By on August 10, 2006

fat-car-by-edwin-wurm222.jpg Obesity is rampant in America. Between the Center for Disease Control’s dire reports, documentaries like “Honey We’re Killing the Kids” and endless infomercials for every diet and exercise program imaginable, it’s obvious we’re becoming a nation of Fat Bastards and Sherman Klumps. Now the Environmental Protection Agency is sounding the alarm about our cars. The EPA recently announced that America’s vehicle fleet is the heaviest it’s been since Ford touted the Pinto’s “road hugging weight” as a safety feature. Our cars and trucks, like their drivers, are piling on the pounds.

Let's face it: most vehicles sold in America are obese.  Today’s average car is portlier than a binge-eating sumo, while your standard issue full-size SUV weighs as much as a fully-grown hippopotamus. In 1987, the U.S. fleet average was 3220 lbs. In 2006, the average US vehicle tips the scales at a scarcely credible 4142 lbs. In a time of high gas prices, when we should be building cars that eke out the last mpg, this makes no sense at all. Or does it?

In the intervening years, federally mandated safety equipment and the commercial importance of crash test ratings have added weight to America’s fleet. But, in 2001 (the last year where I could find applicable data), safety equipment accounted for only 125 lbs. of an average vehicle’s total weight. It’s risen since then, but even if you double this figure it’s still a far cry from the over 900 lbs. increase over the past 19 years.

Clearly, manufacturers have met passive safety requirements without resorting to simple fortification. In fact, the weight gain comes in spite of an upsurge in lighter-weight automotive materials. Cars were once built almost entirely out of ferrous materials; today’s vehicles are constructed with less than 65% steel. The remainder consists of materials like plastic, aluminum, magnesium, titanium and balsa wood. Yet vehicles keep adding poundage.

Of course, it takes energy to move all this mass around. While most manufacturers meet federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (save fine-paying miscreants like BMW), almost every single carmaker has shown a lamentable decrease in overall fuel economy during the past three years. As weight goes up, so does fuel consumption. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out, so why can’t carmakers cut the crap?  Why aren’t they doing more to decrease the weight of their products across the board?

The bottom line is the bottom line. The auto companies are in business to make money (Ford’s and GM’s recent performances notwithstanding). Large SUV’s and pickups are far more profitable than passenger cars. Automakers have been doing everything they can to push as many of these money-makers into the hands of the consumer as possible. Until recently, the car-buying public rushed to them like bomb shelters in Baghdad, oblivious to their appetite for Jurassic juice. As car makers sold entire flotillas of big-ass behemoths, they’ve driven the average weight stats higher and the fuel economy averages lower.

Consumers who wouldn’t even think of buying an SUV or pickup truck are also contributing to the trend toward excess automotive avoirdupois. Once upon a time, electric windows, remote alarms and power door locks were a luxury. Just ten years ago, sunroofs, automatic climate control and sat nav systems were restricted to luxury cars. Today, all these toys are available in the most basic econobox, and a “necessity” in any car with upmarket pretensions. Extra goodies, extra weight. No wonder the two-door Honda Civic has porked-up nearly 400 pounds over the past 10 years.

So what’s the solution to this weighty problem? U.S. car makers must get serious about slimming down. Earlier this summer, several automakers established weight targets for parts and asked suppliers to redesign them accordingly. That’s an excellent step in the right direction, but they need to go further. Every manufacturer redesigning their products– from economy cars to mid-size sedans to full-size SUV’s– needs to make weight loss a top priority. They should trim vehicle weight by at least 20% while maintaining utility. And why not? In 1977, GM downsized their entire full-sized passenger car lineup and watched sales go up.  It’s time for an encore.

The American Plastics Council estimates every 10 percent reduction in weight delivers a seven percent increase in fuel efficiency. If the 5342 lbs. Chevrolet Tahoe lost 20% of its fat, urban mpg would rise from 16 to 18.24 mpg. But fuel economy isn’t the only benefit. Can you image thrashing a Pontiac Solstice that weighed 500 lbs. less? Or how much more tossable a Honda Civic hatchback would be with today’s power at ‘96’s weight? For pistonheads, “road hugging weight” is as undesirable today as it was in the 70’s. No matter how you look at it, it’s time for all U.S. vehicles to go on a diet.

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95 Comments on “Worth the Weight?...”


  • avatar
    Robstar

    First: Which weight are you talking about in the article? Curb weight? Gross weight?

    I agree completely as far as vehicle weight. I wish there were more sub 1 ton sports cars.

    The size of todays vehicles scare me. I can’t imagine getting hit by an escalade in my neon when the gross weight of my neon wit me + gas is sub 3k pounds and the escalade could be 7k pounds.

    At this rate, people will be driving semi trailers eventually at 60k pounds.

    Of my 3 vehicles, here are the weights:
    2005 WRX STi (weekend car…or I use when the wife goes to work in the other car):
    Curb weight: 3298 (http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2005/06/23/134049.html)
    2000 plymouth neon: 2567
    (http://www.nctd.com/review-final.cfm?Vehicle=2000_Plymouth_Neon&ReviewID=702)
    2005 gsx-r 600 354.9
    (http://www.uship.com/shipment/2005-Suzuki-GSX-R-600/690113335/)

    Average weight: 2073.3…slightly more than a lotus elise

    Similarly, my mpg (mixed) is:
    sti: 20.5
    gsx-r: 38
    neon: 28 if I light it up, 34-35 a tank (I do 80% hw driving) if I keep it at 55.

    If I weight these according to use (neon 60%, bike 10%, sti 30%) my average mpg is about 27.

    What really amazes me that people have single vehicles that weigh almost as much as all of my 3 vehicles combined!

  • avatar
    SonicSteve

    I think the weight problem with cars is pretty much tied to america’s obesity problem. Pull into any random Denny’s parking lot on any given morning and you’ll notice why pickups and SUV’s sell so well…. many people just can’t fit into midsize cars, let alone compacts.

    All cars in general have been getting bigger and heavier, even the compacts and subcompacts are putting on weight. I think part of the reason is the cars have to be a lot more sturdier to improve crashworthiness, especially when lineup up against an SUV. The other part of the equation is more sound deadening, electronic goodies, etc.

    Now that it seems fuel prices have started to dictate the market, i’m betting the average vehicle weight will slowly drop as many people leave their full-sized SUV’s for the “crossover” and so on.

    The biggest obstacle in automotive weight loss has to be cost. Aluminum body panels are much lighter, but add expense in both the manufacture and in any service/replacement of those parts.

  • avatar
    socsndaisy

    While I agree with your point here, there was not a whole lotta love shown to Jaguar for lightening its body structure in the market. Furthermore, if this was an achievement to be lauded, why has there been so little made of the MX5 (this was a MAJOR design objective they acheived)

    Speaking of 1977 that was when the pinnacle of craptacular traction performace was achieved by GM with the Chev Monza offering (makes a camaro’s traction abilities seem like a CJ7 by comparison). Point here is judicious weight loss in the right areas.

    One other area of heft gain is the interior itself….it wasnt too long ago that the interior door panels were backed with cardboard and or hardboard. To some degree a few of these weight gains are appreciated. However, achieve fuel efficiencies first, then add a margin of the weight back if needed to achieve a superior product.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    After reading the Mustang droptop review, I did a quick check: turns out the Mustang weighs about 150lbs less than my Lincoln Mark VIII. That’s nuts, this is supposed to be a Pony car, not a land-yacht!

