"The auto industry tends to give customers what they say they want," Sage Marie, Manager of Honda Product Planning, told AOL Autos. "But there is no overt policy. Cars are getting bigger, with more hip, elbow and shoulder room as time goes on, but that's not a function of overtly targeting the marketing requirements of extra-large people."
Marie says each year's crop of Hondas are the result of research and focus groups and studies asking autobuyers what they'd like to see and what they are willing to pay for. "As the data comes back, we're finding that people say, 'We want more space,'" he said. "That's a function of people being larger in general. I don't think there is anything in the studies that says, 'Please list your weight.' Customers are asking for more room."
Honda's 2011 Accord and Odyssey were voted the top two best vehicles for larger drivers by Consumer Reports last August, with Hyundai's Azera coming in third. "The test was based on a the criteria of good visibility, comfortable seats, ease of access, and a tilt-and-telescope steering column," said Jim Travers, Consumer Reports associate editor.
"Maximizing interior volume is one of our mission statements, part of our DNA on all our vehicles," said Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson. "Comfort of your passengers is important. More room helps with visibility from the very beginning, regardless of peoples' size. Interior room is a feature anyone can appreciate."
There are few reliable statistics on which cars are most accomodating for larger people, outside of lists like the one compiled by Consumer Reports. It seems obvious that the bigger the driver the bigger they'd want their car to be, but that's not entirely true. Extra-large car shoppers seem to find vehicles that can accomodate them in many different segments, including compacts.
Amelia Ann, a 25-year-old student from Akron, Ohio, said her 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle is the ultimate little car, but with lots of interior room. "Just because I'm fat doesn't mean I want to drive a huge car," she said. "My friend's Mom had a Volkswagen Bug and I always wanted one since I was a kid, but I figured it was a small car and I probably wouldn't fit. But when it was time to car-shop, I tried a couple of other cars and my legs didn't fit, or my hips didn't fit or the seatbelt didn't fit."
"There weren't too many places I could go online to find articles about which cars are good for people my size," she said. "I met a couple of girls who were bigger than me who had Bugs and they loved them, too, so I was sold. I'm amazed at how roomy the Bug is inside."
New York musician Ted Horowitz, who goes by the stage name Popa Chubby, recently bought a Jeep Liberty. "I'm happy to say the Jeep is quite comfortable, even for me," he said. "I also drive a Ford van when I haul equipment, and then I drive a '71 Mustang fastback which is roomy and comfortable."
Walking onto the auto dealer's lot to test drive a car can be a challenge to anyone, but for extra-large consumers, their size can bring particular issues. "It's hard to go to the dealership and sit in 20 different cars, " says Amelia Ann. "Out of the 20 cars, you might fit in only two of them comfortably, and it's easy to feel intimidated."
Horowitz, with his shaved head, tattoos and soul patch, doesn't have that problem. "People tend to respect me because I'm scary-looking," he says. "There are benefits to looking like a Hell's Angel."