Luxury car makers are building bigger cars as a result of drivers and passengers becoming more overweight. Typical family cars have become more than a foot wider and almost double the weight over the past 50 years as manufacturers struggle with the world’s obesity crisis.
Consequently some luxury manufacturers have begun road testing the next generation of larger sized vehicles.
In plans dubbed “plump my ride” – in a play of words from the television show Pimp My Ride – BMW has recruited 800 volunteers, ranging from the slim to the obese, for a study to gauge how obesity affects mobility while driving.
The unnamed volunteers were put through a series of tests designed in part to examine factors such as getting in and out of cars or looking over their shoulder while reversing.
“People are getting more obese and we want to find out how that limits their range of motion and how our vehicles can adapt to the changing needs of our customers,” Ralf Kaiser, a member of BMW’s ergonomics team, told the Sunday Times.
“We know that a lot of overweight and obese people have problems in daily life, and in the car this starts with getting in and getting out. In general, these aren’t sporty people. We already have things like the parking distance control, which shows obstacles on a screen when you are reversing.”
He added: “For someone who can find it difficult to turn 140 degrees to look behind them, they can now just look at the screen. The study will mean we can look at things more scientifically and build a car that at least 95 per cent of people can use.”
Mercedes has unveiled plans to strengthen grab handles above its doors, in part to help heavier passengers support themselves.
Porsche, meanwhile, is installing “electrically-powered steering columns” on top-of-the-range models that rise when the engine is switched off.
Over the past decade, Honda has widened its seats by up to 2 inches to accommodate larger bottoms while its new range of vehicles will also have buttons that will allow for so called “sausage fingers”.
Other manufacturers are installing reversing aids and blind spot detectors as standard.
According to the latest figures a Ford Prefect was 4ft 9in wide with an 18 inch long seat cushion in 1953. This compared to a 2011 Ford Focus that was 6ft 1in wide with a 23 inch long seat cushion.
Government statistics show that more than 60 per cent of adults in England and a third of 10 and 11-year-olds are obese.
In August The Lancet medical journal said that by 2030 more than 11m would classed as obese, with a body mass index (BMI) above 30, compared with a healthy BMI score of between 18.5 and 25.
Obesity and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes cost Britain £20 billion a year in terms of lost productivity, it was claimed last month.
It was recently disclosed that over the past five years Yorkshire Ambulance Service spent nearly £10 million on specialist vehicles to transport obese patients.
Speaking earlier this month at a launch that unveiled plans to cut obesity levels by 2020, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said Britain had to become a nation of calorie counters to counter the obesity crisis.