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Canadians Are Seeking Aspirational Vehicles, Yet Buying Practically

Autosphere » Dealerships » Canadians Are Seeking Aspirational Vehicles, Yet Buying Practically
Canadians seek aspirational vehicles but buy practically. Photo Ford Canada

Data released from AutoTrader, Canada’s largest and most trusted automotive marketplace, provides a revealing look at vehicle shopper preferences in 2023.

In a year marked by economic turbulence and higher-than-ever vehicle prices, marketplace search data suggests vehicle buyers still hold an optimistic outlook.

Among AutoTrader’s Top Searched Vehicles of 2023, 60 percent of the list comprises luxury sedans and sports cars. The Porsche 911 rose for the first time to the #2 spot nationally, up from #6 last year, moving the Honda Civic down one spot to #3. The Ford F-150 made its ninth appearance as Canada’s most sought-after vehicle and the Dodge Ram 1500 climbed its way back into the Top 10—the second truck to break through since 2019.

While AutoTrader’s Top Sold Vehicles of 2023 includes many commonalities with the Top Searched Vehicles, this list is decidedly more practical in nature. Ninety percent of the Top 10 vehicles sold in Canada according to AutoTrader are functional, utility vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, with not a single luxury brand appearing. The departure between the search and sold data sets, perhaps suggests that in a year where wallets are top of mind, Canadians may be interested in aspirational vehicles, but they are landing with more practical purchases.

2023 Top Searched Vehicles 2023 Top Sold Vehicles
1.   Ford F-150 1.   Ford F-150
2.   Porsche 911 2.   Dodge Ram 1500
3.   Honda Civic 3.   Ford Escape
4.   BMW 3 Series 4.   Chevrolet Silverado 1500
5.   Toyota RAV4 5.   Honda CR-V
6.   Ford Mustang 6.   GMC Sierra 1500
7.   Mercedes-Benz C-Class 7.   Toyota RAV4
8.   Mercedes-Benz E-Class 8.   Nissan Rogue
9.   Chevrolet Corvette 9.   Jeep Wrangler
10.  Dodge Ram 1500 10.  Honda Civic

“Each year, AutoTrader analyzes millions of data points to piece together an underlying narrative about consumer vehicle shopping behaviours and patterns,” says Ian MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer, AutoTrader. “This year, we see vehicle buyers searching aspirationally, but ultimately opting for more practical purchases, which could suggest Canadians are maintaining an optimistic outlook, but prioritizing reliability and utility in a turbulent year.”

Provincial Search Breakout

With 11 million Canadians visiting AutoTrader.ca to browse hundreds of thousands of vehicles for sale each month, AutoTrader mines and analyzes its search data annually to capture the pulse of Canadian vehicle buyers’ interests and provide insights into their most coveted vehicle selections. Based on the Top Searched Vehicles list per region, the data revealed key preferences across Canada.

Luxury vehicles regain traction in B.C. – After two consecutive years with a growing emphasis on economical vehicles in British Columbia, this year’s entry of the BMW X5 (#7) could indicate the tide is turning, with a shift back to luxury vehicles. Composed of 60 percent luxury, BC’s Top Searched Vehicles list has the highest number of luxury brands of all regions in 2023.

Alberta’s growing charge of large vehicles – Alberta maintained its affinity for larger vehicles, with the majority of the province’s Top Searched Vehicles consisting of trucks and SUVs. While some SUVs featured on last year’s list were unseated, the entry of two trucks, the Toyota Tacoma (#7) and the high-ranking Dodge Ram 1500 (#3) demonstrate how larger vehicles are continuing to dominate in Alberta.

Saskatchewan remains steadfast for another year – The province known for its penchant for practicality held true this year, with the entry of the Dodge Ram 1500 (#2) and Toyota 4Runner (#9), making 80 percent of the list functional vehicles. Luxury brands continue to be out of the running in the province, and the Honda Civic and Jeep Grand Cherokee fall off the Top 10 list.

Ontario steers towards sedans – Cars continue to be the segment of choice in Ontario, while trucks slowly gain momentum. The Ford F-150 claimed the top spot in the province, with the Dodge Ram 1500 (#10) pushing the Honda Accord off the Top 10 this year. Ontario continues to lean towards luxury, as four of the Top 10 vehicles featured on this year’s list consist of luxury nameplates. Economical options are limited to the Honda Civic (down two spots to #3 from #1), following the loss of the Honda Accord.

Economic styles remain popular in Quebec – The top five contenders on Quebec’s Top Searched list have remained consistent with 2022. Ruling the province is the tried-and-true Honda Civic (#1), followed by the Porsche 911 (#2), the Toyota RAV4 (#3), which supplanted the BMW 3 Series (#4), and the Ford F-150 (#5). The only new vehicle to make it on this year’s list is the Jeep Wrangler (#9), pushing out the Mazda3. The national champion, the Ford F-150, has remained stagnant in Quebec, however, with the lowest ranking in the country, coming in fifth spot.

