It’s no secret that many Americans love big cars. When you drive on streets or highways in the United States, you’ll likely find a collection of beefy pickup trucks and massive SUVs. But why are American cars so big compared to other countries around the world? Let’s take a closer look and explore the various reasons.
Many things are bigger in America compared to other counties, including cars
The hugeness factor in the U.S. isn’t only cars. Many things are bigger in America compared to other countries. This includes portion sizes of food, houses, and supermarkets and superstores. For international visitors to the U.S., a common reaction is surprise and shock upon seeing the enormous size of many things. In America, it’s “go big or go home.”
Trucks and SUVs dominated the list of best-selling cars in the U.S. in 2021. Also, the three best-selling vehicles were full-size pickup trucks: the Ford F-Series, Ram Pickup, and the Chevy Silverado.
Large American cars date back to the end of World War II
With the proliferation of large trucks and SUVs, many people might think that big American cars are a recent phenomenon. However, the large size of vehicles in the U.S. dates back to the end of World War II, after America and its allies declared victory.
Boston.com discussed this issue with George Kennedy, the managing editor for BoldRide. He said, “Following World War II, there was this feeling of American [pride], and our cars got very large. While that’s more or less gone away from sedans, there’s still a gung-ho mentality with truck buyers.”
Speaking of WWII, it’s interesting to note that some American cars are now almost as big as the tanks that helped win the war. The above GIF shows a comparison between a Ford Ranger and a WWII-era Sherman tank. The Ranger is only a midsize truck, and it’s nearly as large as the Sherman. While large tanks like the Sherman from WWII are mostly wider and taller, for the length, full-size trucks and SUVs are quite similar to these tanks. And in some cases, they’re even longer.
Streets and highways in the US are bigger compared to other countries
Another reason why American cars are bigger is that streets and highways in the U.S. are larger than in other countries. Many of the historic cities of the world were built before the age of cars. The streets in them are narrower and were not originally designed to support vehicle traffic.
However, in contrast, the U.S, with its relatively shorter existence compared to many other countries, grew up in the age of cars and the extensive interstate system across the country.
“In Europe and other areas, there are very old infrastructure and small streets in five- to seven-hundred-year-old cities. It’s difficult for larger vehicles to get around. But America’s interstate is large and extensive and lends itself to larger vehicles,” said Kennedy.
Psychological and cultural reasons for America’s love of big cars
There are also psychological and cultural reasons for America’s love of big cars. Think of the days of the wild frontier, with wide open spaces. The sense of spaciousness with the open land influenced people’s psychological perception of space. As a result, people desired more space in many aspects of their lives, including the distance between homes and other people.
The desire for more space was culturally passed down from generation to generation — and eventually spread to cars. Many Americans simply want big cars because they offer more space.
Another cultural and psychological factor is individualism. This is a strongly-held value in American culture. One of the psychological impacts of individualism is a desire for more control of one’s surroundings. This desire for more control, or a sense of security, is the brain’s efforts to protect the individual from possible threats, whether real or imagined, from outsiders. With this in mind, for some, large cars give people the “illusion of control” or the “illusion of security.”