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In a book I am writing, one of the countries I am writing about has a militarized society, but also a strong sense of universal weapon ownership, to the point that more people in the society have actual tanks than cars. Public transportation is very popular, but even still, personal ownership of tanks by individuals is common enough that one could easily see them in a parking lot, or seeing them being driven as personal vehicles the way Americans drive sedans, in a drive through or in the city streets, is not considered unusual or particularly noteworthy.

This society produces them for professional sports, having various sports like tankery (think Girls und Panzer) or tank biathlons/triathlons and tank ballet (like in Russia irl). They are also often used as tractors and chassis for construction vehicles (companies and farmers commonly have hoists and tools to remove/replace the turrets on tanks).

As for manufacturing, there are automated tank plants which can produce tanks of all kinds of eras (with parts for WWII-era tanks still mass produced to modern machining standards), using robotics to lower costs and need for specialized labor. These plants are much more common in the country than one would find irl, due to the abnormally high demand.

I did some looking around, and in WWII, a T-34 was 130,000 Roubles (24,531 USD) and a Sherman was 44,556 USD, which would translate to 256,512 and 623,798 USD respectively in today's money. Would the use of modern manufacturing techniques & automation, more tank plants with more frequent production, and higher demand drop this price, and if so, how much? Would there be a feasible way to drop the price of the tanks to around the cost of a car or truck (30,000-70,000)? What might be some key considerations to keep in mind in the manufacturing of tanks to keep costs low?

Note that these tanks are built in ways to minimize (if not outright remove) planned obsolescence. They are designed to last as long as possible and be as cheap and easy to fix and maintain as possible, no matter the model.

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    $\begingroup$ "Personal ownership of tanks by individuals is common": Unfortunately, because personal ownership of tanks by individuals is common, paved roads are almost always in a heavily degraded condition, to the point that most of passenger and freight transportation is by rail. Tanks are weapons platforms; they are not intended to be used for general transportation; they are supposed to be carried to the battlefield, not run on their own treads. (And you may want to inquire how many kilometers or miles a T34 or a Sherman could go before refurbishment was needed; or, even a modern tank.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 21, 2022 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ What's your look on the Hummer? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 21, 2022 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, so you mean a boxy vehicle which sort-of looks like a tank, not actual tanks? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 21, 2022 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ I think the energy cost would be prohibitive. $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Oct 21, 2022 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ What type of tank are we talking? Light tankettes like the L3? Medium Tanks like the M4 and T34? Heavies like the KV1 and Tiger? You realistically are going to have a hard time making something several times the weight and size of a car the same price, not to mention the processes of casting and complex turret mechanism, to boot. What's more interesting, however, is the creation of civil infrastructure designed to accommodate 30-40 tonne tanks. $\endgroup$
    – ebinbenis
    Oct 21, 2022 at 10:20

15 Answers 15

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In the name of upkeeping their proud military tradition, your society has chosen one of the worst civil vehicles possible, rivalled only by steamrollers and drag cars.

  • Tanks are incredibly uncomfortable to drive for extended periods of time, by the virtue of being engineered for being heavily armored and carrying guns. They lack significant ventilation, are often loud, and possess a multitude of hard edges for you to bang your head on. The king of this was the T34, due to its sloped armor.
  • For the reasons listed above, they are also inept at carrying cargo. If you want to take a new TV or Lounge home, you either have to pray to god that it fits inside the commanders turret and comes back out in one piece, or lash it to the outside of the vehicle.
  • Only fit healthy people can use it. Tanks are difficult to get out of, requiring you to clamber out of a turret to do so. An elderly person with movement difficulties, disabled person, or pregnant woman would have a heck of a time trying to get out.
  • Tanks have terrible visibility. Due to having few places to be shot at from, they also have few places to see from. Unless you are carpooling with someone in the commander's seat, you have terrible visibility. Considering you are driving a vehicle capable of ploughing through a house with minimal effort, urban commuting will result in a multitude of streetsign-flattenings, house-flattenings, pedestrian-flattenings, cyclist flattenings, heck, just about a flattening of everything else a few dozen tons of steel on treads can crawl over.
  • The infrastructure required to allow widespread usage of 30-40 ton vehicles is nuts. Bridges, highways, parking lots -Tanks are inherently less reliable than cars and require much more effort to perform maintenance. Also, what will you do if a 30 ton vehicle breaks down somewhere inconvenient?

