The Surprising Other Reason Cars Keep Getting Bigger

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: Cars, They’re Huge

Take a look at that new Honda Civic. I don’t hate the way it looks, but man, is it a big car. The presence of the Fit in the Honda lineup has made the Civic bigger than a lot of Accords have been historically.


It’s hardly alone, and there are many reasons cars keep getting bigger. The presence of tougher safety standards is one. Americans simply defaulting to larger cars when they can and seemingly hating little cars is another.

But as Automotive News’ Ryan Beene points out, making cars bigger also allows automakers to deal with lower fuel economy and emissions targets.

To see how the targets work, take the Buick LaCrosse. The new model is 2.7 inches longer between the wheels, and about 1.2 inches wider. That roughly 2.1-square-foot size difference, says GM spokesman Nick Richards, helps the full-size sedan meet the tastes of U.S. and Chinese customers.

It also boosts the footprint to 50.1 square feet, yielding a 2017 model-year target of 36.3 mpg under the government’s corporate average fuel economy rules. That’s up from the previous model’s 35.7 mpg CAFE target, but 1.4 mpg less than the 37.7 mpg it would have faced had GM carried the smaller 2016 LaCrosse into the 2017 model year, according to calculations provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

[...] “We know it’s having a negative impact on the benefits of the program — bigger footprint means less-stringent standards, and it’s a bigger footprint at the redesign process essentially at no cost, meaning you get a less stringent standard for free,” says Roland Hwang, transportation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Based on the evidence you have, it requires the regulators to look at this issue more closely.”

One day we’ll all be driving tanks.

2nd Gear: The Nissan Titan Gets ‘America’s Best Truck Warranty’

We dig the new Nissan Titan just fine, but in terms of sales it’s barely a blip on the truck radar compared to the stuff from Ford, Ram and General Motors. Or even Toyota. Now Nissan hopes to entice owners away from those brands with a longer warranty, reports USA Today:

The Japanese automaker announced what it thinks will be “America’s Best Truck Warranty” Friday for its 2017 Titan and Titan XD full-size pickups. The warranty covers five years or 100,000 miles, and is part of Nissan’s “Year of the Truck” initiative, which is supposed to herald an onslaught of new pickups, SUVs and CUVs.

All Titan and Titan XD V-8 gas-powered models as well as diesel and V-8 gas-powered 2017 Titan XD models will be covered by the new warranty. The 2017 Titans and Titan XDs will begin arriving at Nissan dealerships nationwide later this month.

Titan needs the help that the warranty can provide. Titan is the lowest-selling major full-size pickup among major makers. It was outsold by the Toyota Tundra, the next closest competitor, by a 10 to 1 margin last month, Autodata figures show.


3rd Gear: Academics VS. Tech People

Autonomous cars are the future, like it or not. But as we’ve seen this summer, the technology is unproven and still in its infant stages. It will take meticulous testing to get it running the way we want, and as Automotive News points out, that kind of deep vetting doesn’t always match the speedy ethos of Silicon Valley.

As companies such as Google race to bring autonomous cars to market, the cultural divide between academic types and corporate types is surfacing publicly. Academics, known for taking long, methodical approaches to problems, appear to be uncomfortable with the pace at which Silicon Valley companies are pushing ahead with autonomous cars.

“The mindset of the Silicon Valley approach is to want to go fast, to be agile, to fail quickly,” said Ryan Eustice, a University of Michigan robotics professor who was hired this year by the Toyota Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich., to work on autonomous vehicle research.

The different approaches have worked well until recently, when companies have entered the final stretch of producing autonomous cars for real consumers, rather than for testing and research. Solving the problems needed to create a successful end product may simply be less fun for big-name academics, who are accustomed to thinking big thoughts and running large-scale research projects. The issues now at hand — such as refining how the cars drive — can be worked on by basic systems engineers.


4th Gear: Germany Signs Off On More Diesel Fixes

This fix isn’t for U.S. market Volkswagen diesels, but the smaller 1.2-liter engines used in other markets. But it’s one more step to fixing all of them. Via Reuters:

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has won German regulatory approval for technical fixes on another 460,000 diesel cars with illicit emissions control software, it said on Sunday, raising the number of vehicles cleared for repair to over 5 million.

Approval by Germany’s motor vehicle authority KBA is valid for countries throughout Europe where 8.5 million diesel cars are affected by Volkswagen’s emissions test-rigging scandal. About 11 million autos are implicated globally.


5th Gear: Has Tesla’s Brand Image Taken A Hit?

Even with the Autopilot crashes this summer, that seems unlikely. Then again, there’s not a ton of evidence to support the idea that the buying public pays attention to automotive scandals; look how many SUVs General Motors was moving during the ignition switch fiasco.


Via The Detroit News:

“Tesla’s a very, very resilient brand,” he said. “We know consumers see Tesla as sort of more than an automotive brand. It’s almost like a lifestyle thing for them. Traffic on our site for the Model S is off the chart compared to other electric vehicles.”

The fatal crash being investigated by federal regulators occurred when a semi-trailer turned left in front of the car that was in Autopilot mode. Florida police said the roof of the car struck the underside of the trailer and the car passed beneath. Brown was declared dead at the scene.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in a blog posting on June 30.

Tesla has defended its Autopilot system, and the company has maintained that demand for its vehicles is still strong.


History: It Worked Out Okay For Him


Reverse: Are Small Cars Eventually Doomed?

No one’s buying them with gas this cheap anyway, and they seem poised to get bigger and bigger—at least in the U.S. market.