SUVs hold strong in Manitoba – Manitoba leads the country when it comes to SUVs, with forty percent of the province’s Top Searched list occupied by the Toyota RAV4 (#2), Honda CR-V (#5), Jeep Wrangler (#7), and Jeep Grand Cherokee (#9). The Toyota Highlander and luxury vehicles, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and BMW 3 Series, were pushed out by the Dodge Ram 1500 (#6), Toyota Tacoma (#8), and Chevrolet Corvette (#10). The removal of the luxury vehicles from the province’s Top 10 list indicates that Manitobans are prioritizing pragmatic vehicles this year.

Maritimes backpedal on downsizing – Atlantic provinces are shifting their focus back to larger vehicles, with trucks and SUVs seizing 70 percent of this year’s list. Compared to last year when the Maritime provinces moved away from upsizing, and leaned into smaller options, this year’s trend is the opposite. The elimination of the Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Camaro for the Dodge Ram 1500 (#8) and Toyota Tundra (#9), leaves the Honda Civic (#2), the Ford Mustang (#5), and the Chevrolet Corvette (#10) as the only sedans on this year’s Top Searched list.

Automotive Trends Outlook

In addition to mining its marketplace data for insights and trends, AutoTrader conducts ongoing consumer research studies each year to provide an up-to-the-minute view of the evolving automotive landscape. This year’s research explored how Canadians have been adapting to current economic conditions, with findings highlighting heightened interest in new vehicles amid inventory increases, fluctuation in EV interest, and an overall resilient mindset from car buyers. Observations include:

The year of the truck

Last year, as Canadians were beginning to feel the pressure of the economic climate, inventory shortages, and higher-than-ever gas prices, more economical vehicles ranked higher on shoppers’ search preferences. This year, however, Canadians are leaning into the “bigger is better” mindset and not only searching for more trucks but buying them as well. For the first time since 2019, two trucks were included in the Top 10 Most Searched Vehicles List and the number of trucks that were included in most regions’ Top 10 list also grew. Overall, consumer interest is higher, and with inventory continuing to rise year-over-year (51 percent), trucks are surely having their moment in 2023.

Canadian car buyers are resilient

Throughout the year, Canadians have demonstrated resilience in their shopping behaviour, despite higher vehicle prices. A recent study conducted by AutoTrader, reveals that while some vehicle shoppers admit feeling less confident about the economy, overall, they remain positive about their personal financial situation. Fifty-eight percent rate their current financial situation positively and 45 percent believe their personal finances will improve. In fact, the AutoTrader marketplace has seen a five percent increase in visits this year compared to the same time last year, as online automotive marketplaces remain one of the top sources for shoppers.

New vehicle inventory grows, bringing more balance to interest in used vehicles

On AutoTrader, new vehicles account for 41 percent of inventory, up from 30 percent in 2022, as manufacturing levels begin to return to normal, easing inventory strains. New car buyers who previously were pushed towards ‘nearly new’, can increasingly find a new car to buy now. This had a slight impact on used vehicle interest, and as a result, used prices began to decline month-over-month, since July. Used vehicle inventory initially declined in the first quarter of the year but has since grown above 2022 levels as the market continues to balance itself out to normalcy.

EV sector continues to introduce more green options amid dip in consumer interest

Following a year of heightened interest in response to record high gas prices in 2022, this year’s AutoTrader data suggests Electric Vehicle (EV) purchase intention has declined. In 2023, only 56 percent of car shoppers who do not own an EV, are open to purchasing one for their next vehicle, down from 68 percent the year prior. For Canadians who would not consider going electric, macroeconomic factors like vehicle prices (40 percent), interest rates (24 percent), and inflation (13 percent) are the top reasons listed.

Today, only one in 10 Canadians owns an EV, and while alternate fuel type interest is 15 percent higher than last year, EV searches only account for less than three percent of overall searches on the marketplace. EV inventory made a strong recovery, with the average weekly inventory increasing 146 percent year-over-year as of November. This could be attributed to more options entering the market, with the release of the new Kia EV9, Volvo EX30, Toyota Prius, Toyota Crown, and BMW X5 PHEV. The EV truck segment will grow in 2024 with the launch of the Chevrolet Silverado EV and Dodge Ram EV pickup truck.

“Affordability is always an important consideration for vehicle shoppers, especially during these times,” says Jodi Lai, Editor-in-Chief, AutoTrader. “But when it comes to a milestone purchase as important as a vehicle, Canadians aren’t necessarily sacrificing spend. Although vehicle prices were higher this year, it didn’t stop shoppers from seeking aspirational vehicles, and while purchases skewed more practical, the emphasis wasn’t only on economical options, which could indicate prices aren’t as much of a deterrent as they were last year.”

Methodology

Analysis was performed based on site analytics from AutoTrader using Canadian search and sold by-proxy delist data from January 1 to October 27, 2023. Year-over-year analysis was based on data from January 2022 to October 2023. AutoTrader uses delistings as a proxy for sales by analyzing the movement of inventory listings on the site AutoTrader commissions independent third-party research to understand Canadian car shopping habits amongst both car intenders and past purchasers. Throughout the year, AutoTrader also surveyed its users to maintain a pulse of car shopping behaviours over the course of 2023.

 

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