If you still want to keep a military-vehicle based society, I can offer a better alternative: enter image description here

Half tracks, while capable of being militarised, due to their protective armor and varied weapon platform capability, are also a valid civil vehicle, having a far greater cargo capacity, visibility, and maneuverability. By virtue of being less of a heavyweight (8 tons to the Shermans 30) they are also inherently less expensive. They also have greater parts compatibility with actual cars, which you have stated also exist in this society.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 your answer is more amusing than mine, especially where you correctly note all the things and people that will be flattened $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the opportunity to lash things! $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, the civilian half-tracks could be designed to be easily modified between "tracked" and "wheeled" modes. When in wheeled mode, it would allow the vehicle to run on pavement without tearing up the road. However, at that point if you just add some truck-nuts and a lift kit your basically left with your standard dually truck from the US. $\endgroup$
    – ajheck
    Oct 21, 2022 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ While the half-track in your image is only armed with heavy machine guns, it's worth noting that the Israelis (who ended up having more than they knew what to do with after the US decided to upgrade its APC fleet) managed to strap all kinds of heavy ordinance to them. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the best hardware that can be used for both civil and military purpose is technicals, which is just toyota landcruisers outfitted with machine guns. uninstall the machine gun mount and you got yourself a normal pickup truck $\endgroup$
    – Faito Dayo
    Oct 21, 2022 at 23:44
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No

Let's look at a grossly oversimplified case. On the one hand we have a SUV, which costs $x to construct. Now we want to have a SUV, plus a big main gun (central to the definition of a tank), plus a rotating turret (also central to the definition of a tank) plus a lot of advanced armour, plus a lot of battlefield electronics (sensors, vision enhancements, aiming enhancements, threat detection). We are assuming that this SUV can magically support all the extras that are being piled onto it (see the next paragraph for the real story). In order for a SUV with tank-stuff to cost the same as SUV without tank-stuff, the combined cost of the gun, turret, armour and electronics must be zero. This is impossible - electronics alone are typically exceeding the cost of all other parts for most (all?) combat aircraft these days and I suspect tanks are in a similar situation.

However, a SUV chassis cannot magically support a main gun, turret and lots of armour. Instead the tank needs a much, much stronger suspension to handle all the armour, a much bigger engine to propel it all and a much bigger fuel tank, which is why a SUV masses around 1 ton and a M1 Abrams masses over 60 tons (how much over depends on the variant). So, even without all the stuff that makes a tank a tank, the suspension and engine need to be massively bigger, which will cost more.

The third point relates to the increased weight - it is going to cost far more to ship a tank from the factory to the local dealership than it will to ship a car from the factory to the local dealership. This is probably the most trivial factor, yet it is going to drive the price further up.

The next point is that the indirect and resultant costs of having tanks on the road will impose huge costs on the community. As stated in the comments, tracks rip roads up and they do not last long compared to tyres. Tanks also have roughly double the width and length of a typical SUV, which means that all roads need to be doubled in width in order to allow all lanes to be doubled in width and all carparks need four times as much area as they would to accommodate cars. Let's not even talk about accommodating tanks at drive-thru facilities. The costs for doubled or quadrupled infrastructure need to be borne by someone, and that someone is going to be the owners of the tanks - expect registration to be a massive ongoing expense.

Finally, the ongoing costs to the owner for operating a tank will be horrendous. All of those expensive components need to be maintained, which is why workshop units are flat out even in peacetime, let alone war. Then you need to pay a fuel bill of over 1 gallon per km when moving on the roads, twice that off-road. (Apologies for mixing imperial and metric here!) Not to mention garaging the vehicle at home (which will need to be much more secure than a normal garage - you're stopping thieves from stealing your 105 mm main gun here, not just a .22) and parking costs wherever you go (they will need to provide the equivalent of a super-secure gun safe for your entire tank wherever you go).

In short - no in all respects. It is not possible to build something for nothing, which is what is desired for a vehicle with big, expensive extras to cost the same as one without. The ongoing costs also make the concept hideously expensive.

