Why Are Pickup Trucks Ridiculously Huge? Blame Government.

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One of my favorite economic rules is simple. Whenever a progressive scold blames capitalism or private companies for a “market failure”—i.e., the inefficient or seemingly inexplicable distribution of goods or services in the economy—it’s best to dig a little deeper. Almost always, some government regulation, tax, or law is largely to blame.

One recent example involves the proliferation of mega-pickup trucks. It doesn’t take scientific analysis to notice these vehicles, which account for more than 20 percent of all passenger vehicle sales in the United States, have gotten huge. I recently parked my 2012 full-size V-8 RAM next to a new model in a parking lot and mine looked like a toy. They’ve gotten pricey, too. I paid $19,000 for mine brand new—and the average full-size pickup now approaches $60,000.

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“Driving a large pickup or SUV increases the likelihood you’ll kill or injure someone; its thirsty power plant… spews more air pollution and greenhouse emissions,” according to a report last year in Bloomberg. This has, of course, led to calls for more regulation. The article focused on a proposal by the District of Columbia to impose a $500 annual fee on trucks that exceed 6,000 pounds. The European Union has proposed bans on U.S.-style trucks.

I generally don’t care what other people drive, but critics aren’t entirely wrong to point out the ill effects of mega-truck proliferation—or the oddity of using a 6,500-pound, 22-foot-long vehicle mainly as a grocery-getter. Pedestrian deaths have reached 40-year highs and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research shows that as trucks and SUVs have gotten taller and heavier, they likewise have posed greater risks to those outside the vehicle.

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But before we engage in a regulatory frenzy, it might be wise to assess how we reached this point. Part of it is due to consumer demand and manufacturer marketing, but that’s an insufficient explanation. I live on an acreage and need a truck for routine work duties and hauling a trailer. The anti-car zealots seem to think we all should get around on buses and bicycles, but the bigger question is why there aren’t many smaller, affordable truck options.

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