2009 Canadian Vehicle Survey Summary Report


Canada’s on-road vehicle fleet

Canada’s transportation sector includes activities related to transporting passengers and goods by road, rail, water and air. In 2008, this sector’s energy consumption accounted for 29.7 percent of secondary energy use in Canada.1 Road transportation consumes more than three quarters (78.9 percent) of this energy.

The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector — 179.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions — accounted for approximately half (47.0 percent) of the direct end-use GHG emissions.2 In fact, the transportation sector emits more GHGs than any other end-use sector in Canada.

Transportation still relies heavily on petroleum products for on-road use. Exceptions include electricity in some buses and plug-in hybrids. A more complete list of other fuels used in the transportation sector is provided in Section 1.3 of this report.

In the last few years, many provinces have mandated that gasoline must contain ethanol or other renewable fuel. Ontario requires a blend average of 5.0 percent ethanol in gasoline, Manitoba has an average blend mandate of 8.5 percent ethanol, and Saskatchewan’s mandate is an average blend of 7.5 percent ethanol.3

Figure 1 shows that personal vehicles are an important household commodity; 84.4 percent of Canadian households owned or leased at least one vehicle in 2007.4

This chapter describes the key characteristics of Canada’s on-road vehicle fleet derived from Canadian Vehicle Survey (CVS) data. The data used include the entire on-road vehicle fleet, with certain exceptions such as buses and motorcycles. For a description of the methodology employed by the CVS, see Annex B in this report.

1.1 Number and age of vehicles

Table 1 shows the number of vehicles in Canada from 2000 to 2009, as well as the growth rate for each category during this period. Vehicles are divided into three categories according to weight:

  • light vehicles — gross vehicle weight less than 4.5 tonnes (t)
  • medium trucks — gross vehicle weight between 4.5 and 15 t
  • heavy trucks — gross vehicle weight of 15 t or more

According to CVS estimates, the number of in-scope vehicles grew at an average of 2.0 percent per year over 2000 to 2009 (19.1 percent for the entire period), reaching 20.5 million vehicles in 2009. The medium truck category exhibited the fastest growth rate at 3.6 percent per year during this period.

Figure 1 — Share of households in Canada by number of owned/leased vehicles, 2007.

Table 1 — Vehicles in Canada by vehicle type, 2000 to 2009
Year Light vehicles Medium trucks Heavy trucks Total
2000 16 642 140 A 319 500 A 255 503 A 17 217 143 A
2001 16 790 536 A 330 043 A 253 648 A 17 374 227 A
2002 17 299 423 A 315 424 A 268 411 A 17 883 258 A
2003 17 547 499 A 321 878 A 278 848 A 18 148 225 A
2004 17 782 719 A 326 525 B 277 942 B 18 387 185 A
2005 18 134 739 A 325 939 B 295 463 B 18 756 141 A
2006 18 536 955 A 331 667 B 305 947 B 19 174 569 A
2007 19 007 572 A 392 608 B 314 877 B 19 715 057 A
2008 19 426 504 A 412 811 B 327 106 B 20 166 421 A
2009 19 755 945 A 437 997 B 317 219 B 20 511 161 A
2000–2009 Growth 18.7% 37.1% 24.2% 19.1%
2000–2009 CAGR 1.9% 3.6% 2.4% 2.0%

The letter to the right of each estimate indicates its quality: A — Excellent, B — Very good, C — Good, D — Acceptable, E — Use with caution and F — Too unreliable to be published.

Due to rounding, the numbers in the tables may not add up, and some data may differ slightly from one table to the next.

CAGR: compound annual growth rate

Figure 2 reveals that the rapid increase in the number of medium and heavy trucks is not as pronounced when the focus is the on-road transportation sector in general, because medium trucks and heavy trucks account for only 2.1 percent and 1.5 percent of vehicles on the road, respectively.

Figure 2 — Share of vehicles in Canada by vehicle type, 2000 and 2009.

The age distribution of vehicles in 2009 is illustrated in Figure 3. In the light vehicle fleet, 18.7 percent of vehicles were less than 3 years old while half were between 3 and 9 years old.

Figure 3 — Age of vehicle fleets by vehicle type, 2009.

The rapid growth in the use of medium and heavy trucks in recent years translates into a relatively larger share of vehicles that were less than 3 years old in 2009. Medium and heavy trucks have also retained a large number of older vehicles. In the medium and heavy truck fleet, 39.5 percent of the vehicles were between 3 to 9 years old and 39.9 percent were more than 9 years old as of 2009.

1.2 Vehicle-kilometres

In 2009, Canadian vehicles travelled almost 334 billion kilometres (km) (see Figure 4). Of these kilometres travelled, 91.1 percent of vehicle-kilometres (VKM) travelled were by light vehicles. Medium and heavy trucks accounted for the remaining 8.9 percent of VKM, even though they comprised less than 4 percent of the vehicle stock (see Figure 2). This fact implies that, on average, medium and heavy trucks were driven further than light vehicles.

