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Bigger isn't better if you are smaller

Pickup trucks are large. You may assume that is a function of their function. They are designed to haul heavy loads and pull very heavy trailers. Of course, they are large. But do they really need to be as large as they are? Consider we built the Interstate highway system and went to the moon before 1970. Pickup trucks then were not much larger than some cars, and probably smaller than some that were sold in that period.

But one important difference was their perception as work vehicles. Farmers, ranchers and tradesmen drove them, not suburban housewives. And they were subject to less regulation than passenger cars, because few people used them for anything besides a trade or business. 

In the 1970s, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) act caused the carmakers of the to build smaller cars to meet fuel economy standards for their overall product lines. Then a funny thing happened.

Trucks become "cool" and the auto manufacturers recognized that pickups and SUVs could be made very profitable, as leather, heated seats, navigation systems and premium entertainment systems would drive up the MSRP of the vehicle and contribute significantly to the automaker's overall profit. Ford attributes 50 percent of their income to pickup sales, and GM 35 percent.

And as appearances have become more important than function, and after the CAFE standards were changed, pickup trucks have become larger. This makes sense as the manufacturers jockey for position by claiming their vehicles are the toughest.

But it also makes them more deadly for other vehicle. In the last 15 years, the differential has grown to almost 2,000 pounds. If your passenger car is struck by a pickup truck, you are more likely to be killed in the collision.

Given that they are more prevalent and that market pressure is likely to drive their size and weight to even more extremes, drivers of average cars may become even more at risk. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may examine the role of larger trucks in its review of the CAFE standards, but given their profitability, a change is unlikely.

Bloomberg.com, "Watch Out for That Truck!" Peter Coy, February 19, 2015

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