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    $\begingroup$ They're also slow as dirt. Tanks max out at around 45 mph (~70 kph). If you want something that goes at typical highway speeds, you're going to have to give up some weight. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman some (especially) light tanks manage closer to 80kph. Still slow as dirt, but slightly better. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that having a turret isn't central to tanks. Take, for example, the infamous Swedish cheese wedge. Then again, I suppose you could argue that it was a tracked turret. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ What is the point of driving a tank to work? Am I rustling up a tank crew every time I want to go to the grocery store? If not, what good is the tank, besides being more expensive to operate and incidentally dangerous to infrastructure and bystanders alike? $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2022 at 13:32
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You can not make tanks as cheap as cars, but you can make them a regular part of you society despite being more expensive.

Kickstarting Private Tank Ownership En Masse

A tank will never be cheaper to MAKE than a car, but the situation could arise where new cars are so hard to come by and old tanks so easy, that these old tanks fill a major supply shortage.

Imagine a country that is already of a 3rd world status gets swept up into a long and highly destructive revolution. During this war, car production is replaced with tank production and the country spends a vast proportion of its income stocking up on cheap tanks to meet its war time needs. Eventually the country becomes so mired in debt, and its infrastructure so badly damaged by the war that no other country plans to invest in it any times soon. The government collapses, the rebels win... but no body has a good plan for rebuilding, so everything falls into anarchy.

This country is left with such a large production deficit that they can not afford to import any new cars. All thier wealth has been squandered on making this giant fleet of tanks that are too cheaply made to sell off to any other country with the money to buy them. And with no government left saying not to, soldiers simply return home with whatever guns and tanks they have because there is no one else left with a "rightful authority" to own them.

So sure, Bob next door knows his old tank gets worse gas millage than your sedan, but a tank is all he was left with after the war, so that is what he uses.

... Then turning it into a culture

In many ancient civilizations, the social caste of a person was defined by the quality of arms that they had private ownership of and/or thier social caste required them to own a certain quality of arms. This massive dissipation of military grade weapons into the hands of an unpredictable and very large group of private citizens makes filling the power vacuum left over very hard. While warlords normally take over in these sorts of situations, no one can come close to forming a powerbase by force over so many private tank owners; so, instead the power vacuum becomes replaced by a caste system based on private ownership of weapons. Basically, tank owners become like the knights of Medieval Europe. In this way, all those private tank owners are united into a democratic union or feudal system that shares powers over the general population, and it is codified into law that a man's militia value is tied directly to his caste and rights.

Eventually, the economy rebuilds, and things become more orderly and prosperous again, but the law of the land remains. Either "he who owns a tank has rights that non-tank owners do not" and/or "He who has rights, has a legal responsibility to own a tank."

So, instead of making tanks cheaper than cars, they are in fact more expensive: and this is how tank owners like it. A brand new M1 Abrams may still cost a private citizen a hefty 6 million dollars, but by keeping new tanks more expensive than a car, this price tag becomes a huge point of gate-keeping making sure that the poor stay poor and disadvantaged and the rich stay rich and privileged.

People who own tanks therefore drive them instead of cars as evidence of thier station. So when a cop shows up to break up a bar fight and has to figure out if you just committed Assault on Citizen (10-20 years in jail) or Citizen's Right to Corporal Punishment (Not a crime at all), it could all come down to who showed up in tank or not. So, even if all you can own is some 70 year old museum piece of a tank, you continue to use it and maintain it to the best of your resources, because you are doing it to maintain your noble status in society.

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    $\begingroup$ ... and during the war, cars got destroyed much more quickly than tanks, so eventually it was actually cheaper to buy a tank once than to buy a new car every week. $\endgroup$
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ The idea of a feudal caste system where the knights all have tanks instead of horses and swords is tremendous. Brb, making a mobile game to this effect $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Oct 21, 2022 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ And that war-torn country also has torn-up roads anyway, so the "normal" cars are pretty much 4x4 offroaders. Tanks of course don't care at all about the quality of roads. It all makes sense. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Oct 24, 2022 at 6:45
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Cost to manufacture? No. Cost to the consumer? Sure!

The government subsidizes them.

Take America's economy. Assume the entire defense budget is still spent, but all on subsidies for private owners to buy any weapon they want. We currently subsidize electric vehicles, so no reason we can't imagine a society that subsidizes tanks instead. Maybe they never developed social security because they pour that into more tank subsidies too.

