Underused SUVs should be taxed to curb buying habits, environmental group says

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Underused SUVs should be taxed to curb buying habits, environmental group says
According to a recent study, the majority of SUV owners in Quebec are underusing their vehicles. The group behind the data is calling for better regulations to reduce the sale of gus guzzlers in a bid to reduce their impact on the environment. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports – Mar 27, 2023

Despite growing popularity, sports utility vehicles in Quebec are underused, according to a recent study commissioned by the non-profit group Équiterre.

The findings come from a 2022 survey of more than 1,000 Quebecer car owners, conducted by the Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche en Analyze des Organizations (CIRANO).

The data revealed that only 39 per cent of owners use the majority of their SUV seats at least once a week.

Eighty-five per cent of small or light trucks are registered for personal rather than commercial use.

The figures show a deep disconnect between the supply of SUVs in Quebec and the actual use by their owners,  said Andréanne Brazeau, climate policy analyst at Équiterre.

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“Sixty-five per cent of trips are to get to work, school and the grocery store, often short trips that do not require the attributes of the SUVs that the automakers sell us with a lot of advertisements,” Brazeau said. “However, in the advertisements, we mainly see large vehicles circulating in natural environments.”

Brazeau says the automotive industry is investing heavily to create “false needs” and boost sales of this type of vehicle despite it not being used to its full potential.

According to Équiterre, regulations on the advertising of the heavy vehicles could curb buying habits.

Sport utility vehicles account for 71 per cent of new vehicle sales in Quebec in 2021.

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“We fall into a vicious circle: the more people have large vehicles around us, the more we see, so we consider it normal and we no longer perceive it as excess,” Brazeau said.

The advertisement focuses on the most important criteria for Quebecers when buying a vehicle, namely price, safety and the cost of gas — contradictory concerns, since an SUV costs an average of $10,000 more to buy and consumes 20 per cent more fuel than a car.

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“Security is also one of the elements that are found in advertisements, but it is more a question of the safety of the people on board the vehicle. We know that the bigger an SUV, the more dangerous it is for pedestrians and cyclists, but also for individuals in the smallest cars,” Brazeau said.

READ MORE: Wait times growing for Canadians wanting to purchase electric vehicles

A targeted tax system in urban environments is something to be considered, according to Brazeau.

For Équiterre, the implementation of measures to reduce the social acceptability of gas-guzzling vehicles could help reverse the trend.

To curb this growth, the provincial government could introduce a tax on gas-guzzling vehicles through a system of “charges-rebates,” a measure that has proven itself internationally, Brazeau said.

A tax system could also be implemented in urban areas, where light trucks are “clearly less relevant” than in rural areas.

The sticker for city parking, for example, could cost more depending on the dimensions of the vehicle.

“Public policies can be modulated, and we are always in favour of the most equitable measures possible. Obviously, there can be exceptions: people who need it for work and large families are good examples,” she said.

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READ MORE: ‘Greed has taken over’ — Why forced financing has some consumers driving away from buying a vehicle

In Canada, the transportation sector is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than half of which come from light trucks, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“We know that electric vehicles are multiplying on our roads, but gasoline SUVs are multiplying so much more that they cancel out all the gains in terms of reducing GHG emissions that we could have made currently,” Brazeau said.

Sales of these trucks in the country have increased by 280 per cent between 1990 and 2018.

Click to play video: 'Calls to better regulate SUV sales'
Calls to better regulate SUV sales

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