The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds

May 10, 2004

The average new car or light-duty truck sold in the 2003 model year tipped the scales at 4,021 pounds, breaking the two-ton barrier for the first time since the mid-1970s, according to a report released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the New York Times. The EPA's weight statistics show that the average weight of a 2003 car or light-duty truck, like a pickup, sport/utility, van or minivan, was heavier than in any model year since 1976, when the average peaked at 4,079 pounds. Just five years later, after the oil shocks of the 1970's, the average had fallen by more than 20 percent, to 3,202 pounds. The figures take into account the sales volumes of different models. Average fuel economy peaked at 22.1 miles to the gallon in the late 1980s, according to the agency, but has eroded since then to 20.7 miles for the 2003 model year. The agency expects the 2004 model year to finish with an average weight of 4,066 pounds. New non-commercial vehicles are actually even heavier than the statistics show, because the largest vehicles sold to consumers, including Hummers and Ford Excursions, are not classed as light-duty, so they are not covered by fuel economy rules or counted in average weight calculations, according to the New York Times. Government studies say these giant vehicles are increasing the overall number of deaths in accidents, mainly because of the threat they pose to people in cars they hit in collisions. The administration's plan does suggest that manufacturers be pressed to slim down the heaviest of the heavyweights. Federal regulators say safety has suffered as a result, both because SUVs and larger pickup trucks are more prone to roll over than cars are, and because they do more serious damage to vehicles they hit. Traffic deaths in the United States rose to 43,220 last year, the most since 1990. Before the SUV boom, the country had the world's lowest highway death rate, taking miles driven into account, but it now ranks behind at least eight other developed nations, including Canada, Australia, Britain and Sweden. Lower rates of seat belt use and other factors play a part, but much of the difference stems from the composition of the national vehicle fleet, researchers say. The Bush administration contends that most sport/utilities should be given room to grow in any new fuel economy system, citing a government study that said lightening any but the largest vehicles would do more harm than good. Thus, one of the administration's leading proposals is to divide the light-duty truck category into classes, with more stringent requirements for heavyweights.
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