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RE: Size matters: PH Blog

Tuesday 28th November 2017

PH Footnote: Size matters

Why the ever increasing size of vehicles ought to give us pause for thought



There's an interesting thread on PH at the moment. Well, they're all interesting, obviously, but this one is more interesting than some.

At first sight, the subject matter looks less than enthralling. It's all about a tractor (or other motorised farming implement) not being able to squeeze down an English country lane because of parked cars. To see how this particular driver ingeniously solved his (or her) access problem, look here.


Older readers will remember Fordson and Ferguson tractors chugging merrily along the public highways. They weren't really an issue in those days because (a) they were relatively titchy, and (b) they didn't go much above 15mph. Today's Transformer-style farming behemoths, often apparently driven by small children, thunder along B-roads at bloodcurdling speeds while taking up rather more than their allotted half-share of the Tarmac. The only remedy for ordinary road-users faced with such a sight is to swerve into the dubious sanctuary of a thorny hedgerow, scraping eight layers of paint off the old motor.

That tractor thread has veered away from the initial 'who did what to whom' banter into an agricultural discussion on the effects of massive tyres on soft ground and the hidden dangers of soil compaction. In all the ooh-arr shouting, one key point seems to have been missed. Which is that the biggest threat posed by excessive girth on the roads is not coming from hulking great combine harvesters. It's coming from ordinary cars.


Take a squint at the header shot of the E63 v RS6 test. As rural roads go, that one seems luxuriously wide. Why, it even has a dotted line running down it. Even so, check the amount of space around either car. Not much. And they're not even especially big cars by modern standards.

And the space between cars is getting smaller all the time. Between 1974 and 2014, the average width of a car increased by 16 per cent. In the exciting new Trumpian era of bigliness, percentage increases of less than a thousand are generally considered to be not worth looking at, but 16 per cent in this context is a lot.

An unchecked increase in car width that isn't being matched by a similar increase in the width of roads, access points and parking spaces will, at some point, present a problem. The first 1959 Mini was less than 1.4 metres wide and the first 1974 Golf had a breadth of just over 1.6 metres - today's Golf is over 2 metres.


This bloating process isn't just a consequence of all the safety gubbins that needs to be packed between a door card and an outer skin. It's also because car manufacturer board members have started taking highly-stylised designer renderings literally. That's down to us lot demanding cars that look like concepts. Not many concepts in the last few years have been narrow.

The only major organisation that seems to have recognised this lurking width menace is not, as you might hope, the government, but Lego. They increased the width of their road plate sections in the earlier part of this decade - but even they seem to be disowning the problem now, having largely phased out their road plates altogether.

There's been a big increase in parking damage over the last couple of decades too. Two-thirds of British motorists have experienced some kind of damage to their vehicles after parking in a car park, with nearly half of that happening in supermarket car parks, and around a third of it is caused by carelessly-opened doors. Some of those incidents will be down to sudden gusts of wind, obviously, but the ever-reducing clearance between cars isn't helping.

(By the way, a non-fault claim on 'supermarket damage' can result in a hike in your own premium because insurers like Admiral reckon, incredibly, that 'customers who have a non-fault accident often go on to have a fault one within a relatively short time', citing 'a higher than average exposure to everyday driving risks' as the rationale, without so much as a hint of a grin.)


You can be sure that budget-conscious car park planners won't be widening the spaces anytime soon. After all, they don't care about what happens to your car. On the length front, the minimum parking bay size hasn't changed since 1994: UK bays are now two inches smaller than the average car. It's all going to become more of a problem as our roads become awash with SUVs.

So, how can we tackle the effects of this embiggening process, given that the car manufacturers are only going to go one way until they're told to stop, by which time it will be too late? Can we at least mitigate the crash/scrape-damage implications of ongoing sexy girth?

It seems odd that no manufacturer has brought in old-fashioned radar detectors with a Goldfinger DB5-type screen display to show oncoming vehicles approaching on high-hedgerowed country lanes. For parking and exiting ease, manufacturers could bring back sliding doors. Unfortunately, nobody really likes sliding doors on passenger cars because they're electric and break down a lot, they mean you've got to have an ugly slot carved into the side of your car and who wants that, or they might let your kids fall out of the side (pick any one).


