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Cars with obesity: watch out, the 3-ton trucks are coming!

It is becoming more and more common for car models to have a gross vehicle weight of more than three tons. Some series can just about be driven with a B-class driver's license. Electrification is not the only problem, but it exacerbates it.

January 1, 1999 was a drastic date when it came to driving licenses. At that time, a good 24 years ago, the German driving license classes were transferred to the EU logic. What severely curtailed the rights of people with a car driver's license: Anyone who had previously obtained a class 3 driver's license could not only drive normal cars with it. But also trucks with a maximum permissible total mass of 7.5 tons or trains with no more than three axles. For people with the following class B driver's license, the limit in terms of permissible total mass is 3.5 tons.

The loss of privileges was manageable for most drivers. A Mercedes S 500 of the W220 series, one of the largest passenger car models at the time, weighed only 1,875 kilograms even in the long version. The permissible total weight? 2.4 tons, which is why it was even possible to tow trailers weighing up to 1.1 tons. With the BMW 750iL (factory code E38), which hovered around the two-ton mark, this scope was somewhat smaller, but still adequate.

Close to the 3.5 ton limit

With the modern, purely electrically powered successors to the two luxury class sedans mentioned, things look different. The empty BMW i7 xDrive60 weighs significantly more than its ancestor from the late 1990s: the curb weight of 2,715 kilograms (according to EU standards) clearly and unequivocally tops the permissible total mass of that time. With this, the Bavarian electrician comes pretty close to the class B driver's license limit with 3,250 kilograms. Things are hardly better with the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4Matic+: It weighs 2,655 kilograms empty and can be loaded with up to 570 kilograms; makes a gross vehicle weight of 3,225 kilograms.

The phenomenon of ever heavier cars is not new and has many causes. Increasingly improved safety systems are bringing more mass into cars, as is customer demand for ever more comfortable equipment and more and more digital technology. Added to this is the increase in size, which - to stay with the examples - has allowed the EQS to grow by a good 16 centimeters compared to the S-Class ancestor. In the case of the BMW, the increase in length even goes in the direction of 27 centimetres. Here – to emphasize this again – the old luxury class models are the long versions of their series. The ongoing SUV boom does the rest in terms of weight gain.

The battery alone weighs almost 700 kilograms

However, the main drivers of this topic are the XXL batteries, each with a usable capacity of over 100 kilowatt hours, which the EQS and i7 carry around with them.The Mercedes' energy storage alone is said to weigh 692 kilograms; that of the BMW should move in similar regions. This means that these batteries are still relatively light: The battery of the Audi E-Tron S Quattro had a net capacity of just 86 kilowatt hours, but weighed 699 kilograms. No wonder that the electric SUV was one of the heaviest in the country at 2,730 (unladen weight) and 3,245 kilograms (permissible total weight). After all, Audi was able to file away a bit of weight during the facelift, in the course of which the series mutated into the Q8 E-Tron.

Now you might think: everything is fine, the class B 3.5 ton limit is still a few kilos away. That's true. But only until a trailer needs to be pulled. With the i7 and EQS, this should be a rather secondary topic. This is different with the new electric SUV Volvo EX90, which – as soon as it comes onto the market at the end of 2023 – will be the new weight leader among all car models offered in Germany. Finally, SUVs are popular towing vehicles for caravans and horse trailers.

Higher class B weight limit in the future

Holders of a class B driver's license have to pass quickly here; much more than transporting garden waste in the lightweight trailer from the hardware store is not possible for them with this car. Unless you have a trailer driver's license. Five mandatory driving lessons are required for the driver - and in case of doubt as many more than the learner driver needs to learn the corresponding maneuvers. The costs quickly reach four-digit euro amounts. Or mum and dad have to get to it – along with a class 3 driver's license.

The legislator will react soon: The European Union plans to pass a new driver's license directive in the course of 2023, according to which the class B driver's license limit will be raised to 4.25 tons (permitted total weight). This eases the situation a little and also means that larger mobile homes can also be moved in the future with the car driver's license. But the innovation only fights the symptoms, not the cause.

Electric, PHEV or luxury class

If you look at the heaviest current car models, e-car critics in particular see their arguments confirmed. In addition to pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (PHEV), only representatives from the absolute luxury class are at the top of this ranking. Due to the minimal number of pieces, they stand for themselves and are not exemplary for the overall picture described. In addition, the new Ineos Grenadier and the Land Rover Defender are genuine off-road vehicles. A Mercedes EQV or a GLE, on the other hand, fall into the "family car" category and achieve relevant sales figures.

The question of perspective remains: into which weight classes will the cars still drift? In the future, driven in particular by improved cell chemistry for the batteries, the reversal should take place. It remains to be hoped that the progress will not be eaten up by other effects. If lighter batteries are thwarted by ever-increasing dimensions and additional comfort features, nothing is gained.


Although the new driver's license regulations take some pressure off the auto-obesity issue, there is no question that the auto industry needs to find ways to make its products slim again. Let's hope that the technical development will bring the necessary progress here. And that customers also see that less convenience and digital chic is more in this respect.


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