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How Canadians Shopped for Cars in 2021 & Top Trends of the Year

With 2021 in our rear view mirror, many people are looking forward to a fresh start after a tumultuous year, characterized by ongoing pricing and availability shifts in the market. As we’ve turned the page and rung in 2022, AutoTrader.ca took a look back at what was a big year in the Canadian automotive industry.

Every year, AutoTrader.ca, Canada’s largest automotive marketplace, mines and analyzes its site search data to capture the pulse of Canadian car buyers’ interests. The exercise produces the Top Searched Vehicles list, which provides a current view of the most popular cars among Canadians, as well as a glimpse into evolving consumer preferences across the country.

The marketplace search data found that while consumer brand loyalty seems to be enduring through the pandemic, 2021 also marked the beginning of a number of new trends in how Canadian car buyers approach their car-shopping journey.

In 2021, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was profoundly felt in the automotive sector, most notably in the global supply chain squeeze that led to a widespread shortage of microchips. This shortage strained new car inventory and resulted in  record high prices for new and used vehicles in the Canadian automotive marketplace.

Yet, despite that reality, luxury and mainstay car brands remained the top vehicle choices for Canadians in 2021. AutoTrader’s 2021 Top Searched vehicle list revealed that perennial favourites, the Ford F-150, Ford Mustang and BMW 3 Series, held strong as Canada’s top three vehicles for the second year in a row.

In order, the top searched vehicles in Canada in 2021 were:

  1. Ford F-150
  2. Ford Mustang
  3. BMW 3 Series
  4. Porsche 911
  5. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  6. Honda Civic
  7. Toyota RAV4
  8. Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  9. Chevrolet Corvette
  10. BMW M

These results suggest that despite the obvious market headwinds brought about by COVID-19, most Canadian car shoppers have not been deterred from staying loyal to their favourite brands and have, in fact, been putting their money where their hearts are, a reassuring sign for dealers across the country as the pandemic waves continue to ebb and flow.

Having an understanding that Canadians are still motivated to shop for cars – perhaps even more so than prior to the pandemic with almost 1 in 5 Canadians are still looking to buy a vehicle within the next six months – dealers should also pay attention to the trends identified by AutoTrader.ca’s research to measure the pulse of Canadian car shopping behaviours in 2021. The search behaviour for this past year also offered an eye-opening look on consumer behavior on a number of fronts. Together, this data can also offer dealers some critical insights to support their sales processes and strategies to connect with customers.

Some of the trends this research identified includes:

Adapting to the global microchip shortage

In 2021 the microchip shortage, paired with pent-up demand for vehicles, prompted increases in vehicle pricing, with average new and used vehicle prices reaching a record high of $49,900 and $31,875 respectively in November 2021. AutoTrader found that 4 in 5 car shoppers surveyed were aware of the global microchip shortage and were willing to make significant adjustments to their car-buying plans as a result: 42 per cent said they were willing to travel further to find the right vehicle; nearly a third (27%) of car shoppers were willing to switch from purchasing new to purchasing used. With the shortage top of mind, Canadians leveraged tools like the marketplace to help bridge the gap sourcing inventory, comparison shopping and reviewing price guidances, with the AutoTrader.ca marketplace recording a 20 per cent lift in traffic for 2020, and then another 12 per cent increase in traffic for 2021, year-over-year.

Canadians still hesitant about public transit

New research reveals there is still concern with public transportation, as Canadians revealed they are still using public transit, cabs, ridesharing and carpooling less often compared to pre-pandemic. In contrast, more Canadians opted to walk or drive themselves more often than before, and one in five are still looking to buy a vehicle within the next six months.

Some Canadians saved more money because of the pandemic

Despite widespread concern around personal and household finances, almost half of car shoppers (48%) said the pandemic and ensuing economic lock-down allowed them to save more than they normally would. Among those who were able to save more, 63 per cent planned to use it to purchase a vehicle, and a third of these shoppers (34%) planned to buy a more expensive vehicle than they initially budgeted.

Canadians are upsizing their cars

Nearly one-third (30%) of car shoppers intend to upsize to a larger vehicle from their current car. Among those who plan to upsize, nearly half (48%) intend to upsize to a SUV, while a third (32%) said they would pivot to a truck. Respondents cited more cargo space, better seating comfort, and more seats as the top reasons for going big. Searches for SUVs increased almost two per cent in 2021, in line with a three per cent growth in share of segment on the marketplace.

Electric vehicle popularity charging ahead

The popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) continued to grow in 2021, with 64 per cent of non-owners indicating they would be open to buying an EV for their next vehicle. While less than 1 in 10 (8%) consumers surveyed currently own an EV, AutoTrader.ca marketplace searches for electric and hybrid fuel types more than doubled in 2021 over the previous year, while EV inventory grew 31 per cent year-over-year.

All in all, Canadian car consumers have proven to be tremendously resilient and adaptable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and are turning to tools like the AutoTrader.ca marketplace to help them navigate the realities of the current landscape and get behind the wheel of a new car sooner.

Click here for more consumer insights and AutoTrader’s latest research findings.

About the Author

Sabrina Arruda

Editor / Éditrice

TRADER

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