Automakers “Plump”-Out Cars to Meet Needs of Wider Audience

By Jacob Brown | November 01, 2011
So you bought a BMW 5 Series a decade ago and are now in the market for a new one. You go to the dealership, test drive one, and realize that the new car is vastly larger than your old model in every dimension. You know the new car has a lot more technology packed into it, so it’s bound to be bigger. But even the seats feel much wider. What gives? Simple answer: Obesity. People have gotten large enough to the point where automakers have begun rethinking how to sell cars to “big boned,” overweight, plus-sized, and people who look like the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. BMW, for instance, has nicknamed an 800-person survey it recently conducted “Plump my Ride,” a play on the title of an MTV show. In it, the automaker took the participants, which ranged from thin to portly in girth and surveyed them doing activities in cars such as looking behind themselves while backing up. “For someone who can find it difficult to turn 140 degrees to look behind them, they can now just look at the screen,” said ergonomics engineer Ralph Kaiser in an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times. He continued: “The study will mean we can look at things more scientifically and build a car that at least 95 percent of people can use." Other manufacturers are jumping on the Krispy Kreme-filled bandwagon. Mercedes-Benz is planning to strengthen its grab handles in its cars to accommodate heavier drivers and passengers. Porsche is adding electronically-controlled steering columns that move up and telescope inward when the car is turned off. Lincoln Town Cars have done something similar with their seats for years, so we’re a little surprised to see Porsche targeting the same immobile market. And if you think all of this is just for people who can afford luxury cars, Honda has expanded its seats by two inches in width in recent years. The automaker has also begun making buttons in their cars wider to accommodate “sausage fingers.” Likewise, since its 2002 introduction, Subaru has never sold an Impreza WRX in North America with the same sport seats as it does in Japan because the original seats weren’t wide enough to comfortably fit our derrieres. The trend isn’t surprising, however. More than a third of adults in the U.S. are considered obese by the Center for Disease Control. In 2008, obesity-related medical expenses were estimated to have cost $147 billion. Healthcare costs for obese people were estimated to be $1429 more per person than for normal-weight people. So there you have it: Our people are getting fat, and our cars are getting bigger to placate those customers. How long until we have “Wide Load” stickers on the back of our BMWs? Source: Telegraph (U.K.), Center for Disease Control