    Our cars need a diet plan more than we need alternative fuels or hybrid technology.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Okay, good points all around but I have to wonder what the average fleet weight would be if you removed all the body-on-frame SUVs from the mix. 1987 was right at the beginning of the current SUV craze, so I can’t help but think that’s what’s skewing the data. As gas prices rise and people dump their SUVs, we can expect the average weight to go down considerably.

    However, there are trade-offs here, too. Take a look at the average mid-sized compact from 1987 (whether Toyota, Chevy, Mazda, etc) and look at the one from today. Todays cars are physically bigger in nearly every dimension. I’d guess that accounts for much of the weight.

    The change has been even more marked in so-called “compact trucks.” I don’t know what the weight on my 84 Mazda B2000 or my 85 Toyota 4×4 pickup were, but both managed to get along just fine with relatively small (and extremely economical) 2.0l 4 cyl engines (carbureted, even!) Now take a look at todays Mazda (i.e. Ford Ranger) and Toyota Tacoma and you see a vehicle that, to my untrained eye, looks at least 1/3 larger in all dimensions and needs a 3.5l V-6 to move it around.

    So, the question then becomes, are we willing to get cars that are physically smaller to haul our increasingly fat asses around? Or are we willing to pay more so that our super-sized compacts can be made lighter by using more expensive lightweight material? It’s gotta be one or the other.

    Of course, what happened in the intervening 19 years is that gas prices, relative to income, dropped dramatically. By the mid-90′s gas was cheaper, relatively speaking, than it had been in 1960, which is whey there was no down-side to getting a gas hog. As gas prices continue to rise, I think this will work itself out without external interference.

  • avatar
    renegade211

    This time, I think you’re blaiming the wrong guy: While the car manufacturers would be perfectly able to build lighter cars, they don’t do it simply because they wouldn’t sell. Lighter cars get built if consumers demand it, and till now they don’t.

    The reason being the tradeoffs involved: while everybody would favor a lighter car, reducing weight means either reducing amenities like sound proofing, power locks/steering etc, or raising the price (lightweight materials like magnesium or carbon fiber are a lot more expensive than simple steel).

    Would you like a lighter car? Definitely yes.
    Would you like a car that is 200 pounds lighter but costs 5000 bucks more? Most likely not.
    Would you like a car that weights 400 pounds less, but has not sound insulation, no radio, no electronic extras, no AC and no airbags? Hell no!

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    renegade211: you’re forgetting that cars are getting bigger. Its the 1970s all over again.

    Shrink the wheelbases, lower those beltlines, deflate the puffy posteriors, and you’ll save a couple hundred pounds. Cheap and easy.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    i saw a sky recently and was astounded at how huge it was. i was expecting it to be a bit bigger that an mx5, but it looks like it ate an mx5. all that size and no trunk space? crazy! although i’m not sure the knock on the new civic is true. the new si is supposed to be the most tossable civic ever and still gets good mileage.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    Sajeev is correct; look at some of the long running models, and see how they have porked up over the years. Back in the early 80s, we had a Toyota Corolla 2 door and that was a tiny car. I obtained some quick numbers from the MSN auto site for a 1988 (the earliest model there) and a 2006 Corolla.

    The 2006 model ranges in weight from 2530 to 2670 pounds, has a 102.4″ wheelbase, is 178.3″ long and just under 67″ wide. The ’88 Corolla weighed in the range of 2190 to 2372 pounds, had a 95.7″ wb, 170.3″ length and was 65.6″ wide.

    I’ve thought that the new Corollas were close to the size of our ’87 Camry, and taking the numbers from an ’88 model I was not far off: the Camry of yore ranged from 2690 to 3086 pounds with a 102.4″ wb, 182.1″ long and 67.4″ wide; it’s bang on the same wheelbase! By comparison, the 2007 Camry has blown up to 3285 pounds at its lightest to 3495 pounds in the top of the line model. It’s got a 109″ wb, is 189.2″ long and 71.7″ wide. Wow.

    I’m not singling Toyota out because they are bad, but because my spouse has owned a variety of them over the years so it was easy to compare in my head. The whole industry has been playing this game for a while.

  • avatar
    Schmu

    Some had to. The biggest knocks against the Accord back in the day compared to the sales leader Taurus was its smaller size and lack of a v6 (even though the 4cyl’s could whip a v6 Taurus). The Accord had to grow to compete. The models we watch growing are moving into larger classes, and new vehicles are filling the gaps left behind. The civic is the same size as an old Accord. Now we have a Fit, and Yaris to sit where Civic and Corolla used to. Funny thing is, my 01 accord weighs what an 85 300zx did, so somethign was done right.

  • avatar
    FunkyD

    I usually love your articles, Frank, but this one is farly pointless.

    Lightweight vechicles are the realm of the bargain-basement econobox and the sports/racing car. In everything else, weight takes a back seat to other considerations. How about all that sound-deadening material that provides the quiet ride consumers demand? That stuff is pretty dense.

    Using “fleet average” weight doesn’t really tell us much. Trucks are a *much* higher proportion of the “fleet” nowadays. It takes a full-size car such as the Crown Victoria to weigh in at over 4100 pounds (my 1995 Impala SS, the “real” RWD one, weighed in at 4210)! A pletora of 4500~5500 lb. SUVs are going to slant the average. I wonder what the average is for just cars.

    Even back then, cars weren’t necessarily featherweights. Ye olde 1981 Chrysler K-car weighed in at 3300 pounds. The 1981 Ford Escort was about 2300, not far off from Robstar’s Neon. Simlilarly-equipped cars aren’t significantly heavier than they were 2 decades ago, safety reinforcement notwithstanding.

    The thing that has really changed is the market conditions. Your example of the Honda Civic fails to account for the fact that the model’s mission has changed since 1987. 80s Civics were entry-level cars. Today’s Civics are upmarket, with Honda having ceded the lower rung to Kia and Hyundai. Thus the current Civic is bigger, more plush, and as a result, heavier. But it’s a different car for a different purpose. Want a 1-ton set of wheels? Hello, Aveo!

    That’s not to say that there isn’t room for some weight reduction here and there, but it isn’t the magic bullet.

  • avatar
    socsndaisy

    Hang on here folks, Renegade is not wrong at all. The manufacturers dont make the public buy cars, the market DECIDES which cars they buy. Nobody forced UnclePete’s wife to buy another camry that was larger than the previous and you cannot rightly say that the current camry would be as successful WITHOUT growing in proportion (we just dont know that to be true). The market simply rewards growth in size, and subsequently weight, so the automakers respond accordingly. The auto industry, as powerful and as hosed up as it is simply cannot trump the entire market system. Many, MANY of the successful models are selling well precisely because they are bigger (think third row!).
    Now to be clear, I dont have a necessarily have a problem with this added weight as long as efficiencies can account for or overcome the weight added. I dont miss the cardboard door panels of yesteryear, and I certainly dont miss the thirteen inch donut wheels of the Geo era. My current car has AWD and 18 inch wheels as the major cause of its heft, not too much else…both are welcome changes to the previous, and lighter, vehicle. Incidentally, the MPG jumped from 25 to 29 in spite of the added weight.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Why blame the manufacturer for making what people want? Big, cheap and powerful is what is in demand.

    Each new model is bigger than the last so the new 3 series is the size of the old 5 series and the new Honda Civics don’t look much smaller than early 90s Accords. For some reason consumers love to have cars with 7 seating capacity even if they only have two kids or just drive it to work.

    Cost is the other – weight saving materials are more expensive than steel so heavier is cheaper. While the Dodge Charger at 4000 pounds+ could really do with more aluminum, nobody wants to pay for it.