Vans like old Transits, Bedford CFs and Austin J2s used to be available with sliding front doors. They were handy on urban delivery routes, especially if the driver was feeling a bit queasy from the previous night's sesh. That was until the door unexpectedly slid forward, slicing off a couple of fingers.

How about other vehicle-entry solutions like Tesla's double-hinged 'falcon' doors? Nope. Even Elon Musk has said he'll never try anything like that again, and he's building space rockets in his spare time.

The trouble is, as a species we're getting bigger - and not just us high-fat, high-carb Western folks either. The average height of a South Korean woman has increased from 4ft 8in in 1896 to 5ft 4in in 1996. That's a bigly percentage. So, not only do we want bigger cars, it seems that we actually need them, yet at the same time we don't have the time or space for a desperate road-widening programme. Luckily, there is no plan for one, but in lieu of such a measure, where does the answer to our dearth of driving space lie?

 

 

Author
Discussion

V8 FOU

Original Poster:

2,356 posts

72 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Interesting article TM.
I am just finishing a minor resto on a Fiesta Mk1. Such a sweet wee car. Looks so small compared to moderns. Even the P38 RR seems to be shrinking over the years compared to a Ford smax or whatever.
I would guess there is a need for small cars - look how many Smart cars there are around.
My OH has a Fiat Seicento - she parked it next to a Fiat 500 the other week. Talk about little and large.

hardworker

91 posts

6 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
In built up areas they put lumps of concrete on both sides of the road so both sides are forced to the middle of the road to such an extent that it is not uncomfortably narrow but dangerously narrow for 2 normal size cars to pass, if a bus or truck is coming the other way at the same time it is downright dangerous. God forbid if 2 vans want to pass at the same time or 2 busses etc, they will be clashing wing mirrors, if not outright crashing sooner or later, and this on a road which WAS perfectly wide enough for 2 busses to pass each other comfortably until they added this crap. They do the same at zebra crossings, pedestrian crossings etc. again to such an extent there is but millimetres to spare. A little bit narrower I could understand but not the extent they reduce it to. It must be a nightmare being a bus or truck driver in Britain these days. They are deliberately making the roads not only uncomfortably narrow but dangerously narrow.

Edited by hardworker on Tuesday 28th November 22:06


Edited by hardworker on Tuesday 28th November 22:13

g7jhp

5,258 posts

163 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
There's a joy to driving 3.2 Carrera or Caterham down a narrow windy road where you have space to position it.

Only problem is the other guy in their big SUV who insists on taking up the whole road because they're bigger and don't want to scratch their cat on the hedge!

Kawasicki

5,010 posts

160 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Selling cars is a competition, interior space is important to customers, so car sizes grow with each new model. There is an upper limit to width though, I think we are starting to see a slow down in width increases soon. A golf can only get so wide.

downsman

936 posts

81 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Regarding the parking damage issue, Citroen came up the brilliant idea of putting air bumps on the side of the Cactus which is also relatively narrow for its length.

Bizarrely, on its replacement next year the bumps are much smaller and so low on the doors that they will be useless rolleyes

Seems people didn't want to buy a car that was less likely to be damaged in a car park and avoid the premium increases after all.

Guess which car we have just bought smile

By the way, my Caterham is great in tight parking spaces, as the car sides are about a foot in from the edges of the wings.
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sad61t

1,008 posts

135 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Ride a bicycle and spend half your ride giggling at cars doing a Mexican standoff when both have half a nose in a too narrow gap. (And the other half screaming in terror as they attempt to pass you and get a free detail and polish on the way by.)

More seriously, we could look to Japan where high traffic levels and narrow streets have been an issue for many years. A couple of examples are:
1. Adopt the Tokyo system where on street parking is forbidden and you are only permitted to buy a car if you can prove you have an off-road parking space available. This would certainly improve traffic flow in urban areas that has been throttled by wider cars; the 'jam' width triples with cars parked on one side of the road as all three cars' width are additive.

2. Tax breaks (less VAT, VED, etc.) on cars below a given footprint, similar to Kei cars.

Thorburn

2,134 posts

118 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Couldn't agree with this more. I inherited my parents BMW M135i recently and had to make a choice between running that, or my 10 year old Fiesta Zetec-S.

