A recent announcement by the Paris government to make life more complicated for heavy vehicles is a sign of the times. SUVs have been leading the global markets for a decade now. Whether this is a reasonable measure or a political one, the truth is that there are other aspects to consider aside from just weight. Physical size is a factor, especially when it comes to navigating narrow roads or finding a downtown parking space.

Vehicles are getting larger. Logic says a larger vehicle will also be heavier, though the Paris ruling only addresses weight. It prompted us to take a closer look at sizes overall, especially since bigger cars haven't necessarily translated to infrastructure changes for more space to use them.

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The USA Far And Wide:

Americans love big things: food, streets, and of course, cars. The United States is a paradise for big trucks and large SUVs, and because highways and parking lots are generally large, it's strange to drive small cars. It's been this way since the 1950s.

According to JATO data for the year 2003, the average length of passenger vehicles in the US was 196.5 inches. For reference, this is the length of an executive sedan like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The average width that year was 73.4 inches.

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As you might expect, passenger vehicles have grown since then but you may not realize how much. In 2013 the average length rose to 203.1 inches and width increased to 75.9 inches. This was the period in which pickup trucks and SUVs really gained a foothold in the automotive market. But 10 years later things are still growing, leading to record averages for 2023.

Last year, the average length of light-duty passenger vehicles in the US reached 206.4 inches, with the average width up to 77.1 inches. This is only a couple inches away from a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and it's worth noting the increase in size is not linked to larger families. In fact, the annual population change in the US decreased from 0.96 percent in 2003 to 0.50 percent last year. The increase in car size is more related to comfort, convenience, and safety standards.

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Does Europe Still Buy Small Cars?

In contrast to US buyers favoring large cars, Europe has traditionally purchased small vehicles. The fact that its cities were conceived long before the arrival of the automobile explains why parking is such a challenging task. Additionally, Europe has been less energy self-sufficient than the United States, forcing drivers to moderate their fuel consumption.

However, the popularity of larger SUVs cannot be denied, even with buyers in Europe. In 2003, a few years before the mainstream arrival of SUVs in the Old Continent, the average length of a passenger vehicle was 169.8 inches, while average width was 68.3 inches. That's comparable to a new Volkswagen Golf. In 2013 those values were up to 174 inches long and 70.7 inches wide. And last year, things in Europe were bigger than ever: 178.5 and 72.5 inches on average, to be exact.

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The trend of larger cars is an answer for providing more comfort and convenience, factors that buyers naturally want in a vehicle. The challenge is finding space on streets and parking lots. Will taxation stop this growth trend? We'll have to wait and see.

The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an Automotive Industry Specialist at JATO Dynamics.

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