    In the end, however, rising gas prices will take care of most of this as consumer pressure will force a change in product focus once gas hits $5 a gallon. It only a matter of time.

  • avatar
    miaomix

    What I can’t figure out is that cars keep getting bigger and heavier, yet being a 6’4″ tall person, with a 34″ inseam, I cannot fit comfortably behind the driver wheel of 90% of the cars I drive. And forget small, lightweight cars!

    Now, as I look around at the teenagers in my neighborhood, this is going to be a growing issue for many boys. And guess what vehicles are sized to fit me best? That’s right — full sized trucks and SUV’s. I own an MDX (seat all the way back, and tipped so my head clear the sunroof) and a 1994 MX-5 (they changed after ’97, and I no longer fit with the top up.) I would love to have a small lightweight commuter car that was sized so I could be comfortable, not head cocked to one side and knees around the wheel. And I have yet to find a vehicle from ANY manufacturer I can heel toe in (wrong leg angle, and my feet hit the bottom of the dash in many smaller cars).

    I am just lucky I fit in the older MX-5′s with a bearable amount of discomfort. Otherwise I am stuck driving full size SUV’s or mid 70′s 280Z’s (for some inexplicable reason those have leg room of the gods!). And neither of those are light.

  • avatar
    JSForbes

    I would seriously consider paying a premium for a cool car (say a Mustang) with a couple hundred pounds lopped off.

  • avatar
    Glenn

    Let’s look at 1960, when Americans decided to down-size and many, many people bought “compacts” which were usually about 15′ long and could still seat six. “Full sized” big-3 cars were nearly 18′ long and weighed in at about 3600 pounds, up (mostly, up). Let’s look at 4 door sedans.

    Ford Falcon. 144 cubic inches (2.3 liters), 6 cylinder. Gutless wonder (my dad had one). 85 horsepower (gross, not net). 0-60 in about 17-20 sec.
    Weighed 2288 pounds. Unit body.

    Valiant (by Plymouth). 170 cubic inches (2.8 liters), 6 cylinder. 101 horsepower. Weighed 2635 pounds. Unit body. Could be had with an optional aluminum block reducing weight by about 100 pounds.

    Chevrolet Corvair. 140 cubic inches (2.3 liters) opposed 6 cylinder, air cooled, rear engine. 80 horsepower. Weighed 2305 pouds. Unit body.

    Studebaker Lark. 170 cubic inches (2.8 liters), 6 cylinder, flathead. 90 horsepower. Weighed 2592 pounds (less than the Valiant) despite having a full frame and body construction. 0-60 in about 17 seconds.

    Rambler American. 196.6 cubic inches (3.2 liters), 6 cylinder, flathead. 90 horsepower. 2474 pounds. Unit body.

    Rambler Six. 196.6 cubic inches (3.2 liters), 6 cylinder (OHV). 127 horsepower. 2912 pounds. Unit body. Could be had with an optional alloy block reducing weight by about 100 pounds. It cost $38 extra, or thereabouts, but hardly anyone bothered – even though it negated the “need” for optional power steering which cost a lot more. (This was more equivalent to the size of the other compacts, thus included).

    Then, of course, there was the most popular (very) compact “import” of all time. The VW Beetle. It weighed about 1700 pounds, had 40 horsepower, and was very very slow – plus had a nearly non-existant heater and defroster.

    My point? We Americans keep downsizing and upsizing our cars and repeating the process.

    We do not “need” cars to weigh more than 2900 pounds. My 2005 Prius proves the point. It has nearly the same room inside as a Ford Crown Vic (I was as surprised to find that out as anyone), and weighs in at a full 900 pounds less.

    I just filled the tank and it got me 47.8 mpg over the past tankful, despite the temps being in the 90′s and near 100 (with full use of AC being imperative due to health requirements as well as comfort). This is not to forget that the Prius includes 135 pounds of hybrid batteries. The engine is an alloy block (steel cylinder liners) and head, the hood is aluminum. The cost is $22,000 up for 2007 cars, about the same as many mid-sized cars (which is what it is classed as).

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    What is exactly is the purpose of these rants anyway? Yep, cars evolve to meet the current demand… really? WOW imagine that!

    Market demand + Safety / Desired Power/Economy = Average weight.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    It’s true the manufacturers make what the people want, based on market demand. And I’m not necessarily talking about decontenting current models. However, the manufacturers spend billions worldwide on research and development. Why aren’t they focusing a good part of these efforts on engineering out excess weight, and giving us lighter, trimmer, more economical vehicles that offer the same functionality as the ones they currently sell? (Or as I stated, “trim vehicle weight by at least 20% while maintaining utility.”) GM did it in the 70s with their full- and mid-sized cars. They can do it again.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    I just sat in a new BMW 328i the other day, and it feels just as roomy as my 2003 E39 M5. Also, the new E60 M5 feels like a 7 series, and gets 12 city/18 hwy, versus my 2003′s already laughable 13/21.

    Scary….but as a card carrying member of the heavy, powerful gas guzzlers appreciation society, I know I’m in the majority of US buyers that will continue to reward automakers efforts with buying big, powerful cars, as long as fossil fuels are plentiful, if not necessarily cheap. As others have noted….the demand is going to shift somewhat as oil prices continue their inevitable climb.

    On another note, we have to give props to the Corvette team, though, for bringing us a 3130 lb, 26 mpg aluminum/magnesium/carbon fiber/titanium intensive Z06 that gives up no creature comforts in this age of excessive poundage….all at at a reasonable price.

  • avatar
    Schmu

    there was no motivation to do more than necessary. now that fuel is an issue again, the motivation will be there. in 99, I was in my senior year at WVU engineering. The school participated in the ‘future car challenge’ between other engineering programs making hybrid cars out of domestic cars. ford sent an aluminum taurus or sable for our car. it weighed a lot less. i don’t remember how it did, we never take 1st there. but ford wanted it back a couple years later with its other mules to see how they held up. So i know the companies look at this stuff…but decide against it. with the laws of supply and demand, and scales of economy, if many cars were made out of aluminum, the price of aluminum would go down. it would take a major shift for that to happen.

  • avatar

    Frank…

    This is a good article. But I somehow can’t place it in 2006. To me, it sounds like something that would have been written 5 years ago…I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like I’ve read it before.

    And Glenn… GOOD FOR YOU! Thumbs up! But your Prius provides a driving experience as exciting as dental exams.

  • avatar
    lizthevw

    Sorry, but its rubbish to say that a person 6’4″ needs a big vehicle. My buddy is 6’7″ (2.0m) and while not obese, he does carry a considerable amount of weight, but in his 2002 Honda Civic, he has loads of space. In fact, we drove down the US east coast, through to Texas, and straight up through the center of the country, sometimes even sleeping in the car, and we never had space issues.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    Frank

    Plain and simple, they would not survive a crash with a SUV. Reminiscing about the 80′s when cars where overall lighter is not fair because the crash standards and content was really low.

    My mustang has a 5 star frontal impact rating… try the same test on the original pony car… see how that works out.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    My 1989 Volvo 240 Estate with an Automatic transmission weighs in at 3,091lbs. My car was once considered,(and still is, actually) one of the safest cars out there.

    Safety is in the engineering. Not the features.

