There are a number of reasons why cars are bigger than they used to be. New cars are safer than ever before, they’re packed with a lot more features and today’s engines are powerful enough to get terrific performance out of heavier cars. There’s another reason why cars are getting bigger, and that’s because the squishy things inside them – people like you and me – are becoming fatter.
Car makers around the world are investing in research and development to make cars suitable for their expanding customers.
BMW is one manufacturer at the forefront of the new research. In a program referred to as ‘Plump my ride’, the German luxury brand recruited 800 volunteers of all shapes, weights and sizes to study how body size affects mobility while behind the wheel. The researchers focused all elements of car use, including getting in and out and ease of reversing.
BMW ergonomics specialist Ralf Kaiser told UK publication The Telegraph that cars needed to adapt to the changing size of their drivers and passengers. “We know that a lot of overweight and obese people have problems in daily life, and in the car this starts with getting in and getting out,” Kaiser said. “We already have things like the parking distance control, which shows obstacles on a screen when you are reversing. For someone who can find it difficult to turn 140 degrees to look behind them, they can now just look at the screen.”
BMW’s 5 Series is a good example of how much cars have grown over time. The first-generation 5 Series – launched in 1972 – was 4600mm long and 1690mm wide. The current sixth-generation model – on sale since 2010 – is a foot larger in both directions.
Other manufacturers are also working on new designs for heavier occupants. Mercedes-Benz is reportedly developing stronger grab handles for its vehicles to support heavier passengers when they are climbing out of their seats. Engineers at Ford and Nissan have developed fat suits that they can wear to test the functionality of their cars’ interiors.
In recent years, we have seen a number of changes to cars as a result of motorists becoming fatter. Larger dashboard buttons (to avoid pressing several at once), relocation of the hazard light button from the steering column to the centre console, and electrically retracting steering columns can all be attributed, at least in part, to the expanding size of the people behind the wheel.