• Jul 17, 2007
With fuel prices ever creeping northwards you'd think the automakers would start slowing down on upping the size of their new models. Unfortunately, the notion of 'less is more' isn't the case when it comes to building and selling new cars. The belief in the auto industry is that consumers view bigger as better, a problem that's increasingly being associated with vehicles not normally regarded as being large.

According to data compiled by Edmunds, SUVs have grown on average ten inches in length and gained 474 pounds over the past decade, a trend that's reflected in almost all other segments. The Honda Accord and Civic models are a prime example of the practice that's occurring right across the industry. For example, the current '07 Civic sedan (pictured) has nearly the same legroom as a 1990 Accord and they're only around 100 pounds apart.

The major problem lies in fact that more weight requires more horsepower, which usually requires higher fuel consumption, a vicious cycle that automakers are now being forced to change.

There are still some carmakers using innovative packaging and better technology to make new models lighter. Mazda lopped off a massive 100kg from its already super-small Mazda2 model, and the new Audi TT is lighter than the outgoing car thanks to an aluminum spaceframe construction.

[Source: USA Today]


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  • 54 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      This trend (outside USA) is refered to as "vehicule's americanisation". Like the only sales pitch working is america is "bigger and more powerful". Asian automakers quickly understood this as Toyota's vehicules are the ones that adapted the more quickly to sell more on US soil.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "For example, the current '07 Civic sedan (pictured) has nearly the same legroom as a 1990 Accord and they're only around 100 pounds apart."

      So, we have managed to cram more standard features, more safety equipment, more power and better fuel economy into two cars with similar dimensions and that is something to complain about? If the Civic is too big go buy a Fit.

      "Compact sedans are an average 2 inches longer, 2 inches wider and 374 pounds heavier than in 1997."

      The changes in exterior dimensions have barely changed while weight has increased. This is because of safety regulations in the era of the Hummer. Automakers aren't making cars heavier for the hell of it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Al, bigger can also equal sluggish response to steering inputs, long stopping distances, higher center of gravity, more prone to rollover, greater chance of cabin collapsing in rollover.

        A good design with correct crash zones can help offset the force of an impact. The ability to avoid the accident (sharper response, better braking, stability control) is worthwhile too. But of course, Americans want bigger, slower, sloppier, tippier and more isolated.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Al,

        That's a twisted, selfish sense of safety. You haven't proven that you're safer by driving a bigger car; you've merely proven that you'll do more damage to the other guy in an accident. Great! Now we see why people demand heavier cars -- to do more harm to everyone else.

        If you don't like this trend toward heavier cars, vote with your feet. I personally refuse to buy anything over 3,000 lbs. But, I think the days of having that choice are numbered.
        • 7 Years Ago
        YouFaceTheTick, In your original post, you use crashworthness as the measurement of safety, and argues that a small car can be as safe as the big ones. But that's simply wrong. More mass always wins, so the 'average american' are actually correct on this one.

        Also, if small cars has so much advantage over big cars in active safety as you claimed, why does IIHS constantly show that small cars have higher fatality rate then big cars?

        cheezwiz, bigger heavier car = safer. And that's proven: "Results from the IIHS study show that vehicle weight and size factor into the death rate. Generally, the smallest, lightest vehicles have the highest fatality rates in crashes. None of the 15 vehicles on the lowest-fatality list are small, while 11 of 16 on the highest list are small."

        You can dislike big heavier vehicles, but please do accept the fact that bigger is safer. That's all I am saying.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Real world crashes aren't head on into brick walls. When another vehicle crashes into your car, he won't obligingly do it only half as hard when you're driving a sardine can.
        • 7 Years Ago
        No they're making cars heavier to cram in more creature comforts, more sound deadening and more platform/component sharing. The manufacturers are lazy for one thing and for another they can just re-use similar stuff from other models, regardless of weight.

        Safety has NOTHING to do with it. that's a lie that some in the media and many members of the internet repeat. plenty of light sub-3k lbs cars that are 5 star crash worthy. Light does not equal unsafe but to the average american all they can understand is "big = safe".
        • 7 Years Ago
        YouFaceTheTick, you are wrong.
        Bigger=Safer, simple law of physics.
        When two 5-star cars collide, the heavier one wins.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Bigger=Safer, simple law of physics."

        I think you better study physics a bit more Al. The heavier the car, the more safety equipment needed. The mass causes more g force when meeting a solid object. perhaps you never learned the true strength of an egg shell.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Barney,
        Please read all the comments before you post. If two 5-star vehicles each hit a stationary object, they should perform about the same since they are both 5 stars. But occupants of the heavier vehicle in a vehicle-to-vehicle crash are safer than those in the lighter vehicle.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What bothers me is the US mentality that small cars cannot actually be nice. I would certainly like to see the 1 series succeed, yes, but that's made by BMW. The issue arises when you look at the price paid for a Euro Focus and a US Focus, and then look at what you get. They are similar sizes but the Euro-spec is eons ahead in fit, finish, materials, and so on. It's also what, like $30,000 odd compared to the US Focus being $20k or under? Someone from England chime in - what's the Euro-Focus running?
      • 7 Years Ago
      a smaller car with the modern powertrain would get better milage than either. dont compare apples to oranges.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The RAV4 weighs more than the '07 Highlander. The '07 Highlander Hybrid is porkier than my Aurora by almost 250lbs.