    The fact that the new Mustang GT500 weighs in at close to 4,000 lbs. scares me. The new Challenger will weigh more than that even.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    Gearhead, that’s an unfair comparison. That’s well over 40 years apart. Obviously a ’65 Mustang wouldn’t be as safe as a brand new one. I’m sure a Fox body Mustang would do much better. As good as yours? Probably not.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    I don’t buy that, gearhead. In 1974, piled a 1973 Pinto station wagon into the side of a semi cab that had made an illegal turn into my path. The investigating officer estimated my impact speed at approximately 55 MPH. The car was destroyed but I walked away from it. The “I need something bigger for safety’s sake” arguement is a copout and one thing that got us into this mess. Someone decided they had to have something big, then someone else decided they needed something bigger to go head-to-head with the big ones, and we got into this spiral where everyone feels they have to be bigger than anyone else to feel safe. That’s why I’m advocating across the board downsizing and didn’t say anything about relaxing the safety standards to achieve weight reduction.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    Why is it fair to place blame car manufactures for creating heavier, larger cars by comparing them to lighter vehicles with lower crash standards?

    Protecting the passengers comes at a price in weight and cost.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    “across the board downsizing”

    Right on, Frank. Now that oil prices are going crazy, it makes a lot of sense. Consumers are gonna want it real soon, and whoever does it first gets the advantage.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    That’s why I’m advocating across the board downsizing and didn’t say anything about relaxing the safety standards to achieve weight reduction.

    Yes, but this is not the manufacturers responsibility. Only the consumer or a communist goverment can drive such action.

    Personal experience hardly qualifies as definitive avocation of crash worthiness.

  • avatar
    PerfectZero

    I’m 6’3″ and manage to fit myself into a ’06 civic each day. If you’re 6’4″ it should work as long as you have reasonably short hair or don’t sit perfectly upright.

    hybrids are fine, but adding batteries isn’t generally a good way to shed weight.

  • avatar
    lizthevw

    Size does not equal safety. I am sick of hearing people with no understanding of engineering talk about a heavy object vs. a light object. This is not the physics of perfect solids, it is the physics of deformable solids. My background is structural engineering, and I would be so happy if I never heard this pseudoscience ever again. One of the reasons SUVs are so cheap for manufacturers to make is because they don’t put nearly as much engineering into them, and that includes the structure. In fact, weight is often inversely proportional to the amount of engineering performed.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I cannot stand the “I need my 6,000lbs. road-going tank to protect the children” argument!

    Killing the other guy’s family is the new good parenting.

    Pathetic.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The Steering Column: Motorcycles have gotten lighter. Why haven’t cars?
    BY CSABA CSERE, October 2005

    Engineers who deal with vehicles are usually obsessed with weight. That’s because whether a machine rolls on wheels, flies through the air, or floats in the water, every extra ounce makes it more difficult to accelerate, stop, or change direction. Extraneous ounces also require more energy to maintain any desired speed. That’s why, whether the conveyance is an F-22 jet fighter, an America’s Cup yacht, or a Formula 1 car, designers and engineers put enormous effort into reducing weight.

    If less weight equals better performance, then why are cars getting steadily heavier—a lot heavier? When I’ve suggested to industry engineers that every modern car and truck should lose between 500 and 1000 pounds, I’ve heard no argument.

    The usual excuse for this vehicular corpulence is increased customer demand for stiffness and rigidity. These expectations are compounded by modern tires, which are much wider and stickier than ’70s rubber, and vastly more powerful modern engines. Both of these improvements tend to bend and twist vehicle structure to a greater degree, while the customers want their cars to feel more solid and stable. The engineers lament that the only solution is more heavy metal. But does it need to be this way?

    Motorcycles have undergone a similar transformation in the past 25 years. But rather than pork up, they’ve become much lighter, as I was reminded recently during a day spent riding Yamaha YZF1000-R1 sport bikes at a track.

    * * *

    So why have bikes slimmed down while cars have swollen? The difference is materials and structural design. The CBX frame is simply a collection of welded steel tubes. The R1 uses large-section cast-aluminum beams that are stiffer and lighter. The CBX has a chrome-plated-steel exhaust system. The R1 uses titanium everywhere, except for the catalyst—yes, this more than 150-hp-per-liter engine has emissions controls. Throughout the bike, where the CBX has steel, the R1 uses aluminum or plastic.

    Meanwhile, cars are still built pretty much the same as they’ve been for a half-century, made from spot-welded steel stampings. Some of the steel is a little stronger and the parts are more optimized using computer-aided modeling, but the technique remains largely unchanged.

    The handful of cars that haven’t gained much weight over the past quarter-century have broken with this traditional construction. The Ferrari 360 Modena has adopted an aluminum structure. The Chevrolet Corvette also uses a lot of aluminum as well as magnesium and composite materials in an innovative structure.

    Until other cars and trucks take advantage of the latest materials and more imaginative construction techniques, they will continue to pork out.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Like several others have said, the weight isn’t just “trucks”, it’s the increase in size, to hold fatter people, and the piling on of toys. A 2007 VW Rabbit has a curb weight of 3,000lbs, a 1977 VW has a curb weight of 2,000lbs.
    On the other hand the 2007 has power windows, power locks, power steering, and air conditioning standard, and most of them will have automatic transmissions. Plus the 07 has a 2.5 liter engine instead of a 1.6 liter to haul all that lard around. Today everybody makes a big deal about how light a Lotus Elise is at ~2000lbs, 30 years ago that was what any small car weighed.
    While I appreciate the convenience factor of all these power toys, I can live without them in any vehicle small enough to reach across. So the question is who is going to make a simple basic lightweight car, and will anybody buy it?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Whoa, whoa, whao — how much do power window motors weigh?

    8, maybe 9 ounces?

    Also, use lighter materials.

    There is always a way — this content issue is just an excuse.

  • avatar
    lizthevw

    Actually, motors can be quite heavy due to their magnets and steel cases, and cars are packing on quite a few of them (I have read as many as 60 in a luxury car). They are everywhere, windows, seats, trunks, multiple wipers, etc. They also require a heavier electrical system, such as a heavier alternator, larger batteries, 100′s of metres of cable…

  • avatar

    Various people have said that the market is giving us what people want. But there’s no way I’d buy a Challenger or Mustang. Too heavy! And if I were in the market for a small, relatively inexpensive roadster, I wouldn’t consider the Solstice or the Sky because of weight. Even though I hate the Pokemon look of the new MX-5, that would be my choice. 400 lbs less makes a big difference. The weights of the GM siblings are a giveaway for mediocrity. As Lizthevw says, weight is often inversely related to the amount of engineering.

    GReat article, by the way, although I would have also liked to see how today’s cars (as opposed to light trucks) stack up against the cars of a couple of decades ago.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    David — the current 7-Series has 88 Motors I believe.

    Or, “servos” as the PR materials explain.

    Anyhow, make the motors lighter — make everything lighter. Do what Jaguar did, only hire a designer.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Actually, motors can be quite heavy due to their magnets and steel cases, and cars are packing on quite a few of them (I have read as many as 60 in a luxury car).

    The last window motor I installed (on my “lightweight” Lincoln) had a case made of phenolic resin. (at least that’s what it looked like) Good stuff right there.

    Unsprung weight from big-ass wheels has gotta stop. That’s probably the first solution to this problem.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Love the pic – looks like some serious food allergies.

    Are people today willing to put up with road and cabin noise that increased insulation and improvisations like ‘quiet steel’ prevent? Doors that go clang? (like my friend’s 70 Chally).
    All that sound deadening stuff contributes to curb weight, but it’s doubtful that today’s consumer would put up the level of sound and vibration found in earlier, lighter cars.
    New cars are like sensory deprivation chambers they’re so eerily immune to any outside noise or road disturbance. After extended periods spent in any of the more upscale stepford sedans – I usually go for good run in my MX-3, a light, primitive little go-kart that registers every rut and pebble.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Leslie, I almost hate to say it, but Edwin Wurm built that sculpture around a Porsche.

