Growing Trend: Increased Vehicle Size in US and Europe

Growing Trend: Evolutions in SUV Sizes Across Regions and Time

The recent declaration made by the Paris administration to increase restrictions on large vehicles is a clear indication of evolving norms. For the past ten years, SUVs have dominated the international economy. Regardless of its intent, the reality remains that there are additional considerations besides just weight. One vital element is size, particularly when maneuvering through narrow streets or searching for suitable downtown parking spots.

Cars are increasing in size. Common sense suggests that a larger car will also be heavier, but the decision made by Paris only discusses weight. This has led us to examine sizes more closely, especially considering that bigger vehicles do not necessarily result in adjustments to infrastructure for greater usage of them.

Large objects hold a special place in the hearts of Americans – be it their meals, roads, or perhaps most notably, their automobiles. The land of the free has been known to be a haven for enormous trucks and towering SUVs, and given the vast expanses of highways and parking lots, it’s no wonder that driving smaller vehicles may seem peculiar. This trend can be traced back to the 1950s and has only intensified since then.

Based on statistics collected by JATO in 2003, the typical length of passenger cars in the United States was recorded at 196.5 inches. To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to the length of a luxury sedan such as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Additionally, the average width during this period was approximately 73.4 inches.

The dimensions of passenger vehicles have significantly expanded over time, a fact that may not be commonly acknowledged. In 2013, the mean length reached 203.1 inches and width expanded to 75.9 inches. This era marked the surge in popularity for pickup trucks and SUVs in the automotive industry. However, after a span of 10 years, the growth trend remains prominent, resulting in new record averages for the year 2023.

In the US, the typical size of light-duty passenger vehicles rose to an average of 206.4 inches last year, while the width increased to 77.1 inches. This is just a few inches less than that of a brand new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and it’s important to acknowledge that this growth in size is not due to bigger households. Surprisingly, the yearly population change in the country actually declined from 0.96 percent in 2003 to 0.50 percent in the previous year. The enlargement of cars can be attributed to the desire for enhanced comfort, convenience, and safety standards.

Unlike American consumers who tend to prefer larger vehicles, Europeans have a history of purchasing smaller cars. This can be attributed to the fact that most European cities were built long before cars became a common mode of transportation, making parking a difficult task. Furthermore, Europe has relied less on its own energy production compared to the US, resulting in drivers having to be more conscious of their fuel usage.

Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that the demand for bigger SUVs remains strong among European consumers. Back in 2003, before SUVs became a common sight in Europe, the average size of a passenger vehicle was 169.8 inches in length and 68.3 inches in width, which is comparable to the dimensions of a brand new Volkswagen Golf. Fast forward to 2013, and these numbers have increased to 174 inches in length and 70.7 inches in width. And in recent times, statistics show that the trend towards larger vehicles continues, with last year’s average measurements being 178.5 inches in length and 72.5 inches in width.

The current rise in larger vehicles is a direct response to the demand for enhanced comfort and convenience, two essential factors that car buyers naturally seek. However, this presents an obstacle when it comes to finding adequate space on roads and in parking areas. Could taxation potentially halt this upward trend? Only time will tell.

Felipe Munoz, the author of this piece, holds expertise in the Automotive Industry as a Specialist at JATO Dynamics.

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