PEI

Growing truck sales on P.E.I. indication of a 'failed policy'

Prince Edward Islanders are increasingly turning to heavier vehicles, and that’s a concern for the Island's Green Party.

‘There needs to be more partnership between government, manufacturers’

Islanders, along with people across North America, are turning to larger vehicles. (David Zalubowski/Canadian Press)

Prince Edward Islanders are increasingly turning to heavier vehicles, and that's a concern for the Island's Green Party.

The latest Statistics Canada report on vehicle sales shows from January to November of 2019, 72 per cent of new vehicles purchased on the Island fell in the truck category, which includes SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks. That's up from 65 per cent just three years earlier, with a steady trend upward.

That's the equivalent of fewer than two trucks for every car in 2016, to more than 2.5 trucks for every car in 2019.

"Government policy has a direct effect on these purchase decisions," said Opposition transportation and energy critic Steve Howard.

"Here on P.E.I., we've got a leftover Liberal carbon-pricing policy that incentivizes, discounts, the price of fuel. So it's just a further indication of that failed policy."

Howard is referring to the renewal of a policy by the Progressive Conservative government that for the last two years lowered the excise tax on gasoline on Jan. 1, effectively offsetting the carbon levy over the winter months.

Reductions in transportation emissions are central to P.E.I.'s carbon reduction plan, because that sector accounts for 47 per cent of carbon emissions on the Island.

Howard said a more effective carbon levy would be a way to nudge people toward different decisions.

Government can send a signal with pricing, says Green Party MLA Steve Howard. (Al McCormick/CBC)

"We should definitely be pushing people toward considering their carbon footprint when they purchase something," he said.

"The proper price signalling needs to be out there: whether that's towards a more efficient vehicle or whether that's towards carpooling or whether that's towards electric vehicles or whether that's towards a public push towards better public transit. All of those things get affected when we have proper carbon pricing in place."

An international trend

P.E.I. is not alone in its growing taste for trucks.

It's a trend that can be seen across Canada and in the United States, said Werner Antweiler, an economist at UBC.

"The most popular vehicles today are actually the class of SUVs and crossovers that are bigger and heavier than what people used to own," said Antweiler.

"That unfortunately has consequences too, on the fuel economy of these vehicles, because moving more weight means using more fuel."

Trucks are becoming more fuel efficient, but that same technology is also making the smaller vehicles that people are turning away from more efficient.

Jason Peters, who sells cars and trucks for Reliable Motors in Charlottetown, said there are a number of things about trucks that people find attractive.

There are a number of things that draw people toward buying a truck, says Jason Peters of Reliable Motors. (Reliable Motors)

They like the passenger space, the perception of improved safety in a crash, and the ability to haul things. Peters said he is hearing about carbon emissions from customers buying trucks, but they are focused on changing their driving habits. They are being more organized about their trips, and trying to make fewer of them.

Peters said while there is pressure on manufacturers to provide good fuel economy and electric vehicles, he said there are basic economics that are working against the sales of electric vehicles in particular. While the vehicles are relatively expensive, there is very little profit margin for the dealer.

"There needs to be more partnership between government, manufacturers and the infrastructure to really push that forward," he said.

Gas price/fuel efficiency connected

When you compare the average gas price in countries to the average gas mileage of vehicles you can see a direct connection, said Antweiler.

The cheaper the gas, the lower the average efficiency of the vehicles. Canada has some of the cheapest gas in the developed world, and some of the least efficient vehicles, Antweiler has found.

Werner Antweiler's research has shown that higher gasoline prices tend to prompt people to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. This chart shows less fuel-efficient vehicles in countries at the top of the chart, with cheaper gas to the left, and a trend line moving towards fuel efficiency and higher prices. (Werner Antweiler)

"Fuel is still quite cheap, and so people don't feel the pinch," he said.

"Even though a lot of people complain about it. But if you look at international comparisons, gasoline prices in Canada are actually at the low end of the spectrum."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, P.E.I.'s Transportation and Energy Department said emissions from transportation on the Island are a concern.

"We know transportation greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise and it's time to reverse that trend," the statement said.

It noted it has a sustainable transportation action plan in place, and it is working through a list of 27 recommendations. Among those recommendations is leading by example, and the government is planning to purchase more electric vehicles for its fleet.

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About the Author

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at kevin.yarr@cbc.ca.

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