It wasn't even a close run thing. We live in rural Somerset and the 1-series felt really really wide compared to the Fiesta. My work involves travelling a lot around the local lanes in to villages and towns and a wide, relatively valuable, car just made no sense. It would get pranged or scrapped trying to squeeze past another car at some point, and the huge wheels would end up buckled on the potholes that litter these roads. The Fiesta on the other hand is basically expendable and to be honest, more fun to drive at the speeds you can carry around here.

Similarly my fun cars are my S1 Elise and V12 Vantage S, they couldn't be much more different and the Elise is the more fun car for a quick blast out even if it is 1/5th the power and 1/10th the value because it is light, compact and easy to place on the road where the Vantage is huge, heavy and will squirm around over bumps and lumps in the tarmac at the slightest provocation.

Numeric

437 posts

76 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
I find that although the car may be huge there is less space - I say look at the window line - so many cars have huge 'tumblehome' (basically a bulge out if you look at the vehicle from behind) below the window line, not all so I refuse to believe it is all for safety and I think this makes cars really wide but delivers no additional space as the shoulder width remains relatively narrow.

My old E39 is really easy to park as despite being a big old beast it is quite narrow - I happened to look out of a hotel window once and mine was parked next to a new one - looked like only 4/5 of the width! But the windows are virtually the width marker of the car. A Nissan Puke is about 2 feet wider below the window in feel as you drive it

And when Ii looked at a Q7 I was horrified how little usable space there was - but it's the width of a tank. So I think it is often design, and buyers who seem to think it is quality or safety maybe? And as for the 911... while the Cayman actually is about the right size.

Having lived in North devon I can tell you width is a real issue - luckily I didn't mind taking to the hedge as some terrified grockle in some bloated 4x4 sat in the middle of the road terrified of getting a scratch!

lucido grigio

32,012 posts

88 months

big_rob_sydney

1,987 posts

119 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
So a south korean woman growing a few inches means cars have to get bigger, eh?

Hmm, I recall waiting outside of Flemington markets car park in Sydney back in the 1970's with my dad, to see the wrestlers coming to work, to try and get their autographs. To our great surprise, we saw a Datsun 120y being driven towards us, and it appeared to have some kind of problem with its suspension on the drivers side.

The car parked up, and who should extract himself like a piece of origami? None other than Andre the giant. All 7 foot 6 of him. From a Datsun 120y.

Now, far be it for me to suggest that a south korean woman isnt the cause of cars becoming fat bds, but even if there was the remotest possibility of truth to that, the cars wouldnt be getting wider, but rather the issue would be in the foot and headroom spaces, as opposed to width, surely. And if Andre can fit into a Datsun 120y sardine can, then I don't know what the fk the problem is.

Numeric

437 posts

76 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
As for TRACTORS!

Well they have pistons so deserve a mention here. Legislation was based around the old massey furguson - now you have some spotty teenager driving something from John Deere that deserves a class 1 HGV licence and is so wide it is eating the road edges on many rural roads. Much of the damage ascribed to HGV simply isn't as they don't use the roads but the vast Tractors are causing huge damage I suspect and paying for it through the tax they pay in fuel duty I guess... oh hang on a minute...

g7jhp

5,258 posts

163 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Well someone had to post it....



smilo996

1,350 posts

95 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
Discussion of this topic by journos is at least a couple of years over due.

To meet the demands of the cult of the individual and his ever inflating ego, the car companies have done what they do best, give customer what they want. Coupled with a perverse nostalgia for the countryside now has many more people driving SUV’s.
Car companies love them because it is as much effort and development cost to design and build a small car as it is to build and egowagon but with a 1/3 to a half more metal and plastic sold to the witless customer, the margins are so much better. The consumer gets a product they want but do not need and utility they demand but do not use. The coming dinosaurs of the car world.

Even the new RS4 looks as big as the original RS6.

There is a beauty in clever and compact design. Nothing but only ugliness in flatulent solutions.

Ecosseven

1,382 posts

142 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
When I am looking for a new car the width is one of the first things I check. I have a very narrow garage and whilst I have space to keep 3 or 4 cars on the drive I hate the hassle of always swapping cars around. I own an MX-5 and a Seat Leon and my partner owns a Nissan Note. Either the Leon or the MX-5 is always parked in the garage. I tend to use the MX-5 as a daily driver in the warmer weather for obvious reasons. The Leon gets used over winter or when I need the extra practicality.

