Quebec should tax gas-guzzlers to reverse SUV trend, says environmental group

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Quebecers aren’t using their sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to their full capacities, a recent study found, with just 38 per cent of owners utilizing their vehicle’s entire cargo space at least once a week, and nearly three-quarters never using their SUV to pull a load.

The study, commissioned by the organization Équiterre and conducted by the Centre for Interuniversity Research and Analysis on Organizations (CIRANO), surveyed more than 1,000 vehicle-owning Quebecers on SUV use in 2022.

The data revealed that only 39 per cent of owners use all of their SUV’s seats at least once a week, and about 85 per cent of SUVs are registered for personal rather than commercial use.

According to Andréanne Brazeau, climate policy analyst at Équiterre, the picture shows a “profound disconnect” between the supply of SUVs in Quebec and their actual use by their owners, while the auto industry invests heavily to create “false needs” and boost sales of this type of vehicle.

“65 per cent of trips are to work, school and the grocery store, often short trips that do not require the SUV features that car manufacturers sell us with a lot of advertising. However, in the ads, we mostly see large vehicles driving in natural environments,” she said in an interview.

Équiterre says regulating advertising could slow down this trend. In 2021, SUVs represented 71 per cent of new vehicle sales in Quebec.

“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 explained.

Ads also focus on criteria like price, safety and gasoline costs –contradictory concerns, according to Brazeau, since SUVs cost, on average, $10,000 more and consume 20 per cent more gas than a car.

“Safety is also one of the things that comes up in the ads, but it’s more about the safety of the people in the vehicle. We know that the bigger the SUV, the more dangerous it is for pedestrians and cyclists, but also for people in smaller cars,” said Brazeau.

In fact, SUVs are involved in pedestrian collisions twice as often as cars, and impacts are 28 percent more deadly to other drivers than collisions caused by small vehicles, according to a 2019 U.S. study.


Équiterre believes implementing measures that reduce the social acceptability of gas-guzzlers could help reverse the trend.

“We know that electric vehicles are multiplying on our roads, but gasoline-powered SUVs are multiplying so much more that they cancel out all the gains in terms of GHG emission reductions that could have been made,” said Brazeau.

In Canada, the transportation sector is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than half of which come from SUVs, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. In fact, sales of these trucks in Canada have increased by 280 per cent between 1990 and 2018.

To curb this growth, the provincial government could introduce a tax on gas-guzzlers through a “fee-rebate” system, a measure that has proven successful internationally, Brazeau argues.

“The tax could be progressive: the more gas-guzzling or heavy an SUV is, the more it would cost. We really put a price on pollution by applying the polluter-pays principle, and we better internalize the environmental costs associated with vehicles,” she said.

A tax system could also be implemented in urban areas, where SUVs are “clearly less relevant” than in rural areas. A parking sticker in the city, for example, could cost more depending on the size of the vehicle.

“Public policy is modular, 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.”

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