  • avatar
    gbh

    On the subject of power assisted goodies, power windows can be lighter than manual ones.

    Electric motors, as well as the wiring harnesses to drive them will shrink in size and weight as cars migrate to the new 48V standard.

    Further, as the costs continue to drop for electronic controls, wiring ‘harnesses’ will eventually disappear. There won’t be direct connections between the swithes and the switched.

    Your power windows for instance will simply be hooked to a common positive bus circuit that runs throughout the vehicle and chassis negative grounded. The ‘switch’ will send a signal addressed to the component it wishes to operate via the power grid, and voila.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    PerfectZero: I’m 6’4″ and felt seriously uncomfortable sitting in an ’06 Civic. It all comes down to body type. I’m relatively long-legged and a little on the overweight side. I could not find a seating position where there was enough clearance between the wheel and my legs, the wheel did not block the weirdo speedometer or tach, and I had decent visibility. Now, maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but it wasn’t that hard in a Mazda3. Of course in the Mazda3 there was no room for anyone to sit behind me, either.

    I think “car creep” has a lot to do with this. It used to be that there was a model for every paycheck, but nowadays you can just by the same model every five years and get a larger, heavier, more luxurious car. Rather than resisting creep the manufacturers have embraced it by filling in the bottom of their lineup with new cars to replace the small cars they used to sell ten years ago. I wonder if we’ll see today’s large sedans like the Avalon discontinued in a generation or two as the midsizers move into their slot.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    One more thing — Heavy (may be) passively safer, but is actively more dangerous.

    Avoiding accidents is always best.

  • avatar
    noley

    Back in 1978 I bought a VW Scirocco that weighed all of 1850 lbs, had a 1578cc 76 hp engine, a 4 speed manual and Recaro-knock-off seats.

    It lacked airbags, power windows, air conditioning, ABS, turbochargers, intercoolers, power locks, 2 more cylinders, 12 stero speakers, nav system, OnStar, power steering, power sunroof, computers, seating for 7, and all the other “essentials” of modern cars. It probably wouldn’t get past 3 stars in the crash tests today. But it handled great, was a blast to drive and I ran that little bucket for 8 years and nearly 150K before selling it to some kid who put another 50K on it.

    Would I go back to such a “bare bones” ride? Not as my daily driver, but the ‘rocco was a sports coupe. Wouldn’t quite work for a family. But our 3 Saabs all come in at between 3200-3400 pounds, hold everyone in the household comfortably and while I think that’s about 200-400 pounds too fat, it works OK. But most of the newest stuff is all pushing 2 tons, and I find there little real reason for a car to be much over 3000 lbs.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    lizthevw makes some excellent points….but all else being equal (not that it necessarily is), the same technology applied to a heavier vehicle makes it inherently safer in a crash.

    Offsetting that is JL’s point about the improved manueverability/accident avoidance of lighter cars….a quality that the IIHS has no metric for….and probably never will.

    We as a society have to start with the low lying fruit of improved safety…improved driver training, vehicle maintenance, and stricter DUI laws. I suspect there are more lives to be saved there than by adding 10 more airbags to every car on the road.

  • avatar
    James2

    It comes down to engineering effort.

    Mazda had a two-page MX-5 ad (I know, heresy, according to TTAC thinking) that showed how its engineers fretted over how to extract every last ounce possible. It’s not the first time, either, that Mazda went to extremes (remember the last RX-7, the one with a hollow oil dipstick–to save an ounce?).

    OTOH, GM’s Kappa platform seems to be just an exercise in low-cost engineering, merely raiding the corporate parts bin and seeingwhat would work, never mind that the resulting product would weigh 400 pounds more. Perhaps trying to cut those 400 pounds would have made this a high-cost platform? Doubtful, but it’s a pity the Corvette people didn’t take a look at Kappa.

    “Magic” materials like aluminum and composites are no salvation, either: just look at the Audi A8 or Aston Martin DB9. Lots of exotic materials, but still two very heavy cars.

    When “aluminum” was first uttered in the late 1980s/early 1990s the steel industry took the threat seriously and responded with a lightweight all-steel chassis, representing the latest thinking in alloys and assembly techniques. Did Big Oil buy it and bury it???

  • avatar
    2006300c

    I would never drive a small car but I do care about weight as long as it does not affect room or luxury. I was disappointed that my car’s HEMI is an iron block as opposed to an aluminum one.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    gbh is right about electronics weighing a lot less these days. Where multiple wires feed a single part with individual relays, grounds, etc used to be are replaced by integrated control modules with built-in relays and single grounding points.

    I-drive aside, weight reducing tactics are in place for modern toys, but their intended “homes” are much too big.

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    In order to get repeat customers, manufacturers will always have to ‘up’ the vehicle content; faster, stiffer, more bell & whistles. When the vehicle has moved on so far there becomes room underneath for a new model, and new customers. I bet the BWM 1-series (if it ever comes to the US) has similar specs to the original 3-series. The new Honda Fit looks, content wise, very much like an old Honda Civic, and the Corrolla & Camry have moved up so much that Toyota can not only fit the Yaris underneath, but a whole new brand (Scion).

  • avatar
    Glenn

    PerfectZero, I just looked up a few tid-bits of info just to give you an idea that ADDING hybrid batteries may well be a better solution to weight reduction than “conventional” cars. I’ve done the closest possible comparison I could, as follows:

    Toyota Prius hybrid. CVT automatic. 2900 pounds. 54.7 mpg (Euro test / Imperial MPG).

    Toyota Avensis 2.2 Turbo-Diesel. 5 speed manual shift. 3179 pounds. 38.6 mpg (Euro test / Imperial MPG).

    The Prius has smaller brakes, a smaller body (yet is 5 star crashworthy), a smaller and lighter 1.5 liter alloy block and head engine, plus 135 pounds of hybrid batteries. The brakes may be smaller because of lighter weight, and because the regeneration properties inherent in the hybrid system.

    Lightness begets lightness.

    The Avensis diesel (available as a 5 door hatchback, in the UK, Europe, Japan and elsewhere – sized between the Corolla and Camry, just as is the Prius) is available with Toyota’s latest 2.2 liter turbo-intercooled diesel engine with catalyst.

    The DIESEL engine must be made very heavy and adds significantly to the weight of the car, as you can see.

    Look at the weight and MPG differences. The Avensis is also longer (182.3″ versus 175″ for the Prius) because – it MUST be. Longer = heavier. Yet, the interior room is equivalent, as are the luggage areas. Performance is broadly similar, too. While the diesel is faster to 62 mph in the tests by about 2 seconds, one must shift whereas the Prius is automatic, and the diesel Avensis cannot even be had with automatic transmission.

    Besides which, 0-62 in 10.9 seconds (US testers have shown the Prius capable of 0-60 in 9.7 seconds) is probably fast enough for a mainstream family car, isn’t it? It certainly was fast enough for our parents in their mid 1960′s small block V8 cars such as Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fairlanes, Plymouth Coronets and AMC Classics. Which got 18 mpg at best.

    Finally, even with the Avensis diesel with catalyst meeting Euro IV emission specs, it is not “clean” enough to be sold in the US, and is therefore at least 10 to 20 times “dirtier” in the exhaust pollution than is the Prius.

