The average car weight in 2018 was over 4,000 pounds, which has largely been unchanged since 2015. An EPA graph for fuel economy, weight and horsepower for the 1975 model year through 2017 shows fuel economy and horsepower rising together through most of the years while weight has remained largely stable.
Improved Fuel Economy
Vehicle weight has been closely linked with fuel economy, and the EPA has kept track of both for vehicles since the 1975 model year. Average fuel economy for 2016 vehicles was 24.7 mpg, which was slightly higher than the previous year and a record high. Since 2004, fuel economy has gotten better in ten out of 12 years with only two reductions.
Even more encouraging is the fact that fuel economy has continued to improve while weight and horsepower have started to level off. In 2005, technology allowed both power and fuel economy to increase while weight has remained largely the same. As previously mentioned, weight has largely increased gradually over the years with only a few years seeing a dip or a spike.
Generally, heavier vehicles are generally thought to be safer and in today’s market, more weight does not always correlate with poor fuel economy due to improvements in engine and transmission efficiency. What’s more, technology hasn’t just increased efficiency but it’s simultaneously helped automakers improve horsepower without increasing weight. This trend has been particularly strong since the mid-2000s.
Stable New Vehicle Footprint
The footprint is the size of a vehicle judged by the area it occupies with all four tires. This number can be found by multiplying the wheelbase by the average track width (track width is the width between the right and left tires). Fuel economy standards rely on vehicle footprint to determine fuel economy targets. The EPA began collecting footprint data for 2008 vehicles. Between 2008 and 2016, the average footprint size over all five vehicle types has remained fairly stable. Truck footprint increased by 2.4 percent, cars increased by 2.1 percent, minivans and vans increased by 1.9 percent, truck-based SUVs increased by 0.7 percent and CUVs decreased by 0.4 percent.
The average of these footprints is largely influenced by market trends and the types of new vehicles made. Since 2008, the market trends have gone strongly towards trucks, CUVs and SUVs, while cars and vans have dropped somewhat. Because of this shift, the overall industry average footprint has gone up by 1.2 percent to an average size of 49.5 square feet. Values for 2017 were unchanged from 2016.
SUV Market Share At Record High
Crossovers (CUVs or known as car SUVs in the EPA report) have eaten up market share for several years, but data also shows that truck SUVs are also enjoying a larger share. Both types achieved record-high fuel economy as well.
CUVs were 12 percent of all production vehicles in 2016, which was a record. CUVs and SUVs combined for a 41 percent market share.
The average mpg for CUVs was 26.2 mpg, a 1.1 mpg increase. Fuel economy for SUVs was 22.2. Trucks also saw a marked increase in fuel economy, which puts them at their highest ever average, tied with trucks in1986. This is an achievement considering that trucks then were much smaller and weighed up to a third less than trucks today.
The fact that SUVs make up such a large share of the market contributes to average weight staying the same and not decreasing, which might happen with a larger small passenger car market share.
By 2017, over half of all vehicles were projected to use gasoline direct injection (GDI). This is a significant increase; the technology was only used in around three percent of vehicles ten years ago. Several automakers have adopted this technology in the entire vehicle lineup.
Brands like Ford, BMW, Mercedes and VW lead the way in using turbochargers along with GDI, which has resulted in a quarter of the market share. Nearly a quarter of vehicles also use continuously variable transmissions, which increase fuel economy and decrease weight. Japanese automakers use CVTs the most, while domestic and European brands have moved towards transmissions with seven speeds or more or dual-clutch transmissions.
What are the lightest cars in the U.S. market?
Even though the lightest new car sold in America in 2018 weighed less than a 1998 four-door Toyota Tercel, on average America still buys heavier cars than the rest of the world. For example, the Honda Fit is the 10th lightest new car in the U.S. market and it weighs just over 2,500 pounds. Compare that to 1988 when a base Civic weighed 1,933 pounds. Some other examples of lighter vehicles on the American market include the Nissan Versa at 2,400 pounds, the Mazda MX-5 Miata at 2,332 pounds, the Toyota Yaris at 2,315 pounds and the Chevy Spark at 2,246 pounds.
Even though there are plenty of light cars available in the American market, the domination of SUVs and trucks in the market has raised the average market size.
What are some of the heavyweights on the U.S. market?
Surprisingly, the heaviest vehicles on the American market are not just SUVs. For example, the Mercedes-Maybach S560 4Matic sedan weighs in at just over 5,000 pounds. That's only 300 pounds less than the Mercedes-Benz GLS, which is an SUV. That particular SUV gets even heavier with an optional engine at 5,700 pounds.
The Ford Expedition has always been a heavy vehicle, but Ford recently managed to decrease its weight through the use of aluminum for its body panels and by using a turbo V6 rather than a heavier V8. It now weighs just over 5,400 pounds. Its luxury cousin, the Lincoln Navigator, weighs as much as 6,000 pounds with the addition of four-wheel drive.
Some other scale-busting vehicles on the American market include the Rolls-Royce Phantom luxury sedan (5,643 pounds), the Infiniti QX80 SUV (5,676 pounds), the Toyota Sequoia SUV (5,730 pounds) and the Cadillac Escalade ESV SUV (5,831 pounds). Remember too that in most cases those are base model figures. Larger engines, four-wheel drive and luxury trims balloon the weight as much as 500 or 600 pounds in some vehicles.