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Canadians' idea of 'mainstream family' vehicles changing, search data suggests

Crossovers, SUVs and trucks are taking over as many car buyers idea of a "mainstream family vehicle," newly released search data from Canada's biggest online auto marketplace suggests.

AutoTrader.ca has released its annual list of the top 10 most-searched models

The Ford F-150 was the most-searched for vehicle on AutoTrader.ca for the fourth year in a row. (Valley Ford/Facebook)

Crossovers, SUVs and trucks are taking over as many consumers idea of a "mainstream family vehicle," newly released search data from Canada's biggest online auto marketplace suggests. 

AutoTrader.ca published its annual list of the top 10 most-searched vehicle models on Saturday. For the fourth straight year, the Ford F-150 took top spot. The Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4 were also among the top 10, at number seven and 10, respectively, for the first time. 

According to Michael Bettencourt, managing editor at the website, conspicuously missing from this year's roundup were four-door sedans (except for the Honda Civic, which came in at number three) and minivans. Further, overall searches for minivans on the site reached a new low, accounting for only 2.58 per cent of all search traffic. 

Decreased searches for minivans and affordable four-door sedans coincides with a drop in sales, he pointed out. 

"Obviously, we're seeing a shifting of the paradigm of what a mainstream family vehicle looks like," Bettencourt said in a phone interview.

"It varies in extent across the country, but it is a pan-Canadian trend we are looking at."

Changing preferences

Bettencourt attributes the increase in SUV searches and corresponding sales to a number of factors, some more intuitive than others. First, auto manufacturers are building more SUVs, and in turn, are spending more and more money on marketing those vehicles. 

"With minivans, for example, it's been going in the opposite direction. Fewer and fewer companies are making minivans, and those that are making them are increasingly shifting resources away from minivans," Bettencourt explained. 

Then there is the fact that most SUV, crossover and truck models offer four-wheel or all-wheel drive — a feature present in a very limited number of minivan models.

Bettencourt also points to shifting demographics as a key driver of changing preferences among Canadians.

"With folks getting older, they are getting less and less mobile. With crossovers, SUVs and even trucks being a little bit higher than sedans, I think they are becoming a little bit easier to get in and out of for folks," he said.

Of course, looking up a vehicle online and actually buying one are very different things. Bettencourt admits that while search data can be insightful, it doesn't necessarily correlate with real purchases.

For example, the Ford Mustang was the runner-up among most-searched models, while the BMW 3 Series and the Porsche 911 — a vehicle that generally costs more than $100,000 brand new — also made the list. None of those three vehicles are among the best-selling models in Canada, Bettencourt pointed out.

"A lot of people do go on the site just to see what's out there and do a little bit of dreaming," he said.

The full list of AutoTrader.ca's most-searched vehicles in Canada is as follows:

  • Ford F-150.
  • Ford Mustang.
  • Honda Civic.
  • BMW 3 Series.
  • Jeep Wrangler.
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
  • Honda CR-V.
  • Porsche 911.
  • Chevrolet Corvette.
  • Toyota Rav4.

Regional differences

AutoTrader.ca also examines differences in searches from province to province.

According to Bettencourt, Ontario represents an "outlier" in the data. Ontarians are "most interested in classics, performance and style," said an accompanying news release issued with the list.

In Quebec, consumers seem to put greater emphasis on practicality and fuel efficiency than any other region in Canada. Luxury models were pushed off the Quebec list by searches for vehicles like the Toyota Corolla.

Conversely, searches for luxury vehicles decreased considerably in both B.C. and Alberta when compared with last year's figures.

Meanwhile, the release said, "the territories and Manitoba are definitely SUV and truck country.

"Nine out of 10 models searched in the territories and seven out of 10 in Manitoba were comprised of SUVs and trucks," it said.

With files from Lucas Powers

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