Figure 4 — Vehicle-kilometres travelled by vehicle type, 2000 to 2009.

Over 2000 to 2009, the compound annual growth rate of VKM was 3.8 percent for medium trucks, 0.8 percent for light vehicles and 0.4 percent for heavy trucks.

VKM increased at an average rate of 2.5 percent per year from 2000 to 2009, although decreases in total VKM occurred in 2001, 2003 and 2008. The largest decrease was in 2008 when VKM decreased by 2.0 percent, coinciding with a recession and a peak in gasoline and diesel prices across Canada.5

Figure 5 illustrates that the price of gasoline was approximately 30 cents per litre higher during the 2008 summer period (weeks 25 to 37) than it was in the summers of 2007 and 2009.

Figure 5 — Canadian average weekly retail price of regular gasoline, 2007 to 2009.

In Figure 6, the second and third quarters of each year represent the summer period, and the VKM are highest during the summer.

Figure 6 — Quarterly vehicle-kilometres travelled by light vehicles, 2007 to 2009.

The summer VKM for 2009 were higher than those for 2008, in part, because

  • The high gas prices in 2008 caused people to drive fewer kilometres.
  • The lower gas prices in 2009, which were reduced to the level of 2007, caused people to drive more kilometres.

1.3 Fuel consumption

Table 2 lists the number of vehicles according to type of vehicle and type of fuel consumed in 2009. Virtually all vehicles (99.7 percent) consumed either gasoline (including up to 10 percent ethanol blends) or diesel. Light vehicles used primarily gasoline (96.9 percent), while heavy vehicles used primarily diesel (97.5 percent). Meanwhile, medium trucks were more varied in their fuel consumption, with about three quarters (72.2 percent) running on diesel and the remainder running on gasoline.

Table 2 — Vehicles in Canada by vehicle type and fuel type, 2009
Fuel type Vehicles Total
Light vehicles Medium trucks Heavy trucks
Gasoline 19 145 666 A 115 572 E F 19 269 153 A
Diesel 563 608 A 316 380 E 309 305 B 1 189 293 C
Other F F N/A F
Total 19 755 945 A 437 997 B 317 219 B 20 511 161 A

The letter F indicates quality indictor: Too unreliable to be published.

Due to rounding, the numbers in the tables may not add up, and some data may differ slightly from one table to the next.

Other types of fuel used by Canadian drivers included electricity, propane, natural gas and 85 percent ethanol/gasoline blends.6 These fuels were used in less than 1 percent of all vehicles.

Figure 7 shows the fuel consumption rate (FCR) for gasoline and diesel in 2005 and 2009 for each vehicle type.7 The rate remained relatively constant for light vehicles: a slight increase for gasoline (10.6 to 10.7 L/100 km) and a slight decrease for diesel (11.4 to 10.6 L/100 km).

FCRs decreased for medium trucks (from 26.6 to 25.1 L/100 km for gasoline-powered trucks and from 26.4 to 24.4 L/100 km for diesel-powered trucks).

The FCR for heavy trucks also decreased, from 35.1 L/100 km in 2005 to 33.4 L/100 km in 2009. This decrease occurred almost entirely from 2008 to 2009; in fact, from 2006 to 2008, the fuel consumption of diesel-powered trucks rose.

In 1995, the Government of Canada introduced regulations for reducing air pollutants. These regulations include the Sulphur in Diesel Fuel Regulations, the Sulphur in Gasoline Regulations and the Benzene in Gasoline Regulations.8

These regulations caused changes in the composition of diesel fuel. Consequently, diesel-powered engines had to be modified to accommodate the altered fuel. The use of the new diesel fuel in the standard engines temporarily halted gains in fuel efficiency. After the engines were modified to accommodate the new diesel fuel, FCRs began to decline, as seen between 2008 and 2009 in Figure 7.

Figure 7 — Fuel consumption rate by vehicle type and fuel type, 2005 and 2009.

One method of improving fuel efficiency is to drive a vehicle that runs on diesel, rather than gasoline. This practice is especially prevalent in Europe. In 2008, diesel vehicles accounted for approximately 52 percent of new passenger vehicle sales in the European Union, up from 32 percent in 2000.

Diesel engines have significantly higher fuel efficiency than current gasoline, spark-ignition engines. In some vehicles, fuel efficiency can be improved by 20 percent to 50 percent compared with gasoline. Today’s light-duty diesel engines generally perform as well as comparable gasoline engines but have better fuel economy. Better fuel economy translates to lower CO2 emissions.9

Historically, the high cost of controlling pollutant emissions has been a barrier to more widespread use of diesel vehicles. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) have been particularly problematic.

Nonetheless, technological advances over the past 20 years have enabled greater control of diesel emissions while maintaining high performance, thus positioning diesel passenger vehicles for re-emergence in the United States market.

Since 2004, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 2 standards have been the same for all light-duty vehicles, regardless of the category (car or sport utility vehicle [SUV]) or fuel type (gasoline or diesel). However, in the future, technological advances will be needed to meet more stringent emissions regulations.

