The Fallacy that Canadians Want Smaller Cars

As a nation Canadians talk large about the need to conserve energy and treat Mother Nature with more respect, i.e. let’s not continually hurt her. In many examples, recycling of food and consumer packaged goods comes to mind, here in Toronto I feel we are doing a very good job. Yet when you look around out streets I continually see a large proportion of very big personal vehicles such as SUVs. These new vehicles, while professing energy efficiency, do the exact opposite when used only by a single driver.

I certainly do not consider myself a hard core environmentalist, but I ensure I do all I can to reduce my carbon footprint and environmental load on the world. I pass this philosophy and skills on to my kids, in the hopes that they also want to preserve our earth. Rampant consumerism is wasteful, expensive, unnecessary, and selfish.

The City of Toronto’s consumer recycling program is very good. We sort recyclables from plastic waste from regular garbage. Three different ways to throw out your stuff can make garbage somewhat complex. While many people like myself readily comply with garbage sorting rules, not everyone is so willing. Even the Chinese community here in Scarborough must comply because if they do not their garbage is not picked up. Recycling is a learned skill that starts in school, but it takes effort to do it, an effort that many people feel is unnecessary. It is, after all, all garbage?

I believe the Toronto recycling program works because it is government regulated and therefore imposed on the public, in order to save taxpayer money. This is a good thing. Recyclables can be collected and resold for cash by the city, thereby reducing taxpayer burden. The unintended benefit is that we reuse raw materials and therefore our carbon footprint. Left to our own devices, I believe the general public would not comply. We talk a lot about the saving the environment but when it comes to actually changing and putting effort into our words, we fall backwards. Who would admit to being lazy and not wanting to help Mother Nature?

In my Toronto I see a lot of really nice small cars. We have no issues with finding a nice small car, as all auto manufacturers make a model of two. Still, on the roads, day in and day out, I see a very large proportion of huge SUVs, primarily transporting by a single driver. While Canadians say they want to help Mother Nature, when it comes to cars, large is still better. There is more to buying a car than thinking about your carbon footprint, I know. Some people buy large SUVs because they transport many people or use it regularly to transport their stuff. Yet I am sure that more people buy large vehicles to impress family, friends and neighbours.

Buying an SUV for a single driver is very wasteful on gas, increases air pollution, accelerates road maintenance and requires more raw materials than a smaller vehicle. Sure, it is the person’s own money and they can buy what they want, but this does not make it right. If all of us bought large vehicles would this make it right?

We talk a good talk when it comes to environmental awareness, but when it comes to choosing a personal vehicle many Canadians are still choosing one that is much larger than they need. We seem to not be able to control ourselves.

In this case, I think Europe and Asia have it right. Increase the tax on gas and subsidize public transit. Our gas prices are too low here in Canada. Roads are paid for out of our general taxes and do not account for the increased wear and tear on roads done by a larger vehicle. If you really want it then pay more for it. This, I believe, is the only way that the general public will buy smaller, more efficient cars. If gas prices doubled I believe, like Toronto’s recycling program, car sizes would go down accordingly. Without an increase in gas prices, the public will not change.

I would not ban large SUVs. Some people need these vehicles to transport their large families or goods. They are certainly legal vehicles and if you need one then buy one. For the vast majority of commuting drivers, this is not the case.

Car companies only sell us what we want, and I can understand this. They advertise better, more fuel efficient engines, which they have. Still, a much more fuel efficient engine that runs a large SUV certainly wastes vastly more fuel than the same fuel efficient technology in a small car. Better technology in a large vehicle is more efficient than old technology, but when compared to a small car the small car is better.

The other oddity I see advertised is that a car has this fuel efficient engine, yet also has a turbocharger to boost horsepower. An increase in horsepower simply burns up the gains made by the new technology. Still, if people want to buy a large vehicle or a small vehicle with a turbocharger, they can, but make no mistake, they are not doing it to reduce their carbon footprint.

We can only control what we, ourselves do, and I do not try to impose my views on others, but it is hypocritical for Canadians to talk about fuel efficiency and then do the exact opposite. Human nature as it is, I do not see this behaviour changing any time soon. Government legislation is required, for the benefit of our society.

1 thought on “The Fallacy that Canadians Want Smaller Cars

  1. Michael

    I agree with your viewpoint, there are way too many SUVs (and also way too many luxury cars putting people into debt, but that’s a whole other story). I do believe you’ve missed a few points though:

    1. A large majority of people (many elderly) are led to believe, and even feel, that driving in a large SUV is safer. Yes, because of the height you have a better vantage for seeing farther, and your SUV has a better chance of making out the better of the two when colliding with a car, but it is also more cumbersome and has greater blind spots. I have heard this sentiment from many people, and have witnessed elderly couples who could barely walk, straddle into their humongous SUV in the parking lot. Safer for who? Anyways, off topic.

    2. There is a huge amount of SUVs “left over” from manufacturers, whatever that really means. Cheaper prices on SUVs is also making it more accessible to more people. Though in the short-run, this may seem like a one-time thing; there is overstock, so let’s get rid of the SUVs. I hardly doubt it will stop there. I believe it is just opening the door to being able to sell more SUVs at the right price point.

    The whole deal with the fuel efficient engine and turbocharging, well I guess the point there is that people don’t want environmentally friendly cars, they want cars that are MORE environmentally friendly than what they have, or to be perceived by society as someone who cares. It is true that overall the footprint would be less had that turbocharged car not been fuel efficient. I ride a motorcycle and enjoy fuel savings. However I do ride a 600 supersport bike, which is by far not considered one of the ‘fuel efficient’ bikes. However it still gets tremendously better fuel efficiency than my car (if just driving myself, but I use the bike to commute to work everyday).

    I think the fact of the matter is that most vehicles run most economically at highway speeds or just above. All energy waste is done when accelerating from a stop or idling. Traffic really is probably the largest contributor. A regular 20 minute commute downtown GTA from the suburbs turns into 40 minutes. That’s 20 minutes of accelerating/braking and idling for thousands of cars. That is if the traffic clears up immediately after.

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