Anyway, the Leon is 1816mm wide (excluding mirrors) and the MX-5 is 1720mm (again, excluding the mirrors). The garage is 2380mm wide (measured from wall to wall, the door opening is less than this). Anything much wider than the Leon just isn't going to fit if I want to be able to get out of the car in the garage!









Edited by Ecosseven on Wednesday 29th November 15:29

dan98

86 posts

38 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
g7jhp said:
Well someone had to post it....



That is insane.

And I totally agree with this- a new golf I tried recently was a huge waste of space on the inside (compared to my old mk2, which I considered perfect) while feeling claustrophobic and cumbersome on the outside.
It's a pity manufacturers don't seem to spec up their small cars the same as those further up the range, so you end up being forced into a bigger car unnecessarily.

Thorburn

2,134 posts

118 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
dan98 said:
It's a pity manufacturers don't seem to spec up their small cars the same as those further up the range, so you end up being forced into a bigger car unnecessarily.
What kit do you feel you actually need?

I like having electric mirrors, but in my daily I basically use the steering wheel, gearstick, pedals, lights and air-con/heater.
Parking sensors and rear camera get useful on some modern stuff if its very big or just has crap visibility.

Even things like sat-nav I don't really care too much, I tend to find a stand-alone unit works better than most integrated unit, and means I only have a small screen there when I need it, rather than having a 6-7" screen slapped on the top of the dash.
I very rarely even have the radio/music on when driving though.

skylarking808

96 posts

11 months

Tuesday 28th November 2017
quotequote all
The main point for me is that the roads in this country are not going to be growing anytime soon.
As mentioned neither are car parking spaces, entrances, passing places etc.

Cars designed for the world market want to sell to China, USA, may not give our country lanes much thought.

As a child in South Devon during the eighties/nineties we used to laugh at the "grocals" down from the city as they would try and get their E34 BMW five series down a few "dual cart tracks". Of course a couple of decades later the modern five series is even more unsuitable for such lane work.

Don't get me started on garage sizes either. Even if you are lucky enough to have a garage with your property, you will struggle getting any car post 1995 in it wink


wst

2,478 posts

86 months

Wednesday 29th November 2017
quotequote all
A neighbour of mine had a Ferrari 599 and a pair of full-height mirrors (as you'd used to look at yourself with a new suit on) in his garage (new build) so that he could see the gap each side of it as he inched through the depreciation-inducing maw.

Kolbenkopp

1,443 posts

76 months

Wednesday 29th November 2017
quotequote all
Interesting topic/article, thanks!

Thorburn said:
What kit do you feel you actually need?
Just my 2 cents, but I think most cars do fine on kit nowadays, irrespective of class. My 'essentials' on a city car, for what it's worth: A/C, decent Hifi, BT handsfree, USB for charging and media. If the thing has poor visibility (the norm really) parking sensors or camera. Front collision radar also a plus. Must be a couple of years now that this is available from anyone for anyone.

A bit sad is that almost nobody seems to be doing *really* small cars. Never mind one with a bit of luxury, in say the vein of small Lancias. Sure there's the Mini and the 500. But they are not that small in reality. We are trying to find a replacement for Lady K's Smart 42 and it's surprisingly difficult.

Main problem is length. The car has to be parked outside in a crowded inner city most of the time. Aygo, Up and siblings are the next smallest on the market. But at around 3.5 meters, in reality, they are competing for the same parking spaces as pretty much everything else. Might as well get a super mini then.

Pity Toyota have lost interest in the IQ. And shocking insight of the day: a Cygnet would actually fit the requirements quite well wink. And yes, definitely first world problems of the first order smile.




Kolbenkopp

1,443 posts

76 months

Wednesday 29th November 2017
quotequote all
smilo996 said:
Discussion of this topic by journos is at least a couple of years over due. There is a beauty in clever and compact design. Nothing but only ugliness in flatulent solutions.
Yup, very much agree. And not sure if manufacturers are actually to blame here. It's hard to convince someone to pay 'more' for what on the outside looks like 'less'. So why should they even try that? Much easier to just deliver what the average consumer wants.

Regarding the size creep in general - let's take a look at the first 5 star NCAP rated family car. A Renault that's about 15 years old now. And at what many families with similar requirements want and buy nowadays:



Renault Laguna 2 Estate vs. Renault Kadjar.