Corporation of Quebec Automobile Dealers One of the possible explanations is that some motorists would have chosen to keep their vehicle a little longer while others who did not have one have chose to buy one. Experts agree that the statistics for 2021 will be just as important in understanding the impact of the pandemic on the travel habits of Quebecers. Are we going to see a return to public transport or an ever greater progression of the car? The impact is not only environmental, specifies Pierre-Olivier Pineau. “What concerns me a lot is the money spent,” he says. According to Statistics Canada data, a light truck costs on average $ 10,000 more than a car. This additional cost did not appear to hold back consumers in 2020, despite the pandemic and economic uncertainty. “It’s appalling for climate change, but also for household finances,” he said.