Your explanation on public transportation makes sense because the tanks are still expensive to operate (although that may be subsidized somewhat too) but you might imagine that a low end car costs 20k, a good car costs 50k and a tank costs like 60k-75k -- so you still need some money to own one but entirely achievable by an American style upper-middle class (used tanks, of course, sell for less). The real cost of the tank may be 400k to manufacture but government subsidies (perhaps given as a yearly lottery to cap the total budget expense per year) makes up all the difference. The government actually wants you to own a tank and works to make it affordable.

[edit: Well, one way we could imagine tanks are produced as cheaply as cars is if it's a post-scarcity society, ala Star Trek. Replicating a 40-ton tank costs about the same as a small car or a coffee cup: nothing. But I feel like this is a fancier solution than is desired. Otherwise, my thinking is between the sheer extra mass required, plus the control systems for a turret, plus the general complications of the turret, the track system, the more powerful engine, etc, there's no way you get it near the cost of a car, even if you keep it to something relatively simple. Unless you subsidize it to the consumer.]

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The cars already are like tanks:

The climate of your planet requires a sealed environment for any distance of travel. Aggressive wildlife charge vehicles( think rhinos),so they need to be heavy and armored (not to mention the quetzalcouatlus-sized flyers that drop boulders to hunt). Not to mention that if you want to hunt this megafauna, you need a gun bigger than man-portable.

So a “normal” car is already the equivalent to an APC. Given the massively-armed vehicles already cruising around, criminals and the rich alike want an edge in case of “disagreement.”

The result is that every vehicle is a gunned and armored vehicle. Tanks are the equivalent of the sports car or armored limo - status, security, and an edge in hunting.

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In order to best answer the question, I’m going to come at this from the perspective of, “What needs to change to makes these tanks comparatively expensive to current-era consumer vehicles?” We should also keep in mind that there are consumer vehicles that cost hundreds of thousand of dollars – even half a million or more – to purchase. Bufori is one such manufacturer whose “basic spec vehicles” can cost over $300,000. Can we imagine a tank cheaper than that? Of course. The point I’m making here is that cost is largely a matter of two things – materials and labor. Clearly, the Bufori cars use much better materials and more expensive labor, everything from design to implementation costs more. Also, the Buforis do not benefit from economies of scale in the way that more common consumer vehicles do. We can take these concepts and hunt for changes in them relative to tanks to make the most cost-effective model that can be brought down to the consumer vehicle level. But first…

What is a tank?

A tank is an armored vehicle intended as a primary offensive weapon in ground combat, normally on the front-line or leading edge of an offensive. A tank in the context of this question, however, necessitates a radically different definition, given that most of the time the afore-mentioned stipulations will simply not be occurring. You’ve got tanks being driven around to pick up food, to compete in “sports,” to give performances. While the initial context was weapon ownership, at the time that all of this stuff takes taking place, the very concept of a tank will have evolved considerably.

That said, since the original gist for this tank craze was weapons ownership, most if not all of these tanks will need a weapon attached to them in some way. Does this mean we need a turret? No. Many tanks were turretless with fixed, front-mounted main guns. Granted, those “tanks” were usually just tracked support artillery or anti-tank weapons with specialized guns, but those are still weapons. Come to think of it, our original definition does not even require treads. The vehicle simply needs to be armored and have a weapon. Treads are really helpful in a war-time scenario, and I’m sure you’d like to have those as part of the exotic vehicle aspect, but that’s just another piece of the tank puzzle we can modify to bring down cost. So, in short, a tank for these purposes is really just an armored vehicle with a gun, and that’s all we need. Everything else is gravy. Yes, having a gun on a vehicle that is armored has a lot of underlying details and gotchas, but that greatly simplifies our necessary approach to bringing down tank costs while still satisfying the intent of the question and maintaining the most basic notion of a tank as a weaponized, armored, offensive vehicle.

Tank Design

Tank design is focused on the marriage and balancing of three basic aspects: Firepower, mobility, and armor. In simple terms, normally increasing one decreases at least one other. Adding a larger gun usually means decreased mobility due to increased weight and size, same with adding armor. Increasing mobility usually means decreasing one or both of the other criteria.

In order to understand why these things matter, consider the situations a tank would often find itself in during the early days of tank warfare. When facing other tanks in combat, a tank could win in a number of ways. By outgunning its opponent, a tank can win with a single shot from outside the opponent range. By being well armored, a tank can survive hits and keep fighting. By being more mobile, a tank can completely avoid being hit. This latter point became a lot more important when advances in guns and ammunition made heavy armor a lot less valuable than speed, as getting hit at all eventually became a guaranteed vehicle-down scenario until advanced armors came about.

