Yuval, that GM Puma (by the way, is there a GM Cougar?) is fine for mowing down grannies in the discount-aisle at Wal-Mart or for the nuclear space-laser lab technicians to get around the Nehru-suited villain’s secret volcano lair in a Roger Moore-era Bond movie, but not for much else.
There is a — drumroll, please — demographic element to the automobile question. Europeans often ask, “Why do Americans need those big cars?” The short answer is: Because Americans have kids and Europeans don’t. So Italians and Spaniards and Germans (and Japanese) can drive around in things the size of a Chevy Suburban’s cupholder because they’ve got nothing to put in them.
If you’re a soccer mom schlepping three kids plus little Jimmy from next door around, you need a vehicle of a certain size. In the old days, you could just toss ‘em all in there and they’d roll around as you took the hairpin bends in fourth gear. But now you can’t stick kids in the front and you need baby seats for the youngest and booster seats for the oldest and soon nanny-state regulation will require every American under 37 to be in a rear-facing child seat, which is a pretty good metaphor for where the country’s going.
And, if you mandate small cars and child-seat regulations, don’t be surprised if the size of the American family starts heading south, too. The difference between U.S. and European vehicles isn’t an emblem of environmental irresponsibility or American corpulence but of something more basic and important.