    Plus diesel fuel costs more than gasoline in many US gas stations.

    I just thought I’d try to prove a point.

  • avatar
    tincanman99

    This article got me thinking as my commuter car is a 16 year old VW Golf (1990). I never knew what the little beast weighed so I just went out and looked it up. Get ready for a shock but it only weighs 2000lbs. It does have AC and power steering and brakes but it does not have power anything else. Its a basic car like you cant really buy anymore. Sure its not really that fast but I have to say its a lot of fun to drive. Prior to this I had a MK1 Scirocco and MK2 Scirocco 16V. Both were fun cars to drive because they were simple and light.

    I also have a 03 Passat GLX. This is a very heavy sedan it has power everything. In the few years I have owned it I have realized that I dont need nor want all that power stuff. Its not so fun to drive but it does ride nice and is smooth.

    The bottom line is that all cars are being encrusted with more and more stuff that is really not needed but the public is being sold on them. I say decontent them and lets move on.

    Recently I drove a Mini Cooper S and was really quite smitten with the car in a way I have not in a long, long time. A lot of fun to drive I have to say. Every single person I mentioned it to says its way to small and is dangerous. Even when I tell them its got great crash ratings people dont beleive it. It drives like a go-car. I know why people love them.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Johnny, that assumes you actually have a chance of actively avoiding an accident. Most people can’t. How many completely preventable accidents have you witnessed which somehow weren’t prevented?

  • avatar
    msmiles

    vehicle mass is not just an SUV problem, my 2005 corolla tips the scales at 3650lbs while my sweet ’87 corolla was a whopping 2600. Granted in a collision with 05 I might live. The mass difference almost negates the 20 years of engine effeciency improvements.

  • avatar
    dean

    Brian, Brian… The VAST majority of crashes are avoidable. I won’t even call them accidents because unless the Hand of God comes and smokes you, they aren’t.

    When I say avoidable I mean, of course, that both the smoker and the smokee have roles to play. If I’m driving along and a guy runs a red light and T-bones me he certainly could have avoided the crash by stopping at the red light. I may or may not have been able to take evasive action had I properly scanned the intersection before I entered it, but that doesn’t mean the crash was unavoidable.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    That’ll learn me to be sarcastic.

    Most crashes are avoidable given a suitably skilled driver. Most people are barely skilled drivers and have no idea how to use their car to avoid an accident. If you had properly scanned the intersection, you may have been able to avoid the idiot who ran the red light. Even if most people actually did watch for red light runners, would they be able to operate their vehicle with enough skill to avoid the accident? If they tried, could they do so without hitting someone else?

  • avatar
    PerfectZero

    Glenn: thanks for the info. I’m sure the net effect of engineering a hybrid car from the ground up can be a weight saver just based on design mentality. I just wanted to point out that sticking batteries in already heavy cars probably isn’t an answer. The 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid, for example, is 300 lbs heavier than the non-hybrid version. The Camry and Lexus GS hybrids are overweight by similar ammounts.

    Of course, this all makes little difference if you’re talking about reducing weight for fuel efficency, since we’re talking hybrids anyway.

    Brian E: you may be correct. I have had it pointed out to me that I sit rather close to the wheel anyway (“like a grandmother”), so that may be the reason I can fit.

  • avatar
    noley

    A big car doesn’t necessarily have an large intereior and a large body doesn’t mean more room or comfort for everyone. The 6’4″ and 6’7″ examples here are nice extremes, but I’m just 6’2″ and I was surprised to find my head hitting the ceiling in a Saab 9-7 (an Envoy in disguise), even with the seat all the way down. It doesn’t do that in my real Saabs and didn’t even do that in my ’78 Scirocco, ’86 GTI, or ’96 Exploder. And it doesn’t hit the ceiling in an Elise. Go figure.

  • avatar
    rtz

    Someone said the new “SuperVette” is going to weigh like ~2900lbs? That’s pretty decent. How are they going to do it considering what it is already made out of(aluminum, fiberglass, magnesium)?

    Edit:

    Carbon Fiber body! Got rid of all that heavy ‘glass!

    http://www.autoblog.com/2005/06/30/blue-devil-corvette-spotted-at-nurburgring/

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    All height isn’t equal. I’m 6’8″, but rather normal size below the waist with a 34″ inseam, but ridiculously long torso. No sunroofs for me, not even in a Hummer H2. But the pisser is that there isn’t a Cadillac car being built today that I’m comfortable driving, however, I’m quite comfortable in a Vibe/Matrix or the Saab 9-2x I bought because it’s the most fun car I comfortably fit into (and they were nearly giving them away last summer). The latest generation Honda Civic is the first Honda car I’ve ever been comfortable in. Mini for me is close but no cigar, plus the way the roof turns south to meet the doors obscures my outward view.

    And now that I’m ranting about cars for tall people, why can’t the manufacturers make the sunvisors removable. They just get in my way, and I never use them. And I wish they could do something about the placement of the rear view mirror. In most cars, I’m actually looking down at it, and I have to be very careful to look around it at intersections, since it can obscure my view of traffic entering an intersection from my right.

    James2: Much of the steel technology demonstrated in the last several years (www.autosteel.org) is being rapidly implemented by the auto companies, because high strength steel represents the most cost effective route to mass reduction in body structure. It would be going faster, but it is difficult to implement when new vehicle programs have a lot of carryover content in their structures. But every new clean-sheet structure out there is carrying a lot of the new generation of high strength steels, with vehicles like the Honda Civic and the 3-series BMW being the poster children of the movement. If you go to autosteel.org and look through the presentations from this year’s Great Designs in Steel seminar, you will find a very interesting presentation by BMW on the materials technology in the 3er body structure. All the manufacturers are going this direction, but BMW is a bit ahead, and also more willing to talk about it publically.

  • avatar
    dean

    Sorry Brian. I re-read your post, and when I payed a little more attention I actually got your point.

    Seems we are on the same page after all.

  • avatar
    ktm

    One contributor to the increasing vehicle weight dilemma that was not mentioned (at least the last time I read the comments) is the rampant platform sharing now occuring amongst all manfucturers.

    I will take Nissan/Infiniti as a perfect example. The same platform that underpins the FX35/45 is used for the G35 sedan, G35 coupe, and 350z. Everyone recognizes that the reason the 350z/G35 coupe is so portly for a sports car is due to platform sharing.

    Now, I do not know how much contribution platform sharing provides to the ever increasing vehicle weight, but it is a contributor nonetheless.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Captain Tungsten:

    You could have phrased your second sentence better.

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    JL:

    Indeed. I could have bragged a bit…..

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    I realize I’m late to the discussion but wanted to chime in on 2 subjects:

    Cars for tall people: At 6’2″ I have always fit comfortably in Hondas, although I’ve had trouble with Toyotas, especially those with sunroofs. My wife’s Mini Cooper, however, is amazingly well sized for tall people, and is one of the few cars where I actually have to move the drivers seat a few inches forward to be close enough to the pedals. Headroom is also outstanding.

    As for safety – I’m with JL 100%. Just having a bigger vehicle doesn’t make you safer – it just makes you more likely to crash into someone. Serious stopping power, the ability to avoid an accident, and the ability of your vehicle to resist a rollover are, I think, what count the most, and these are more likely attributes of smaller and lighter cars than SUV’s. Even if you can forget about the cost of gas for a minute, isn’t handling and safety worth the weight loss?

    wstansfi

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    With gas prices on the rise (still…) could “adding lightness” be the next big thing in auto fads?