Appropriate Modifications

With these criteria in mind, in a common suburban setting, tanks would benefit from a reduction in armor and gun size. Much like concealed-carry handguns are generally smaller than their hip carry counterparts to maximize effectiveness in their role, street-borne tanks would likely begin to move towards less intensive designs that favor street effectiveness. One quality in particular that will drive this change is fuel economy. The average consumer will not have the budget to put gas in a tank from any era of conflict, so the average consumer demand will target lighter tanks with increased mobility and thus fuel efficiency to get more drive out of each gallon of gas. These change alone will push tanks to be cheaper.

Treads would eventually give way to cheaper half-treaded models, and then to wheel-only models, thereby reducing the weight and complexity of suspensions for multiple track transfer wheels, and also reducing the weight of the vehicle itself. Thinner armor made of lighter materials will mean that, overall, they can be produced more cheaply. Certain alloys of aluminum have good enough strength-to-weight ratios to satisfy armor needs for the smallest of small-arms fire and still be much less heavy than equivalent armor made from steel. It’s also feasible that layers of composites like impregnated carbon fiber could be added to strengthen weaker metals, and in some cases deformation would actually be better at dissipating shock energy from large gun rounds than deflection or fragmentation.

As armor becomes lighter, smaller armaments that don’t need to have the same range and energy to be generally effective in potential urban combat scenarios will also become more prevalent. At a certain point, these changes will engage a feedback loop of sorts where, as armor gets lighter, guns get smaller, so armor can get lighter again, and it goes on. This is exclusively for the cheapest of tanks, mind you. The big boy tanks will still when in a head-on confrontation, and have more options for maneuvering and firepower.

This proposed trend towards lighter, faster, and more efficient tanks will also give way to the high-mobility sports and performances that you are aiming to have in this fictional world. The level of proliferation would, as you say, rapidly increase production levels and availability, as well as production competition, which will drive down cost.

Ultimately, I think the long-term scenario given these societal pressures is that the average tank-owning Joe Schmoe will possess a cheaper, smaller, lighter, limited-capacity tank that he more or less maintains, drives around a little, and takes to the range every now and then. The enthusiasts will save up for and purchase tanks that are more in line with modern-era standards but are also more expensive, perhaps up to twice the cost of the average ones, with features that depends on their needs and wants. The rich, status mongers will own fully-fledged, treaded tanks with turreted main guns, secondary small arms, proper armor, excellent suspensions, awful miles/gallon, and show them off as often as possible, maybe even on some online video platform like TankTube or something.

Business, such as farms, will come about their highly-functional tanks in the same way as they do tractors, and will have more capital to leverage in modifying and working larger, more expensive versions with treads and variable turrets, etc. It's worth pointing out that some tractors and construction are pretty much specialized, weaponless tanks.

Cost Outlook

The cheaper tanks should be in the same ballpark as current consumer vehicles, but by nature still more expensive probably by a factor of 1.5 to 2. There is no upper limit for the best, most expensive units, but those will probably just be military vehicles that are either purchased outright or leased and maintained and whatever exorbitant price. If we can justify sneaking a lot more aluminum and plastics into these things with smaller, lighter engines and better gas economy, your proposition becomes A LOT more feasible.

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  • $\begingroup$ This seems the right approach. Some mall-cop types nowadays want AR-15s with lots of attachments "because they look like military stuff" even though they're not select-fire assault rifles. So there'd be a market for "civilian tanks" - no real armor to speak of, more concealment than cover, but perhaps proof against small arms from some angles. If they're being taken shopping, you're not gonna want to be loading the groceries down a ladder, so they'll have at least a sizeable back door, etc. No proper gun, but maybe a 50 cal. Tracks over road wheels, purely cosmetic and removable. Etc, etc. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ You might end up with something like the Panhard AML, which is (somewhat) armored and has a (small) turreted cannon, but has a wheeled 4x4 chassis similar to a truck's, weighs "only" 6 tons, and will do 60mph/100kph. Still not exactly practical as a day-to-day car but a lot less of a burden. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Oct 21, 2022 at 20:26
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If want make T-34/Sherman related tanks then be hard to go with price bellow 200k USD. You need around 30 tons of steel for each tank and raw steel cost in last 10 years is 4-6k per ton. That give You 120-180k only for raw steel, add forming and hardening and You far above price.

