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  • Writer's pictureDavid

Increasing vehicle size and impacts on urban design

Almost every time I walk along the footpath of a local road, I can't help but notice the ever increasing size of vehicles on the road and the increasing prevalence of "SUVs" and "light trucks" compared to traditional passenger cars.

Doing some research, it turns out if we go back to 1982, the top selling vehicles in Australia were as follows:

Ford Falcon - 84,184

Holden Commodore - 78,429

Mitsubishi Sigma - 42,210

Ford Laser - 40,069

Datsun Bluebird - 34,048

Holden Gemini - 27,501

Toyota Corolla - 22,916

Holden Camira - 20,843

Toyota Corona - 19,000

Datsun Stanza/Sunny/Pulsar - 14,662

We can see that all of the above are traditional passenger cars, with no SUVs or light trucks on the list.

Fast forward 40 years to 2022 and the top selling vehicles in Australia are as follows:

  1. Toyota HiLux – 64,391

  2. Ford Ranger – 47,479

  3. Toyota RAV4 – 34,845

  4. Mitsubishi Triton – 27,436

  5. Mazda CX-5 – 27,062

  6. Toyota Corolla – 25,284

  7. Toyota Landcruiser – 24,542

  8. Isuzu Ute D-Max – 24,336

  9. MG ZS – 22,466

  10. Hyundai i30 – 21,166

Only two of the above are now traditional passenger cars at numbers 6 & 10, with all off the remaining vehicles being SUVs or light trucks.

On the 1982 list, the top selling vehicle being the Ford Falcon was considered a "large" vehicle at the time, with height, width and length of 1367 x 1860 x 4729mm.

The previously "large" 1982 Ford Falcon is relatively small in comparison to the currently top selling Toyota Hilux, with a height, width and length of 1815 x 1855 x 5325mm.

When it comes to assessing the adequacy of new driveways and parking areas, most Councils follow Australian Standard 2890.1-2004, which was introduced in 2004. Many Councils also have additional provisions in their Development Control Plans.

This Australian Standard provides dimensions of a standard angled parking space of 2400 mm wide by 5400 mm long. As we can see above, this left substantial remaining length for the 1982 Ford Falcon, although the currently top selling Toyota Hilux takes up basically the entire length of the car parking space, leaving only 75mm clearance remaining.

The currently second top selling vehicle (Ford Ranger), has a length of 5446mm, meaning that is actually longer than a standard designed space and cannot fit in it.

One way to "adapt" to the above, would be to force developers to increase the size of car spaces and car parking areas, leading to more of our cities looking like this:

It's not much surprise that places such as those in the above image do not tend to appear regularly on international tourism guides or highly in amenity satisfaction surveys.

If we want to avoid a downward trajectory in building places worth caring about, one solution might be to question why we need ever larger and larger vehicles.

86.6% of Australians live in urban areas with almost completely sealed roads, meaning that there is little practical need for mass ownership of SUVs.

The trend towards larger vehicles hasn't in any way correlated to a need relating to increased household size, which has reduced to 2.52 persons per dwelling as per the 2021 census.

Many commentators have presented evidence posing the increasing risks of larger vehicles to pedestrian safety and the environment.

In a few decades time, when it becomes clearer that the oil production of more nations has peaked, limitations of electric vehicles become clearer and remaining oil resources become more expensive to pump out of the ground, with lower energy return on investment, we will probably look back on our current vehicle ownership decisions as extremely wasteful and squandering precious finite resources.

Given that roads are publicly owned spaces, perhaps all of the above are questions that should be asked by governments.

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