      Cars today are so overloaded with junk that it takes a fat, hefty hybrid powertrain to achieve late-80s fuel economy numbers. Remember the Geo Metro? 50-55mpg on the highway if you drove it rationally. Tercels and CRXs that AVERAGED 35-40 without all this technology. Even a 3800 II LeSabre could average 25-30 without breaking a sweat and it was a huge car. And these weren't EPA numbers, folks; these are real-world results.

      Sure, the answer is lightweight materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, space frames, and new alloys, but who wants to pay that much for a car?

      But everyone bitches. I want a car with twelve airbags that goes 0-60 in 6 seconds and gets 40mpg and I won't pay more than $27,000 for it. Get real, America. You can't have your cake and eat it, too...unless you also want to get fat like today's cars.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I thought I was the only one who noticed this trend....

      All automakers should be making smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles...Infact they would have to if people would start buying smaller cars and force the automakers to think smaller, instead of thinking bigger...
      • 7 Years Ago
      . . . the "Hydrogen Fusion"? Really? Will they make an L0X-powered variant, the "Cold Fusion"? Maybe a powerplant that consumes food, the "Fusion Cuisine" . . .

      Peace
      policy
        • 7 Years Ago
        errrrrr whoops. wrong thread on that.

        Peace
        policy
      • 7 Years Ago
      As noted in the article, vehicles are getting "longer", too. Unfortunately, my garage isn't. Whereas my Mitsu Montero Sport easily fits inside my garage, my Chevy Trailblazer does not. 178" vs. 208".
        • 7 Years Ago
        Obviously you bought the Trailblazer EXT (i.e. the extened version of the Trailblazer, which is almost 208"), didn't you expect it to be a little longer? The Trailblazer EXT has room for 7 with cargo space in the back even with 7.

        Instead of GM just growing the regular trailblazer they made a different choice for those with lots of people to move. Not quite the same as growing the Civic year after year.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's also somewhat of an arms-race btwn the MFGs. If the Civic can boast more leg room or what have you, than the Tercel, that's a selling point for Honda. Then Toyota has to increase the size of the Tercel to keep up with the Civic, etc. Everyone keeps trying to one-up the competition.

      Same goes with power... and with the increased power you need a stronger (and heavier) drivetrain...

      People also want more and more features and gadgets... 8-way power adjustable seats, power adjustable pedals, telescoping steering columns, 6-disc in-dash CD changers, HDD-based touch-screen navigation systems...

      They want quieter rides so more sound deadening material gets crammed in everywhere. This stuff can easily add up to a couple hundred pounds in a single vehicle.

      The Feds keep increasing safety regulations so crumple zones get bigger, doors get heavier, everything gets bigger to stay further away from the occupants, air bags get stuck everywhere...

      Then emissions regs keep getting stricter, so the emissions control systems keep getting piled on, adding more weight, so the MFGs upsize the motors and bump output to make up for the lost power due to the emissions systems...

      People want 3 rows of seating in their SUVs, with storage space left over... when I was a kid growing up the only vehicles with 3 rows of seating where minivans, regular vans, and Suburbans. Now we've got crossovers with 3 rows...
      • 7 Years Ago
      Weight was the primary motivator for me to ditch my 06 BMW 330i. The car was piggishly heavy (as is the new M3).

      The car's tomb-like quiet and unflappable chassis were the other reason. Methinks if you removed the sound-deadening and loosened up the chassis some the BMW e9x 3 series cars would be more fun and more efficient.

      Seriously, something is really wrong when a 4 cylinder car like the Evo x will weigh 3500 lbs. that's obscene.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The real problem is that america is getting fatter, and that is partially why companies like toyota and honda have practically left the sports compact market.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yup. Look at the new generation "pony cars." Each one is too big and heavy to reflect the true spirit of the original cars on which they are based.

        What gives? One could blame it partly on overzealous platform sharing, but I wonder whether the problem runs deeper -- it's in Detroit's DNA that bigger is always better.

        One might also speculate whether Detroit execs are getting bigger and fatter, and gravitate toward designs that "fit" them better. Any thoughts on that?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Many of you are arguing that our cars are better now and faster and just as efficient and safer with all that weight. That's fine, but I think the point here is, can you imagine how good we'd be if we could cut the weight back off?

      If the Geo Metro got 50 mpg in the early 90's, try sticking a modern VVT, low friction engine and CVT transmission in it - you could probably manage 70 mpg. We could be getting 20% better gas mileage acress the board if we could just get the weight back off.

      Weight is the most significant aspect of a vehicle because it simultaneously improves efficiency, handling, acceleration, braking, and cost (potentially, less material costs less). This can be at the expense of stability and crash safety, but it doesn't have to be. And it wouldn't be a problem if we got those SUVs off the road.

      Right now we basically have an arms race for the road, where everyone wants a bigger vehicle to feel safe from all the other SUVs. For shame.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It's not a matter of us (passenger cars) vs them (SUV's). SUV's aren't the automotive anti-christ. Saying we wouldn't need all of the weighty safety features if there were no SUV's is inane. More people per capita died from car wrecks in 1966 than today and there were no SUV's in '66- with the exception of the Suburban and the Wagoneer and they were not the cause of most of the deaths.

        If you remove the airbags systems and structural design improvements for safety (better crumple zones / greater rigidity, ie; A and B pillars that don't bend upon impact), the weight of the current vehicles would be about the same as those of 15 years ago.

        I'm all for better mileage, but at what point are human lives less important than a couple of miles per gallon?
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