Possible savings:

  • thiner armor but stronger due new tech
  • smaller and cheaper engine

Possible higher prices:

  • suspension (mass produced and cheap at war)
  • tracks (they was cheap, You want rubberized ones)
  • baterry packs(if hybrid tanks are forced by goverment)

War production lowered prices to edge - that tanks was maked as cheap as possible. If want them to be more durable and live longer then be prepared even for bigger price.

Another part is electronics and third one is ammo.

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Considering you stated the tanks are intended to last almost forever, I propose the following:

Tanks are still expensive (over 100k) but are passed down generation to generation, similar to a house. You can also claim some citizens rent tanks instead of own tanks to make up for any amount of tank usage you need in your story.

Further, from a meta point of view, you can use this to draw parallels between tank ownership and homeownership, should you decide to write a critique of it.

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Everything is Free

A tank is a car + some other stuff. The tank can only be the same price as the car if the other stuff is free. If somehow the car and tank are both free then they cost the same!

It is up to your imagination how a society can create everything with zero cost.

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There seems to be a heavy focus on WW2 medium (T34 & Sherman) and modern Main Battle Tanks (MBT).

Not all tanks are like this, and infact one of the most produced armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) was the Universal Carrier.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Carrier

The Wikipedia article claims 113,000 produced; far more than most tanks.

So potentially the average family owns and uses a Universal Carrier which comes in a range of variants and models, typically with lots of add on weapons including oversized recoilless guns to make it look more tank like.

These AFV came out of normal car/bus factories and cost I believe would be closer to an expensive car.

Of course the wealthy and businesses would have heavier vehicles right up to the super heavy MBTs.

I imagine that your world would be relatively modern technology combined with medieval society. In the middle ages, every worker could be expected to be called up for warfare by the local lord, bringing their axes, hammers and whatever weapons and armour (maybe only leather) they could. So your average worker buys a Bren Gun Carrier for working the fields and transporting the family to church.

But admires the local lord and his knights who have brutally expensive and impractical MBTs.

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Perhaps the reason it's more economical to use tanks than cars is because the tanks already exist, and there are so many of them that nobody wants to spend money to produce a car when they could just go and collect a tank for free.

If your tanks are reliable enough to last for a long time, then they could be old and still work. In the past, there was a massive war which necessitated the production of many tanks. The war was won, but at the cost of a great many lives; now all of those tanks are just sitting around, and there are orders of magnitude more of them than people. Other than the need to make sure enemies don't steal them, their market value is basically nothing, and the government simply issues free tanks to everybody, because why not?

Issuing the leftover tanks to citizens is symbolically important to your proud military society, and they would not dream of dismantling the tanks to recycle their materials; that would be destroying history.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ukrainian farmers plowing their fields with Russian tanks? $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 25, 2022 at 23:34
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In short, no, unless in your world there is some new way to dig / smelt the steel in a much more efficient and/or cheaper way.

If not these would either be really thin armored tanks (more a tank in name than in reality) or something would have to change. Perhaps consider armored cars, even DIY tanks and armored cars for the average Joe and tanks for the wealthier folk.

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Blatantly stealing from @AlesP's comment under the original answer:

"Personal ownership of tanks by individuals is common": Unfortunately, because personal ownership of tanks by individuals is common, paved roads are almost always in a heavily degraded condition, to the point that most of passenger and freight transportation is by rail.

That's it. Some people started driving tanks (for whatever reason) and it wasn't banned quick enough and the government couldn't afford to keep roads repaired anymore. So now your only choice is rail-based public transport or drive vehicles that can manage the torn-up asphalt and ravaged dirt roads.

And when you already need tracks, why not be cool and drive a (de-armored) tank?

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Some of your uses of Tanks aren't that far off. Caterpillar treads were initially developed as a potential for tractors that would operate in rough terrain (with mud and snow being in mind) and many civilian construction equipment uses treads. The advantage of treads is they can distribute a heavy weight over a greater surface area that would caused a wheeled vehicle of a similar size to sink into the ground.