Because of the improvements made for controlling diesel emissions and the significantly higher fuel efficiency of a diesel engine, choosing to drive a diesel vehicle is becoming a more viable alternative for more people.10

Figure 8 confirms that fuel efficiency is a priority for Canadians when they select a vehicle. In fact, 45 percent of Canadians stated that fuel efficiency was a very important consideration for them the last time they purchased or leased a motor vehicle, and another 40 percent stated that fuel efficiency was somewhat important.

Figure 8 — When last motor vehicle was purchased/leased, importance of fuel efficiency in decision, by number of motor vehicles owned/leased, 2007.

Since 1990, significant technological improvements have made vehicles more fuel-efficient and safer. As shown in Table 3, newer vehicles are heavier and have more powerful engines. Also, a larger proportion of these vehicles are now four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD). Although 4WD and AWD increase a vehicle's safety, these technologies are less fuel-efficient, in general.

Table 3 — Vehicles in Canada by vehicle characteristics, 1990, 2000 and 2008
  Model year
1990 2000 2008
Number of gears ShareShareShare
3 gears 30.0% 4.0% -
4 gears 47.0% 78.0% 46.0%
5 gears 23.0% 18.0% 38.0%
6 gears - - 15.0%
7 gears or more - - 1.0%
Gross vehicle weight kilogramskilogramskilograms
  approx. 1450 approx. 1680 approx. 1720
Engine ShareShareShare
4 cylinders and less 50.0% 38.0% 48.0%
5 or 6 cylinders 38.0% 49.0% 40.0%
7 cylinders and more 12.0% 13.0% 12.0%
Fuel control 40% fuel
Multi-point and electronic
fuel injection
Electronic fuel
Horsepower HPHPHP
  127 171 214*
Drive type ShareShareShare
Front 75.0% 71.0% 59.0%
Rear 15.0% 10.0% 6.0%
4WD and AWD 10.0% 19.0% 35.0%
Fuel consumption rate (L/100 km)** FCR (Share)FCR (Share)FCR (Share)
Car and station wagon 8.2 7.8 7.1
4WD and AWD 9.2 (1.0%) 9.1 (2.0%) 9.1 (7.0%)
Rear 9.7 (5.0%) 9.9 (52.0%) 8.9 (7.0%)
Light truck (van and SUV) 11.3 11.1 9.5
4WD and AWD 11.6 (34.0%) 12.2 (41.0%) 10.5 (67.0%)
Rear 11.4 (43.0%) 11.8 (17.0%) 10.7 (6.0%)

* Data estimated from: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2008, September 2008.

** Average fuel consumption rate for motor gasoline fleet of selected model year vehicles, from Transport Canada Web site.

On the other hand, the movement toward building vehicles that have electronic fuel injection and more gears has made the vehicles more fuel-efficient. The EPA reported, “One way to make the engine operate more closely to its best efficiency point is to increase the number of gears in the transmission and, for automatic transmissions, employ a lockup torque converter. Three important changes in transmission design have occurred in recent years: the use of additional gears for both automatic and manual transmissions; the automatics are using more conversion to lockup torque converter transmissions; and the use of continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).”11

Note that six-speed transmissions currently account for less than 5 percent of transmissions built in North America but are expected to reach 40 percent by 2012.12 Seven-speed transmissions are available.

As discussed earlier, some of these improvements make a vehicle less fuel-efficient (heavier and more powerful), while others improve the FCR (gears and injection). Between 1990 and 2008, fuel efficiency improved as the lab-tested FCR of light vehicles sold in a single model year declined (see Table 3).

The FCR for cars and station wagons decreased from 8.2 L/100 km in 1990 to 7.8 L/100 km in 2000 and was 7.1 L/100 km in 2008. The FCR for light trucks decreased from 11.3 L/100 km in 1990 to 11.1 L/100 km in 2000 and further dropped to 9.5 L/100 km in 2008.

  1. Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, 2011, Energy Use Data Handbook, 1990 to 2008.
  2. Direct emissions exclude emissions from the electricity generation sector.
  3. Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, Fuels Policy and Programs.
  4. Statistics Canada, Household and Environment Survey.
  5. Natural Resources Canada, 2010, The Fuel Focus Report, www.nrcan.gc.ca/eneene/sources/pripri/latder-eng.php.
  6. For more information on alternative fuels, visit oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/alternative-fuels/index.cfm.
  7. 2005 is used because before 2005, fuel consumption was estimated by using a different methodology.
  8. Natural Resources Canada, 2010, Industrial Consumption of Energy (ICE) Survey — Summary Report of Energy Use in the Canadian Manufacturing Sector, 1995–2008.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, July 2010, Diesel Power: Clean Vehicles for Tomorrow, www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/diesel_technical_primer.pdf.
  10. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, July 2010, Diesel Power: Clean Vehicles for Tomorrow, www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/diesel_technical_primer.pdf.
  11. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2010, November 2010, www.epa.gov/oms/fetrends.htm.
  12. CSM Worldwide, www.csmauto.com.