2009 Canadian Vehicle Survey Summary Report


Medium and heavy trucks

This chapter examines medium and heavy trucks, which are defined as follows:

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

4.1 Medium and heavy truck distance travelled

As seen in Section 1.2, medium and heavy trucks accounted for 8.9 percent of vehicle kilometres (VKM), even though they comprised less than 4 percent of the vehicle stock. These statistics imply that medium and heavy trucks were driven further than light vehicles, on average.

Over 2000 to 2009, the compound annual growth rate of VKM was 3.8 percent for medium trucks (from 5.930 billion kilometres [km] in 2000 to 8.295 billion km in 2009). The compound annual growth rate of VKM for heavy trucks was much more modest at 0.4 percent (from 20.716 billion km in 2000 to 21.416 billion km in 2009).

Figure 28 — Vehicle-kilometres travelled by medium and heavy trucks, 2000 to 2009.

4.2 Medium and heavy truck configuration

Medium and heavy trucks can be configured in different ways. A straight truck is a complete unit (i.e. a power unit and a box or flatbed that cannot be detached). A tractor, on the other hand, is the front part of a tractor-trailer combination and can be accompanied by one or more detachable trailers. Tractor-trailer combinations are typically used for long-distance hauls.

In the medium truck fleet, the majority of VKM (67.8 percent) were travelled by straight trucks in 2009 (see Figure 29). This share of distance is a decrease from 81.3 percent in 2000, which indicates increased utilization of medium trucks with configurations other than straight trucks. Over the same period, the share of straight trucks and trailers increased 5.2 percentage points, and other configurations increased 5.6 percentage points.

Figure 29 — Distance travelled by medium trucks by configuration, 2000 and 2009.

* “Other” configuration includes tractor and 2 trailers, tractor and 3 trailers and everything else not classified.

Figure 30 illustrates the heavy truck share of VKM by configuration in 2000 and 2009.

Figure 30 — Distance travelled by heavy trucks by configuration, 2000 and 2009.

* “Other” configuration includes everything else not classified.

In 2009, the majority of VKM (66.4 percent) were travelled by tractors with one trailer. The second most driven configuration was straight trucks, which had 16.0 percent of the distance travelled. The remaining 17.5 percent was travelled by all other configurations, which include configurations such as tractors with more than one trailer and straight trucks with trailers.

The share of distance travelled for each configuration of heavy truck has changed moderately since 2000. Between 2000 and 2009, the share of VKM by the tractor and one trailer configuration dropped by 8.2 percentage points. Conversely, both the straight truck and the tractor and two or more trailers configurations increased their share of VKM over the same period (3.4 and 4.4 percentage points, respectively).

4.3 Medium and heavy truck trip purpose

The distance travelled by medium and heavy trucks for different purposes is illustrated in Figures 31 and 32. Medium trucks were generally used for a greater variety of purposes than heavy trucks. For medium trucks, carrying goods or equipment accounted for 50.7 percent of all VKM in 2009, up from 49.8 percent in 2000. Travel for other purposes decreased significantly from 27.4 percent of VKM in 2000 to 19.1 percent in 2009, and driving to or from service calls accounted for 18.2 percent of distance travelled, up from 11.6 percent in 2000.

Figure 31 — Distance travelled by medium trucks by trip purpose, 2000 and 2009.

Figure 32 shows that the main purpose for travel by heavy trucks in 2009 was to carry goods or equipment (76.9 percent), up from 74.7 percent in 2000. Another 15.1 percent of distance was travelled by empty vehicles, up slightly from 2000 (13.5 percent).

Figure 32 — Distance travelled by heavy trucks by trip purpose, 2000 and 2009.

Trucks travel empty for various reasons, including the inability to find cargo on the way to or from a haul. For-hire companies have business tools and cargo logistics that can help minimize empty trips. However, Figure 34 shows that the for-hire truck share of distance travelled is decreasing, and the owner-operator share is increasing. This change may help to explain why heavy-truck empty trips are continuing to rise.

4.4 Medium and heavy truck activity

Most truck traffic on Canadian roads is related to one of the following activities:

  • for-hire trucking — a company transports goods as its principal activity
  • private trucking — a company transports goods as a secondary activity that is part of the distribution process of its primary output
  • owner-operators — individuals transport goods either independently or for a for-hire or for private companies

Table 4 displays the number of medium and heavy trucks, as defined by the Canadian Vehicle Survey scope, in 2009 based on their type of activity. As the numbers indicate, most of the medium trucks are privately owned, while the majority of heavy trucks are involved in the for-hire business.

Table 4 — In scope vehicles for medium and heavy trucks by activity type, 2009
Activity type Vehicles Total
Medium trucks Heavy trucks
For-hire 51 793 E 142 494 D 194 287  
Owner-operator 63 344 E 64 231 E 127 575  
Private 240 045 C 78 967 E 319 013  
Other 82 815 E 31 528 E 114 343  
Total 437 997 B 317 219 B 755 217  

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.

