Monday, March 4, 2024

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Massive American-style pickup trucks are having a surge of popularity in Australia, to the annoyance of some drivers.

“The Americans are coming for our roads, hogging them up with their obnoxious, grand old trucks,” one news story announced. Another described it as a “tsunami of supersized American pickup-style trucks.” And some have cited reports of these vehicles seemingly getting stuck trying to make it around roundabouts, a rare feature on American roads but extremely common in Australia.

Although the popularity of American-style utes — utility vehicles, aka pickup trucks — is a relatively recent one, Australian vehicles have been steadily getting bigger for the past few decades. SUVs and light commercial vehicles — which includes utes — made up 77 percent of the new vehicles sold in Australia in 2022, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. A decade ago, the two categories made up less than 50 percent of sales.

It’s become noticeable enough that Standards Australia, the nongovernmental body that sets the nation’s parking space size requirements, wants to increase the length of off-street parking spots by 20 centimeters, or just under eight inches, to “accommodate the trend of larger vehicles on Australian roads.”

In making the recommendation — which is open for public comment until next week — the agency’s general manager, Adam Stingemore, said that the size of parking bays was last reviewed in 2004. “At that time, “about 13 percent of our national vehicle fleet was an SUV,” he said. “It’s now about 40 percent. As our cars have changed, we also need to consider our car parks.”

This is even though current Australian car spaces, at 5 meters, 40 centimeters, or over 17 feet long, are already relatively large by international standards, according to Marion Terrill, the Transport and Cities program director at the Grattan Institute think tank. A standard parking space in the United Kingdom, for example, is just 8 by 16 feet — so small that one analysis found that about 150 car models do not fit in it.

Ms. Terrill says Australia’s already generous parking spaces are part of the reason our cars have been steadily getting bigger, sending an implicit message to drivers that “big is either absolutely fine or actually quite good.”

Another factor behind the increase is tax incentives, she said, that have lowered the cost of buying a vehicle for both businesses and individuals. “Some people will take that saving in the form of a bigger vehicle,” she said.

Experts have raised a number of concerns related to these larger vehicles, primarily around their high fuel usage and emissions, and the increased risk of serious injury they pose to other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

More big cars taking to the roads could make owners of smaller cars more inclined to upgrade, Ms. Terrill said.

“It’s not good for us, collectively, if there’s an arms race for ever-bigger vehicles,” she said. “But if you’re in an accident, the bigger the other vehicle, is the worse it’s going to be for you — so you can see where people are coming from.”


On another note: Last week, we asked readers how they were preparing for and feeling about a summer of fires and smoke, ahead of what is widely expected to be our worst fire season since the deadly 2019-2020 summer. We received many thoughtful, detailed responses, which we’re slowly working our way through — thank you to everyone who wrote to us!

Now for this week’s stories.


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