Why cars are getting heavier (and not just electric ones)

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It is a fact, electric cars, due to their battery in particular, are heavier than their thermal counterparts. But more generally, it is the overall weight of all cars that has increased in recent years, and this will start to raise issues in terms of safety, but also from a legal point of view.

The new Volvo EX90 shows 2.8 tons on the scale // Source: Ulrich Rozier for Frandroid

With the advent of SUVs over a decade ago, the average weight of cars has increased considerably. The democratization of electric vehicles has only accentuated this phenomenon in recent years, and with each presentation of a new product, when we scrutinize the technical sheet, the sheet that leads us to the weight of the car in question has something to challenge us.

Latest example, the new Volvo EX90 showing 2.8 tonnes on the scale. That’s 500 kilos more than a Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid and about 700 more than a diesel model when it was still on the market.

A battery problem? Not only

We can give you plenty of examples like this (no pun intended), and that’s true of lower segment cars as well. Take a Peugeot e-208 for example. It weighs 1,455 kilos, which may seem “reasonable” for an electric car. But going back ten years, we noticed that a Peugeot 207, its “equivalence” at that time, weighed an average of 350 kilos less depending on version and engine. Of course, there are the batteries that play an important role in this mass gain, but there are also other determining factors.

If we want to go further, we can take the example of a Mercedes C-Class from the 80s, a 190 as it was called then and a current C-Class. We already noticed a small change in the segments, since the old C-Class measured 4.42 meters, the length of a current compact, while the new one is 33 cm longer. As for the weight, the first weighed between 1,080 and 1,300 kg, depending on the version. 40 years later, the hybrid Mercedes C-Class exceeds two tons.

With around 1.5 tons on the scale, the Peugeot e-208 is one of the “lightest” electric cars on the market // Source: Peugeot

Several serious issues are starting to emerge with the increasing weight of our cars, especially since the advent of electric vehicles and SUVs. The problem does not only affect consumption (of fuel or electricity), the increase in the weight of cars touches on many other issueslike security. And, it’s quite paradoxical, we’ll see, but also more “practical” problems such as, for example, the simple fact of parking or even, and this is more surprising, for the driver’s license.

security issues

The increase in the overall weight of cars is often attributed to the proliferation of mandatory safety systems, their increasingly advanced connectivity or even driving aids. It’s a fact, and it’s all the more true as safety systems are an integral part of the Euro NCAP classification system.

If any of these aids are missing, a bad grade is guaranteed. To top it off, the car in question goes through a model that isn’t necessarily safe and misses out on a major selling point. This is, for example, the case of low-cost cars, which reduce prices by saving on certain technologies and therefore score worse in terms of safety. We have seen it with the Renault Zoé or the Dacia Spring, poorly rated by Euro NCAP.

In its report on the tests carried out in 2022, Euro NCAP found that the weight of the cars had increased considerably in recent years, and we can see this in this comparative table of the vehicles tested during two periods: 2010 to 2012 and 2020 to 2022. The third column is for electric vehicles tested in 2022.

Source: EuroNCAP

You probably still have some memories of your high school physics lessons. The greater the weight of a car, the greater the force needed to brake it. So it goes without saying that heavier cars require more powerful braking systems. That’s what we’ve seen in a lot of new cars, whether they’re electric or not.

Euro NCAP states in its report that the heavier a car is, the more dangerous it is, despite all the safety arsenal it can carry. It is difficult to go wrong, since we dare not imagine a collision, not even at 70 km/h, between a current electric SUV and a city car barely ten years old.

The most significant example of the increase in weight of our cars? On the left, a 1964 Porsche 911, on the right, a 2011 911.

The organization offers several solutions to work with, but we can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the snake that bites its own tail. Developing technologies, now mandatory, to improve the safety of cars, thus increasing their weight, thus making them, in another respect, less safe, and asking manufacturers to work to further improve safety due to increased weight… particularly caused by security systems. .

In fact, Euro NCAP has highlighted the need for more effective buffer structures. But also more extensive work on driving assistance systems, both to protect other vehicles and to vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

Heavier, wider and longer cars, a nuisance on a daily basis?

As you can see from the table presented above, in a decade the average weight of a car has increased significantly.

