The city of Paris has just announced plans to make life more difficult for SUVs or heavy vehicles, and as we all know, SUVs have been leading the world market for a decade. The growing demand is apparently starting to worry the authorities.

Regardless of whether this is a sensible measure, the truth is that there are other aspects to consider in the development of cars over the last 20 years. Weight is important because it has a direct impact on road use, but the size of cars also determines how we drive and park them.

The USA is far and wide

Americans love it big: the food, the roads, the shopping centres and, of course, the cars. The USA is a paradise for big pick-ups and large SUVs because the motorways and car parks are so big. It's actually strange to drive small cars. This was the case in the 1950s and remains so today.

Average length (mm) of new pasenger cars available in USA - graphic

According to JATO, the average length of a vehicle available in 2003 was 4,992 millimetres. This corresponds to the length of a saloon such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Width is also important for parking as the average in that year was 1,864 millimetres.

Average width (mm) of new pasenger cars available in USA - graphic

Ten years later, the vehicles were larger. As expected, the average length rose to 5,158 millimetres and the average width increased by 63 millimetres to 1,927 millimetres. The growing appetite for larger SUVs and trucks drove these averages to record levels in 2023.

Last year, the average length of cars available in the US was 5,243 millimetres whilst the average width was 1,958 millimetres. The increase in vehicle size in recent years is not due to larger families. In fact, the annual population growth in the US has decreased from 0.96% in 2003 to 0.50% last year. The increase in vehicle size is more related to comfort requirements and safety standards.

Is Europe still buying small cars?

In contrast to the USA, which favours large cars, small models are traditionally bought in Europe. The fact that cities in Europe were built long before the advent of the automobile explains why parking is such a challenge. Europe is also less energy self-sufficient than the US, forcing drivers to reduce their fuel consumption.

Average length (mm) of new pasenger cars available in Europe - graphic

However, the popularity of SUVs also arrived on the old continent, which had an impact on the size of cars. In 2003, a few years before the advent of popular SUVs, the average length and width of available cars were 4,313 and 1,737 millimetres respectively. Ten years later, the average values have risen to 4,418 and 1,796 millimetres respectively. Last year, the figures were 4,536 and 1,844 millimetres.

Average width (mm) of new pasenger cars available in Europe - graphic

The trend towards larger cars is a reaction to the growing need for comfort. The challenge is to find the necessary space for roads and car parks. Will measures like those in Paris stop this trend?

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