The most ambitious effort is being carried out by BMW, which has launched “Plump My Ride,” a research program designed to understand the driving experience of plus-sized drivers, and adapt to it.
The Munich-based carmaker has recruited 800 volunteers of all weights and sizes to participate in a series of tests involving things such as getting in and out of cars, and driving in reverse.
The point, BMW ergonomics team member Ralf Kaiser told the Sunday Times, is to design cars that are more adaptable for the plus-sized.
“We want to find out how [weight] limits [drivers’] range of motion and how our vehicles can adapt to the changing needs of our customers,” he said. "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."
Kaiser said BMW aims to design cars that 95 per cent of the population can drive.
Other car companies are also putting more emphasis on overweight drivers, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Porsche is adding “electrically-powered steering columns” to their high-end models that rise when the engine is turned off, allowing larger drivers to exit more comfortably. Honda has widened its seats by two inches, and plans to design panels with larger buttons for easier use by “sausage-fingered” drivers.
While there has been much discussion in the United States about the country’s weight problem, the fact European and Japanese carmakers are focusing on the issue shows the problem is global in scale.
A recent study found one in five British residents are now obese. In Canada, a study found one in four adults and one in 11 children are overweight. That appears to match the U.S.’s obesity rate in the Gallup poll, where the U.S. ranked first. However, countries define obesity differently and it is often difficult to compare obesity rates.