There's also a plethora of conventional vehicles that see conversions into military use (called "technicals" in as a catch all) in situations where combatants might not have the funds to afford tanks. Toyota Hilux's and Landcruiser's tend to dominate as the base vehicle for technicals due to their already legendary durability and worldwide marketability. The Hilux has often been called the AK-47 of Automotive given it's rugged nature and versatility in combat and the 1986-87 war between Chad and Libya was dubbed "The Toyota War" due to the use of Toyota based Technicals by both sides (naturally Toyota doesn't market this aspect of their vehicle, but they did use Top Gears attempts to "kill" a Hilux to market the Tacoma in the U.S. (Tacoma's are the North American variant, as Americans and Canadians tend to use pickup trucks as personal vehicles, where as in the rest of the world they are strictly work horses) and the Hilux was the first automobile to be successfully driven to one of Earths Magnetic Poles (it's been to both.). In many countries it's marketed as a "Pickup truck" because no other models ever got any market share.

Other vehicles are civilian models of vehicles initially purpose built for combat. While they now offer typical SUVs and crossovers, Jeep's more famous and distictive looking models (The Wrangler, The Rubricon, and the Gladiator) all are modeled after vehicles built for the U.S. military during WWII though they were never armored and acted more as transport to the frontlines than actual weapons platforms. Similarly, the Hummer was a civilian model of the Humvee which was more of a light personel vehicle than a heavy weapons platform. Hummer Dealerships would often set up courses for customers to test drive the Hummer over, showing all the extreme driving it could do.

These vehicles all have a fatal flaw that makes selling them to average car buyers in that they are gas guzzlers (The Hummer was all but killed when it debuted shortly before gas prices increased due to the War on Terror) and keep in mind the markets that love them the most often drive them as personal vehicles first.

It's at this point it bears in mind that Modern Tanks often use Jet Fuel instead of conventional gas or diesel in their engines, meaning that the problem with increased gas prices are compounded by requiring fuel not commonly available at the pump (Many U.S. military vehicles actually run on the same type of fuel from jets to ground vehicles. The logic is in the logistics... not only is shipping less types of fuel easier to keep track of, but it also means that you can run more efficiently if your supply lines are cut off as your options aren't limited by the availability of fuel). They also have to have regulators installed because the speeds they can run without them are so high, the wear and tear will be cost-prohibitive. And a modern tank can run at highway speeds.

Going back to the technicals, there is at least one example of a civilian vehicle being converted into a tank. The infamous Killdozer incident invovled a man who had bought an ordinary bulldozer and mounted reinforced concrete armor plating to it (along with several conventional rifles and CCTV cameras for navigation and other modifications to keep the Killdozer systems running) and used his creation to get revenge on various businesses and municipal facilities he had deep grudges against by doing what something called a "Killdozer" does best. It was only stopped when one of his treads fell into a basement most of the public was unaware existed in the building, causing the vehicle to become hopelessly stuck (There are rumors that the Governor of the state had considered mobilizing the national guard and was requesting anti-tank ordinances, the incident was ended before that happened and the level to which it was considered was debated. The problem with using such ordinances in a civilian population center was certainly considered.). News Helicopter footage of it does exist and can be found online.

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Remember the joke when in a restaurant someone asks why the plain rice is more expensive than the rice with raisins? "It's because it costs so much effort to remove the raisins form the rice."

There is no way for a vehicle to be more expensive to produce than the exact same vehicle with some added armor and gun turret.

However, there are other ways around it.

1. Government subsidy.

As presented in some other answers and comments. Tanks are more expensive to build but cheaper to buy due to a subsidy.

2. They use different technologies.

In real life some old-timers are allowed on the roads lacking essential features modern cars must have, like airbags, ABS, low emissions, etc. Mainly because they are rare and are not used to travel great distances every day.

Similarly, in the near future one might imagine internal combustion to be either banned or heavily regulated. Cars would have some sort of an expensive high-tech cold fusion (or whatever technobabble) power-plant, which is very expensive to build, but it creates zero pollution. For cars used by billions of people to travel tens of thousands of miles every year, that's the only legal technology, to prevent massive pollution. However, for culturally significant tanks (or their replicas), the polluting internal combustion engines are allowed, because they are only driven for short distances a couple of times per year at shows or competitions, so their pollution doesn't add up all that much. Therefore they are cheaper to produce than the fancy cold-fusion zero-emission cars (where mass production helps somewhat in decreasing the costs, but despite that they are still very expensive).

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