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Sales-weighted curb mass and density of new autos sold in U.S., 1986–2009


U.S.-bought new autos’ weight has risen 16% since 1986 to an average of 3,533 lb—twice as fast as U.S. adults’ weight gain. Cars have even gotten denser, rising from 28 to 32 lb per interior cubic foot (a 14% increase). Three-fourths of the cars’ weight gain was due to greater density, not size. U.S. autos have become substantially heavier across the board, contributing to the misconception that safety equals weight, when in reality it is size, not weight, that matters in crash safety. Now stiffer corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for 2016 and 2025 are accelerating global automakers’ strategic pursuit of lightweighting.


A: U.S EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality. 2010. “Light-duty Automotive Technology and Fuel-Economy Trends: 1975–2009; Table 2." Washington DC: U.S EPA, Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

B: Ogden, C.L., C.D. Fryar, M.D. Carroll and K.M. Flegal. 2004. Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States, 1960–2002. National Institutes of Health.

C: McDowell, M.A., C.D. Fryar, C.L. Ogden and K.M. Flegal. 2008. Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults: United States, 2003–2006. National Institutes of Health.