Figures 33 and 34 show the distance travelled by medium and heavy trucks by activity type in 2000 and 2009. Even though nearly half (47.4 percent) of VKM travelled by medium trucks in 2009 were by private operators, there has been a shift away from private operators toward owner-operators. Within the medium truck fleet, privately operated vehicles decreased from 52.4 percent to 47.4 percent between 2000 and 2009. During the same period, medium trucks increased in the owner-operator activity type from 16.0 percent to 22.2 percent.

Figure 33 — Distance travelled by medium trucks by activity type, 2000 and 2009.

* “Other” is defined by Statistics Canada as when a respondent doesn’t consider his or her operation to be related to for-hire, owner-operator or private activities. We also added the information related to missing activity with “Other.”

Figure 34 shows that the majority of distance travelled by heavy trucks was by for-hire truckers (58.8 percent), followed by owner-operators (21.0 percent) and private truckers (12.7 percent). As with medium trucks, the trend in the activity type of heavy trucks was a shift from for-hire (67.2 percent to 58.8 percent) to more owner-operator (15.2 percent to 21.0 percent) between 2000 and 2009.

Figure 34 — Distance travelled by heavy trucks by activity type, 2000 and 2009.

4.5 Age of medium and heavy trucks

Figure 35 illustrates the age distribution of medium and heavy trucks in 2005 and 2009. In general, the average medium truck was slightly older than the average heavy truck.

Figure 35 — Distribution of medium and heavy trucks by vehicle age, 2005 and 2009.

In 2009, less than one quarter of medium and heavy trucks was less than 3 years old, and a third was more than 9 years old. Overall, the medium and heavy truck fleet contains a greater proportion of both newer and older vehicles than the light vehicle fleet.

As a medium or heavy truck gets older, it is widely believed that they are used less. Figure 36 confirms this statement. Indeed, the average distance travelled by medium and heavy trucks that are more than 9 years old is roughly one third of the distance travelled by those that are between 6 and 9 years old.

Figure 36 — Average distance travelled by medium and heavy trucks by vehicle age, 2009.

4.6 Medium and heavy truck fuel consumption rate

Medium trucks vary in composition, utility and size. For example, a medium truck could be used for local mail delivery or as a fire truck. It makes sense for medium trucks to be gasoline-powered for some purposes and diesel-powered for others.

Figure 37 illustrates that diesel-powered medium trucks are generally slightly more fuel-efficient than the gasoline-powered trucks. Due to the varied usage of medium trucks, changes in fuel consumption rate (FCR) from year to year are hard to associate solely with improvements in fuel consumption. Adding more classifications to the medium truck fleet would enable better tracking of their fuel efficiency by fuel type.

Figure 37 — Fuel consumption rate of medium trucks by configuration and fuel type, 2005 and 2009.

Figure 38 illustrates the gasoline and diesel FCRs by heavy truck configuration. Within the heavy truck fleet, diesel trucks are considerably more fuel-efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts. In fact, in 2009, the average diesel-powered tractor-and-one-trailer heavy truck was more than twice as fuel-efficient as the corresponding gasoline-powered truck. This fact may help explain why more than 97 percent of the heavy truck fleet comprises diesel-powered trucks.

Figure 38 Fuel consumption rate of heavy trucks by configuration and fuel type, 2005 and 2009.

Figure 39 illustrates FCRs for gasoline-and diesel-powered medium trucks by activity type and shows that gasoline-powered medium trucks tend to be slightly more fuel-efficient than their diesel-powered counterparts. The only exception appears to be for gasoline-powered, private medium trucks whose FCR is nearly 15 percent higher than their diesel-powered counterparts.

Figure 39 — Fuel consumption rates of medium and heavy trucks by activity type and fuel type, 2009.

These trucks account for the majority of VKM in this fleet, which has the effect of increasing the FCR for the entire gasoline-powered medium truck fleet. For-hire and owner-operator trucks are the most fuel-efficient.

Figure 39 also confirms that heavy trucks that are diesel-powered are more efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts. In fact, few heavy trucks are gasoline-powered.

For-hire companies that have multiple activities can more closely match the truck type to the activity, thus maximizing fuel efficiency. Activity type does not affect the fuel efficiency of diesel-powered heavy trucks as much as it does for other trucks.

Figure 40 illustrates diesel truck FCRs by age of the vehicle in 2009. The data show that medium trucks that are more than 13 years old were significantly less fuel-efficient than the newer medium trucks.

Figure 40 — Fuel consumption rates of diesel-powered medium and heavy trucks by vehicle age, 2009.

For medium trucks, the newer the truck is, the more efficient it is. In heavy trucks, the same holds true except for the 10 to 13 years old category, which is slightly more fuel-efficient than the 6 to 9 years old category. Overall, a marked improvement was noticed in the FCRs for both newer medium and newer heavy trucks.