The Case Against Automotive Bloat

Ryan Cooper, the Week:

This behemoth design trend — particularly the very tall, square front end seen in so many SUVs and trucks today — is both pointless and dangerous. Manufacturers have known for years that this style of vehicle is much more dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists, yet they keep making them bigger, taller, and heavier. Trucks and SUVs now make up fully 70 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. Their bloated design is killing people, especially pedestrians.


Furthermore, the specific design trend of the massive hood sticking way out in front of the driver, with a cliff-face front grille obstructing the view several feet out in front of the wheels, is entirely a marketing gimmick. The explicit point is to create an angry, aggressive face that will intimidate others, especially pedestrians. Don’t take it from me, take it from the guy who designed the latest GM Sierra HD: “The front end was always the focal point… we spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it’s going to come get you. It’s got that pissed-off feel,” he told Muscle Cars & Trucks. “The face of these trucks is where the action is,” marketing expert Mark Schirmer told the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil, “a Ford has to say Ford from head on, a Chevy must shout Chevy. Every pickup has become a rolling brand billboard and the billboards are big.” And as Neil discovered when he was nearly run down in a Costco parking lot, that massive grille creates a massive blind spot.

I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but the intimidation factor of cars seems to have ratcheted up in just the past few years. Take exhaust volume, too: pickup trucks are notoriously loud but, increasingly, the noise that echoes from the intersection where I live are from Audis and Mercedes-Benzes. It used to be relegated to the sportier models — the S- and RS-line Audis, for example — but it seems to have spread throughout the model lineup. I love a good six- or eight-cylinder soundtrack, but not at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and especially not constantly. I live on busy roads, I get it, but it seems to be far more interruptive than it used to be.

Cars aren’t just getting bigger and badder; they’re also getting more expensive. Erik Shilling, Jalopnik:

Now, the fact that the Honda Fit, Chevy Cruze, Chevy Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, and Mazda 2 are no longer with us or will soon be no longer with us is in many ways very explainable, in that automakers don’t make very much money on these cars, consumer preference is trending away from small cars, and because gas is cheap there’s currently less of an argument for them for new car buyers. I get it! That’s fine! I’m over it!

What actually worries me, however, is the second and third stats there, the ones that say that deliveries in the $20,000–$30,000 range are falling off a cliff and that the average price of a new car is nearly $39,000 (!). I know this has been happening for years now, but the more and more this drifts upward the more it’s hard to shake the feeling that we collectively are the proverbial frog in a pot of water slowly about to boil to death.

The thing that worries me most about this is that the number of cars sold has been dropping for years, but the average cost of a sale has been increasing. That means that, while sales of entry-level cars have disappeared, those who do purchase a new car are likely spending more than they budgeted for.

By the way, this correlates with a creeping increase in financing terms to nearly six years; in Canada, half of new car loans are for over seven years. Wages haven’t kept pace with the average price of a new car, either and, in many cities in Canada and the United States, public transit is a mess.

Sitting in a new car cloaks the driver in the pretence of dominance while they worry about their next payment, when all they really wanted was a way to commute and run errands in comfort and maybe with a bit of attitude. Whatever happened to a fun car? The U.S. and Canadian markets are so interconnected that it is nearly impossible here to get something small and inexpensive that can bring a smile to your face whenever you drive it. I do not like this SUV and truck trend at all.