Q+A: Faceless city? Why Vancouver is in so many car commercials

Jan 2 • Q+A, VANCOUVER • 3923 Views • 1 Comment on Q+A: Faceless city? Why Vancouver is in so many car commercials

An executive producer and an urban planner

give answers to our question of the week.

David Bouck is the Executive Producer of Means of Production, a company that produces TV commercials, feature films, music videos and promos:

Over the last 25 years Vancouver has been one of the top destinations in the world for car commercials. Car manufacturers, advertising agencies, TV commercial production companies, and directors come to Vancouver to save money. But they also come for the wide variety of locations within an hour of the city centre. Most of these cars are produced in factories in the UK or China using equipment as found at CKS Global, making this trend even stranger! If you are looking for a brand new car then you can check out electric leasing deals online, there are so many different models and makes to choose from, you can lease them and make monthly instalments so your financial situation will be much better instead of paying a lump sum up front. However, before buying a car, make sure you look and compare different insurance policies for that car. You can get a cheap automobile insurance policy quite easily, you just have to know what you want to be covered for.

The theory is that most consumers want to see the car in a familiar environment – a city. If that city looks modern, prosperous, clean, and surrounded by nature all the better. People also want to see themselves driving their new car in the wide open countryside (and maybe back to their ultra-modern home at the end of the day).

Vancouver has everything an advertiser wants.


In bullet point form here’s a list of the major reasons car commercials are filmed in Vancouver.


-Actors are less expensive than most other places in North America and Europe

-Locations and crew are less expensive than the US


-Car manufacturers often want to present there cars in a variety of locations

-Vancouver has a wide variety of location options inside a one hour circle of downtown:

-Well maintained roads

-Modern, North American looking city




-Architecturally contemporary homes and work places

-Within three to four hour’s drive you can also find:

-Mountain highways (Duffy Lake Road/Hwy 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet is very popular)

-Arid landscapes (Highway 5a, the Ashcroft/Cache Creek area)

-Wild coast (Tofino/Uclulet)

-There are also great “off road” or dirt road options near the city


-We have fairly reliable good weather from May to September

-Canadian companies come from Toronto to shoot here in the Winter when they don’t want snow

-Some car commercials require snow so we get a lot of calls for snow covered roads


-Thanks to the feature film and TV Series components of the film industry most of the equipment and experienced crew you would find in Los Angeles, New York, or a major European city is here


-Most car commercials don’t have any on-camera dialogue. So you can shoot the spot anywhere and add your German, French, Korean, etc. voice-over later

-For US clients it’s only 2.5 hours by plane from LA where a lot of directors and advertising agencies are based

-It’s relatively inexpensive to transport cars from the factory in the US

-It’s very expensive to fly cars from Europe or Asia but the cars often have other ‘engagements’ in North America that make it worthwhile, e.g. Car Shows and other Print and TV shoots in different parts of the US and Canada

-There’s a huge pool of union and non-union talent in Vancouver

-Canadian Production Service Companies actively promote Vancouver (and the rest of Canada) to foreign production companies

-Canada is safe, reliable

Other cities, countries and continents:

-Alberta is also a destination for car commercials. Advertisers go for the Rockies, the Prairie, and the Badlands. But it’s slightly more expensive than Vancouver due to the need to bring in talent, crew, and equipment from Vancouver or Toronto. I also have a hard time finding modern residential architecture in Calgary.

-Toronto only gets car commercials when the script and budget calls for a less expensive version of New York.

-Montréal has a very small presence on the TV commercial radar. It’s more expensive, it’s architecture is more European, and it has less location variety.

-There is a LOT of filming in other cities like Los Angeles and New York due to their proximity to US advertising agencies and clients, their iconic look, and a deeper pool of union talent.

-Places like New Orleans are getting projects due to tax rebates unavailable in Canada.

-South Africa is a major shooting location for car commercials for European companies but it’s limited to summer time in the southern hemisphere.

-South America has been popular but their roads aren’t as well maintained, their over-all look is less “aspirational”, and equipment is less available.

-China is increasingly on the TV commercial map. The Chinese want to see cars in an environment they’re familiar with. China is also much less expensive than most places and they have a lot of new and spectacular roads.

-It’s illegal to permit highways in Japan and Korea for car commercials. You simply can’t film the car driving on public roads so they have to travel to shoot.

-Europe lacks the big North American city option and tends to be more congested. Finding “big nature” often requires travel which is expensive.


Gordon Price is the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He also blogs on urban issues, with a focus on Vancouver, at Price Tags.

Every week, Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish posts a picture from a reader which is, simply, a shot taken out of a window. The challenge: Guess from where was it taken.

(In late November), it was from Vancouver. And the comments accompanying the guesses said a lot about the city. I excerpted some of the best here.

But here’s one that I think explains why Vancouver is a chosen setting for car commercials:

“When it kind of looks like America, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, try Canada.”


So what do you think?

Is Vancouver a Faceless city?

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One Response to Q+A: Faceless city? Why Vancouver is in so many car commercials

  1. I’m impressed you mentioned South Africa – as a former Cape Town resident (Capetonian), transplanted since 1980 here in Vancouver, I frequently see backdrops from both my original and my adopted hometown, in TV ads. The area surrounding Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula has mountains, beaches, some excellent roads and some impressive architecture, in addition to grimmer-looking public housing and some large shanty-towns. There is hardly ever any snow anywhere, and certainly not at altitudes less than 1,500 metres, and no expansive conifer forests, but there are great beaches (probably better than Vancouver’s), large and very aesthetic mountain cliffs, crags and rock formations of all kinds, and unique and very biodiverse vegetation, some of it staggeringly resilient to the long, hot dry summers and occasional droughts characteristic of the area. The vegetation in some better-watered parts of the Cape Peninsula, in fact, can be passed off as being in a much warmer and less arid area like a Hawaiian island, without great difficulty ! ,

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