    Reducing mass solves so many problems, it enhances acceleration, increases fuel mileage, improves handling, and assists braking. The cost penalty seems worth it, especially compared to hybrids.

    I bought my ’06 MX-5 Miata partly because it is one of the few cars on the market that weighs less than 2500lbs. Mazda used a “gram strategy” to reduce weight without hampering design. Aluminum hood and trunk, A-arms, engine block. They even shaved weight off the carpet and rear view mirror. Fascinating stuff. It makes me feel guilty about eating junk food and gaining weight myself.

    How about the car companies declaring a “cease-fire” on the “Horsepower Wars” and instead fight “Weight-loss and Fuel-miser Wars”

  • avatar
    chanman

    Um, msmiles, did you happen to apply an armour kit to your Corolla? They’re still under 3000 pounds http://www.toyota.com/corolla/specs.html

    In fact, the weight you quoted is on the hefty side of the Camry – almost a perfect match for the Camry hybrid.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    You notice how it’s the people driving little coffins on wheels that complain about the “heavy” vehicles? Why don’t they complain about the lack of safety their toylets provide instead?

    If the little car lovers bothered to watch racing on any Sunday, they would realize their “safety” problems are all completely curable. Not by getting everyone else to drive toylets, but by complaining to their auto manufacturer… instead of the rest of humanity.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Wow, if the eco-nazis don’t get ya, the safety nazis will. A Sherman tank in every driveway.

  • avatar
    chanman

    As far as tanks go, the Sherman is a pretty bad example. Not bad for the reliability, but not very safe.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Driving a Grand Marquis, it is a car with the weight in the right places – the frame and drivetrain.

    Now if it was some crackerbox minivan like the Honda Odyssey, then I’d wonder about how it got to weigh so much. Probably too much froo-froo crap that Americans seem to like right now.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    How did cars get so heavy?

    Part of this is that more “nimitz class” big iron is being sold. But as many have pointed out here, even same cars have gotten heavier.

    Examples: 1970 Chevy Pickup with V8, auto-tranny about 3,800 lb. Now about 4,400 lb. VW Golf went from 2000 to 3000 lb. etc.

    How does this happen? In auto engineering adding 1 lb of weight can cascade and add more than you think.

    Consider you take a 2,500 lb car and add 250 lb of safety and luxery stuff. O.K. you want to maintain same perforance, so you need 10% more power – bigger heavier motor – say +20 lb. Now your suspension, shocks, tires, etc need to be made beefier to deal with extra 250+20 = 270 pounds. Add 20 lb there. Bigger alternator and battery to run the power junk – add 5 lb. Now you have to go back and add another pound of two to the engine to account for the suspension and battery weight. Oops – need another 10 lb to the drivetrain, tranny, diff, and CV joints need to be bigger.

    Finally for years car mags’ car reviews talked about how stiff the body structure is. This is good, but again adds weight.

  • avatar
    nino

    I’m all for reducing vehicle weights.

    I believe that weight has increased due to lazy engineering.

    I laugh when people look at a Honda Fit and say it’s a small car. The thing weighs in at 2500 LBS.

  • avatar
    swedish_dakota

    I’m late in on this conversation but from what I have seen, nobody seems to have really mentioned it completely(sorry if I am repeating somebody’s entry), that a lot of weight in the smaller cars has a lot to do with the added safety of crumple zones, airbag deployment and other added safety measures and electronic wizardry that has to be added these days for the cars to get the venerable 5 star crash safety award….Stereo and GPS don’t add much at all in regards to weight, unless you want to put in mega-stereo’s and woofers etc…

    Everybody thats on here I figure is interested and cares about the vehicles that we drive, but unfortunately we are the minority, and there’s not enough education or information readily/easily available to the general public about the vehicles that we drive. Until all of this in some way becomes part of the educational system when teens start learning to drive, and are informed then about the consequences of certain vehicle choices will we see some improvement..

    All of this added weight is mainly due to added safety…truth be told some cars were genuinely unsafe, but this safety evolution can only take us in one direction, and thats added weight, because people don’t want to take the time to learn to drive properly….I learned to drive in the UK and had to re-take the test in the US, and I have to say that they might as well just handed me the keys and given me my license and never tested me because it made that little of a difference.

    Toughen up the test, improve general knowledge, and there might be some improvement in weight over the next couple of years, as well as less accidents, because you won’t have people with less-than-apt skills at driving on the road.

  • avatar

    Someone writes
    vehicle mass is not just an SUV problem, my 2005 corolla tips the scales at 3650lbs while my sweet ‘87 corolla was a whopping 2600. Granted in a collision with 05 I might live. The mass difference almost negates the 20 years of engine effeciency improvements.

    I think you put the wrong digit in the thousands place. The 2006 is around 2600 lbs (I just looked it up). Heck, 3650 would be 400 more than my accord. I bet your ’87 was a lot lighter than 2600 lbs.

  • avatar

    Captain Tungsten writes
    >>All height isn’t equal. I’m 6′8″, but rather normal size below the waist with a 34″ inseam, but ridiculously long torso. No sunroofs for me, not even in a Hummer H2. But the pisser is that there isn’t a Cadillac car being built today that I’m comfortable driving,

    Heck, I’m 5’10.5″ but with roughly a 30 inseam and a long torso, and I can’t fit comfortably in most cars with sunroofs. Very annoying.

  • avatar

    thx_zetec:
    August 11th, 2006 at 12:43 am
    How did cars get so heavy?

    >>How does this happen? In auto engineering adding 1 lb of weight can cascade and add more than you think.

    >>Consider you take a 2,500 lb car and add 250 lb of safety and luxery stuff. O.K. you want to maintain same perforance, so you need 10% more power – bigger heavier motor – say +20 lb. Now your suspension, shocks, tires, etc need to be made beefier to deal with extra 250+20 = 270 pounds. Add 20 lb there. Bigger alternator and battery to run the power junk – add 5 lb. Now you have to go back and add another pound of two to the engine to account for the suspension and battery weight. Oops – need another 10 lb to the drivetrain, tranny, diff, and CV joints need to be bigger.

    Similarly, taking weight off can cascade into increasing weight loss. My old ’77 Corolla, less than 2000 lbs, didn’t have and didn’t need power brakes or power steering. The steering was as light as that on my ’99 Accord. For the logical extension of removing weight, go to rmi.org and click on “hypercar.” Or just google hypercar.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Brian E: Johnny, that assumes you actually have a chance of actively avoiding an accident. Most people can’t. How many completely preventable accidents have you witnessed which somehow weren’t prevented?

    ============
    Car wreck gives soccer player new outlook
    Saturday, October 29, 2005
    Mark Znidar
    THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH [archived no URL]

    She was going the speed limit in the family sport-utility vehicle on Rt. 33 just north or Hayden Run Road, but her mind was traveling at warp speed.

    She had forgotten, then retrieved, her hymnal at home in Upper Arlington and was returning to All Shepherds Lutheran Church in Lewis Center so she could lead the congregation in song. …

    Wall’s vehicle drifted to the right of the edge line. She overcorrected with a quick jerk of the wheel, lost control and flipped over the guardrail.

    Nothing was certain after the accident. She was shaken emotionally but thought the only injury was a bruised or dislocated shoulder. …

    Emergency room doctors at … found more than scrapes, cuts and bruises. Xrays revealed two broken vertebra in her lower back.

    ======================

    That was an entirely preventable accident that was caused by the car. The irony was that her parents let her drive the SUV, no doubt, thinking she was “safer” in it. If she had been in a conventional sedan, she probably would not have rolled it. It was completely preventable in the dealers show room.

