DETROIT — Lorraine Dillon couldn’t fit her enormous GMC Yukon SUV into her itty-bitty garage on St. Paul Street in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. So builder Al Shaheen made the entrance bigger.
“The garage had to be usable,” said Dillon, 72, whose husband drives a Chevrolet Suburban. “We didn’t have enough length to the driveway to park a car without blocking the sidewalk.”
And she’s not alone.
Builders say garages are getting bigger than ever.
“American cars have never been bigger and they’ve never been taller. But they can’t get much wider,” said Eric Noble, a product development consultant and professor of vehicle technology at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. “The only thing that has grown as fast as American vehicles are American waistlines.”
The dramatic consumer shift to pickups and large SUVs has created a niche business in garage remodeling as people try to make space for vehicles that may comfortably seat eight people and still have room for storage.
“We’ve moved from a 7-foot garage door height to 8-foot. It’s difficult to fit them not only into garages but into parking spaces,” Noble said.
Vehicles have become adult toys
Dustin Collier, a builder based in Traverse City, Michigan, said his garage project clients consist mostly of people in their 50s and 60s.
“Vehicles are just taller. You might be able to fit a Ford F-150 into a garage with nothing on its roof, but if you have lights or anything up there, it’s cutting things close,” he said. “Our busiest time is in the spring, when everybody gets their taxes back. We get calls in the fall, too, because people are trying to get ready for winter. I see a lot of four-door pickup trucks. They just don’t fit.”
Collier sees people spend $3,000 to $12,000 “trying to make things right.”
While the 8-foot height is the new standard on garages, he builds as high as 12 feet now to accommodate the popular roof racks.
“People are all about their toys now,” Collier said. “The trucks are jacked up in the air with big tires.”
Improvements may run as high as $20,000 for some.
“People are adding on to garages to make them wider, doing additions, adding rooms to the back and making garages longer,” said builder William Pachota, who is based in Livonia, Michigan. “If somebody has a truck with a cap on the back, and they lift it up, it can rip the back door off and bust the glass in it. You need clearance and peace of mind.”
He caters to clients in Westland, Commerce Township, Northville and Farmington Hills in Michigan.
“People are buying bigger vehicles. Families. All income levels,” Pachota said. “People really like a cathedral ceiling in the garage these days.”
He, too, sees a jump in business between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
Architect Jon Sarkesian of Royal Oak, Michigan, has been designing renovations for three decades and says the trend toward expansion has been steady and growing. A lot of families end up tearing down a detached garage if they can’t add space as needed. “People always bring up car size during the design process now.”
Even Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford Motor Co., said his dad can’t fit his F-150 into the garage, so he parks it in the driveway.
Attempts to fix the problem have left some in the field perplexed.
“I’ve actually had homeowners ask that the rear wall be extended out a few feet. Or I’ve seen it done where they just design the change so that the hood of the vehicle slips into a little cubby,” said Tim Kubinec, an architect based in Chesterfield, Michigan. “The cubby hole enlargement for the hood of a vehicle surprises me. It’s just an odd way to accomplish the goal. Why not move the whole wall out? I don’t like being involved in projects that look goofy, but that’s sometimes what people want.”
Truck, SUV sales boom
After everything has been done to make garages larger, families have taken an additional step to maximize garage space by turning to garage interior organizers.
“We had a client who could barely fit a car in their garage, they had so much stuff. We were able to organize it where they didn’t have to get rid of anything, and now they could fit their GMC truck and Acadia SUV in there,” said Tom Francis, owner of West Michigan Garage Interiors based in Grand Rapids.
“We’ve been doing this 11 years. We used to see only people 55 years old and older. Now clients in their 40s are calling,” he said.
Francis doesn’t do construction. He comes in to create space when everything else is done. He installs 16-inch deep cabinets instead of 24-inch deep cabinets more often then he used to – because of the larger vehicles in smaller garages, to allow car doors to open more easily without bumping the walls. “It’s just all about space. Cabinet space takes advantage of the walls. I mean, there’s a reason Ford is getting out of making cars. We see it.”
In August, the F-series pickup, long the best-selling vehicle in America, grew 6.3 percent to 81,839 units for the month. Overall, Ford's SUVs saw a 20 percent sales increase, while car sales declined 21 percent.
Fiat Chrysler's Ram truck and van brand enjoyed a 26.5 percent sales increase.
Passenger cars dropped below 30 percent of the market in August for the first month ever, according to Cox Automotive. A few years ago, they made up half of industry sales.
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.