Does size matter?
Is the trend of ‘bigger is better’ sustainable in the move towards autonomous driving?
It’s become something of a social convention but when it comes to houses and cars, we tend to associate size with success, so the bigger the house and car, the better off you could be deemed to be. In this regard, you can understand the reason why Rolls Royce doesn’t make a hatchback .
Over the last 30 years, cars have got demonstrably bigger. Just look at the MINI as an example. The current three-door hatchback is taller, wider and approximately 800mm longer than the original model from 1959. Another enduring model, Honda’s Civic, stands 819mm longer and 560mm wider than the original 1973 model, whilst the seventh-generation VW Golf hatchback is over 300mm wider than its MK1 cousin from 1974.
So, why the increase in size? There are a number of reasons we can consider but meeting tough safety standards is fundamentally the main one. Cars are now developed to protect occupants in the event of major impact, in accordance with Euro NCAP legislation, to the extent that securing a 5-star NCAP rating is a major feature of a new model’s promotional credentials. As such, the inclusion of airbags, safety cells, crumple zones and laminated glazing all require more space, as well as adding significantly more kilos to the kerb weight.
Secondly, we expect more of our cars these days. A generation ago, we’d buy cars which met a specific need, be it a small car for short journeys or an estate car that could accommodate a family. The current trend is for a vehicle that serves multiple purposes and this came to the fore back in 2007 with the arrival of the first Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) in the UK, namely Nissan’s Qashqai. This model was responsible for sparking the ‘SUV revolution’, based on the traditional 4×4 sized car but without the need for off-road capability. Such was consumer appetite, the Qashqai was the best-selling medium-segment car in 2016 and the fifth best-selling car overall in the UK. Its popularity encouraged virtually all other volume manufacturers to follow suit and create their own SUV versions. The statement ‘bigger is better’ became embedded in showroom parlance as car makers upped the size stakes and invested millions in bigger dealerships to accommodate them.
Then there’s the question of finance. Historically, the amount you paid reflected the amount of metal you owned. Nowadays, the finance market is so competitive that cars previously out of reach are now accessible, thanks to the variety of purchase and lease options. Because of this, manufacturers have brought a larger number of bigger and higher specification models to market.
Despite this trend, one thing which hasn’t got bigger over time are the parking bays. A typical space measures 4.8m x 2.4m (or 16ft x 8ft) and it’s remained this size for decades. Research by the consumer association, Which? a couple of years ago found that 129 models exceeded the limits of a standard parking bay but according to the British Parking Association, car parks need to strike a balance between capacity and efficiency. As cars have grown, however, so have the incidences of low speed crashes and bodywork dents and scratches with a report by Accident Exchange finding that parking damage costs UK insurers £1.4billion each year.
Kelvin Reynolds, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the British Parking Association, said: “It’s ironic that just as parking operators are beginning to think it’s time to consider wider parking bays, there are potentially driverless self-parking vehicles in the future which might be less concerned about bay width.”
The prospect of a fully autonomous SUV-sized vehicle is many years away but the issue of car ownership and the concept of ‘Mobility as a Service’, as explored in our other articles, will almost certainly call into question whether bigger truly is better in the long term. Interestingly, there’s been something of a renaissance in the small and compact car segments during the last few years, as manufacturers look to increase the appeal of their range rather than pure model size.
At Autoglym, size is not so important – satisfying demand for product quality, durability, and ease of use are our big things. As a leader in car care for over 50 years, we work with motor retailers across a range of franchises, helping them secure incremental business through LifeShine, our Vehicle Protection System.
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