    Another large category of crashes seems to be pick-up clobbers sedan. If 10% of the vehicles in this country were trucks instead of 50%, the chances of such collisions would go down.

  • avatar
    ktm

    Robert Schwarz, it was not caused by the car, it was caused by the driver. Period.

    “She overcorrected with a quick jerk of the wheel, lost control and flipped over the guardrail.”

    She initiated the crash by jerking the wheel instead of smoothly transitioning the vehicle off the shoulder. The car did not jerk the wheel, she did.

    Start accepting responsibility for your actions.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    I’m 6′8″, but rather normal size below the waist with a 34″ inseam…

    Heck, I’m 5′10.5″ but with roughly a 30 inseam and a long torso,

    Well I’m under 5’7″, and I’ve really never found pants with a short-enough inseam. But I can fit in any car.

    So being tall isn’t so cool after all, is it suckahs? Darwinism in action….

  • avatar
    dean

    As ktm points out, the crash was caused by driver error. Completely preventable. The fact that it was an SUV magnified the consequences, but was not the cause.

    The point, however, is well taken. Too many people labour under the misconception that SUV’s are safer merely because they are big.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    ktm/robert

    Unfamiliarity with a vehicle is about as safe as giving children fire arms loaded with hollow points. Sure sure some of today’s children have gun safety on the brain from watching looney tunes and playing first person shooters where you re-spawn and lose all of your weapons if you get shot.

    The problem is not the vehicle, the problem is the fact that the nut behind the wheel is not properly experienced or trained in vehicle control at limit. Each vehicle feels slightly different with each tire on the market. No two feel exactly the same… save for some miracles of badge engineering.

  • avatar
    ktm

    qfrog, I agree completely. Driver education would go a long ways to mitigate the number of accidents. However, no one wants to be told that they are ‘crappy drivers’ and that the accident is their fault.

    Instead of investing in driver education, the manufacturers are adding safety features to cars, which, I believe, have the opposite effect that they intended. With all of the added safety feature, people are even more reckless than before, full of confidence that their SUV with a cajillion air bags, reverse thruster-assisted ABS brakes, etc. will save them.

  • avatar

    qfrog:
    August 11th, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    >>The problem is not the vehicle, the problem is the fact that the nut behind the wheel is not properly experienced or trained in vehicle control at limit. Each vehicle feels slightly different with each tire on the market. No two feel exactly the same… save for some miracles of badge engineering.

    The problem is both the driver and the truck. The logical extension of your argument is that it’s the driver’s fault if the first generation Corvair flips, or if the old Explorer flips after it blows a tire. Most drivers can’t know everything about what a car might do in an emergency, and some cars are more forgiving than others. I agree strongly with those who say, as KTM does above, that much better driver education is needed. But I also think that most SUVs are more unstable than they should be.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    David,

    I totally agree some vehciles are inherently far more susceptible to loss of control when at the hands on an inexperienced driver. Unfortunately somebody bought that vehicle generally speaking it was the driver or the spouse or maybe even the parent of said driver. The buyer should familiarize themself with the dynamic limits of their automobile.

    Lets look at a semi trucks or busses the drivers of both of can go hundreds of thousands of miles without accidents. Experience with a particular vehicle regardless of it’s level of performance is of utmost importance. Semi Trucks lack braking power when fully loaded and they turn poorly. It is necessary to observe the boundaries and limitations of the machine being operated. Disregarding limitations leads to exceeding limitations and compromises safety. Sometimes nothing happens when in excess of the limits, other times people get hurt.

    Every drivng school I’ve ever been to has placed paramount emphasis on smoothness and gradiance of inputs. The circle of traction is the law of physics not the law of the land. You will not bend or defy the circle of traction no matter how you try. The misfortunate young lady was unaware of the dymanic limitations of her vehicle and she subsequently fed the vehicle a set of inputs that were beyond the bounds of performance available. You can ask 300% of a car… just don’t expect to get what you asked for. I believe that it is the driver’s responsibility to know where 100% is located and drive at no more than 8/10ths of that. Driving schools also place emphasis on the correct way to go off the track. I assure you the correct method is not to make a sudden change in requested direction while two wheels are off course.

  • avatar
    zipper69

    “BALSA WOOD” , Eh ?

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Yep, zipper, balsa wood. Corvette floor panels are made using a sandwich construction that features a balsa core, machined to shape, between facesheets of glass mat composite.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Unfortunately somebody bought that vehicle generally speaking it was the driver or the spouse or maybe even the parent of said driver.”

    As I said: ” The irony was that her parents let her drive the SUV, no doubt, thinking she was “safer” in it.”

    SUVs have been marketed to an unsuspecting public as safer than conventional automobiles. They are not safer except in static situations such as stopped or going straight ahead.

    I agree that drivers need better training, especially to handle difficult vehicles like SUVs. Indeed I think it would be a worthwhile reform to require that anyone who drives a large (+5,000 lbs.) truck, van, RV, SUV, etc., have a Class A drivers license.

    I had a neighbor who drove one of those Mercedes military SUVs. While smoking a cigarette, talking on her cell phone, and her little dog bounced around barking at everything. Scared the daylights out of me. Fortunately, she moved to LA.

    However, it is politically impossible to require the majority of Americans to attend the Skip Barber School before being licensed.

  • avatar
    bunny

    I don’t really agree with the original poster. The choice is the buyer’s, and thus the fault is also the buyers.

    True that the Civic is getting bigger and heavier. But that’s because Honda wants the car grow with the driver for brand loyalty. For the same buyer, if he really likes tiny but efficient Hondas, he can buy the Fit, which is more like 80′s Civic in size. Car identity shifts, but the good choices are always there for those who care.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Bunny: he can buy the Fit, which is more like 80’s Civic in size. Car identity shifts, but the good choices are always there for those who care.

    The Fit wasn’t available in this country until this year. The Civic has been porking up for decades. What “good choices” did “those who care” have until a few months ago? And what will happen in 10 years when the Fit no longer lives up to its name because it has put on several hundred pounds and 5 or 6 inches?

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I have done everything I can to lighten my 911–fiberglass pseudo-bumpers front and rear, featherweight R-Type taillights, rocker panels gone, interior stripped, aluminum fuel cell in place of the big steel gas tank, spare and jack gone, no radio, etc. etc. etc.

    As a result, of course, I drive in constant fear of being rear-ended…

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    “I agree that drivers need better training, especially to handle difficult vehicles like SUVs. Indeed I think it would be a worthwhile reform to require that anyone who drives a large (+5,000 lbs.) truck, van, RV, SUV, etc., have a Class A drivers license.” – Robert Schwartz

    Oh, absolutely. And make it a meaningful and difficult test, with retake requirements every 5 to 10 years.

    In fact, requiring two years’ experience for a new driver allowing “heavy” vehicle operation would be a good idea.

  • avatar
    nino

    A psychologist friend of mine believes that all the safety equipment in todays’ cars makes them LESS SAFE.

    His reasoning is that drivers will take many more chances, chances they wouldn’t normally take, because they put too much faith in all the safety systems in a car.

    He says that if you want to see safer driving, instead of putting in airbags in the steering wheel, they should put a sword facing the driver there.

  • avatar
    BMan1113VR

    at 6’3″ and well into the deepside of 200 lbs (football player). . .i have managed to fit myself into a lotus exige. . .it was sure a challenge, but not impossible. . . you can fit into a civic!


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