Albertans are buying fewer cars and trucks, according to the latest sales data from Statistics Canada, part of a broader national and global decline that one economist believes is linked to the rise in new transportation technologies.
Just over 115,000 new vehicles were sold in Alberta in the first half of this year, down 6.5 per cent compared with 2018.
Nationally, just over a million vehicles were sold from January to June. That’s down 5.2 per cent from a year prior.
Adjusting for population, this year has seen the fewest vehicles sold in Alberta in the past decade.
Similar declines have been observed around the world, says Moshe Lander, an economist with Montreal’s Concordia University, who teaches courses in Calgary during the summer.
Historically, he says, new vehicle sales tend to ebb and flow, but he notes a change in that cycle.
“I think the general trend is that it’s going to continue to fall,” he said.
With the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber and short-term rentals like car2go, Lander says, many people — especially those living in larger cities — don’t need to own as many vehicles as they did in the past.
“The nature of car ownership is changing because the nature of the way we use the car is changing,” he said.
Another thing that’s changing is the type of vehicles that people are buying.
Trucks, vans and SUVs
Small passenger cars continue to shrink in terms of market share, while bigger vehicles eat up a larger and larger proportion of consumer dollars.
That’s especially true in Alberta, where 89 per cent of spending on new vehicles this year has gone to trucks, vans and SUVs. That compares to about 80 per cent, nationwide.
“We’re basically a truck market,” said Denis Ducharme, president of the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta.
Lander says a lot of households that went from having two or three cars down to just one are opting to make that lone vehicle a big one.
“I want to be able to throw the dog and the kid and the skis and the skates and the big hockey bag and everything into the car,” he said.
“Car-industry production has completely changed to cater to that … rather than buying three small cars, we can just buy one large car.”
Overall, he expects the trends to continue, especially as transportation technologies grow and self-driving cars inch closer to a reality on Canadian roads.
For many people who use their vehicle for a small fraction of the day and leave it parked the rest of the time, Lander says the question of car ownership is becoming one of cost versus benefit, compared with the alternatives.
“You need to take care of [a car you own] with maintenance and upkeep, and changing the tires, and oil and gas, and insurance,” he said.
“By the time you’re done, this is an incredibly inefficient use of resources. Where, I could just rent a car2go when I need it or go to Budget and rent a car because I want to drive to Banff or take an Uber home from the bar rather than pay for parking downtown — and then I’m actually allowed to go out and enjoy myself rather than being a designated driver.”
“When you start thinking in those terms, you start to realize: You know, really, why do I need a car?”
For those who are in the market for a new vehicle, however, Ducharme says the slowdown in sales has led to some good buying opportunities.
“I guess the benefit of that is it’s a great time to buy a new vehicle,” he said. “Because the manufacturer rebates are huge.”