The compacts took on average more than 100kgE-segment sedans (Tesla Model 3, BMW i4, etc.) more than 200kgwhile compact SUVs took reign 130kg. Euro NCAP has also isolated electric cars. An electric compact weighs 1,657 kilos on average, more than two tons for an electric model in the D segment and 1,978 kilos for an electric compact SUV.

Heavier, our cars are also bigger, as our example above with the Mercedes C-Class shows. This can also pose other problems, such as parking. In fact, the maneuvers are more complicated, while the decades-old infrastructure is no longer necessarily optimal for our modern cars. You only have to see the entrance to certain underground car parks in Paris to realize it. We had also written a file that raised the question of whether electric cars were harder to park.

Furthermore, while the use of an electric powertrain and a dedicated platform allows for some advantages in terms of design (such as a shorter turning radius as evidenced by the Volkswagen ID. Buzz), there are also limitations. The fact that electric cars are wider is because of the batteries, but not because battery packs are too big for a car, It is mainly for security that this type of element causes.

Manufacturers must leave some sort of “buffer” space on each side in the event of a side impact, where the battery is closer to the end of a car. To avoid damaging the batteries in the event of a side collision, electric cars often use a structure with a wider side beam and a thicker sill.

Will a B permit still be enough in a few years?

This is a question that may seem exaggerated, and it is in fact at the time of writing this article, but even according to Bentley, nowadays it is worth asking. With a B license, the limit imposed in terms of weight is 3.5 tons. In fact, it is wide enough to drive a van and all the cars currently marketed in Europe.

But as Bentley rightly pointed out when showing off its long-wheelbase Bentayga luxury SUV (which isn’t an add-on electric model), license B may not be enough in the future. With a gross mass of 3250kg for your beast, we are in fact getting dangerously close to the limit. Afterwards, is this accumulation of technologies and other gadgets that the Bentayga equips with really necessary and will they become essential for our cars of tomorrow? Certainly not.

bmw i7
The BMW i7 weighs 2,715 kilos on the scale, without all the options // Source: BMW

In the same spirit, the new Volvo EX90 weighs in at least 2.8 tonnes, while the new BMW i7, with all options, largely flirts with three tonnes. Again, we can legitimately start asking questions, even if it’s about a very specific breed of car.

Tomorrow, a 100% electric Renault 5 or a Peugeot e-208 will probably never weigh more than they weigh today, within a few kilos, especially since manufacturers are becoming aware, despite forced march electrification, the need to contain the masses of carsand even that of electric ones.

What can be the solutions?

One of the outlets for an electric car, obviously it is their autonomy. But as many leaders today, including those at Mazda, Tesla and BMW, point out, cars with long ranges (and therefore big batteries) will soon be useless. Because ? Because charging infrastructures will multiply, but not only.

At Ford, for example, they plan to make their electric cars less complex and less expensive. Therefore, they will carry less stuff and be less heavy as well as being less expensive. In any case, this is what the head of the American manufacturer recently said.

The engineers, in addition to working on new battery chemistries, are also working on the aerodynamic aspect, essential today for low consumption and good range, but also on weight.

Mercedes Vision EQXX
Mercedes Vision EQXX

The best example, and probably the most concrete that we can give today, is the work carried out by Mercedes-Benz with its EQXX concept car. Mercedes took its Vision EQXX 1,202km across Europe, between Stuttgart and Silverstone, taking over the Channel Tunnel. The 1,202 km were covered in 14:30 hours, at an average speed of 83 km/h.

The Mercedes Vision EQXX consumed, on average, 8.3kWh/100kmin particular thanks to advanced aerodynamics (only 0.170), and also a contained weight of “only” 1.7 tons for a long electric hatchback with a battery that’s only half the size of the EQS’s 107.8kWh battery. A “conventional” electric car would have consumed almost twice the energy on the same journey.

In the same genre we can also mention the Lightyear 0 that had traveled more than 700 km with a consumption of approximately 8.9 kWh/100 km and an average speed of 85 km/h. Low consumption possible thanks to a lot of aerodynamic work (Cd of only 0.175) and above all a very low weight of 1.6 tons (practically the same as a Renault Zoé), with a 60 kWh battery and a size of about five meters long .

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