Why SUVs Suck and
Why Do So Many People Buy SUVs

Pro or Con SUV arguments could only occur in rich nations, like the good old "middle class" USA. In other parts of the world, arguments for or against SUVs would never occur because most of the earths population is too poor to afford a car let alone an SUV.

One side of the debate we have the pro SUV crowd that feels that the larger size of the SUV is a measure of safety, and that it is anti American to tell others what they should or should not drive. Arguments for SUVs include the fact that they have lots of room for people and cargo and have the potential to go out into the wild.

And on the other side we have the anti SUV crowd that feels that the taller stance of the SUV makes them more prone to tipping, and that the larger size of SUVs makes them less fuel efficient and more accident prone.

There is some truth to both arguments, but on balance SUVs suck for many reasons including the fact that SUVs are just another dumb fashion fad, just like disco music and pet rocks from the '70's era!!!! In order to substantiate why SUVs suck, and answer the big question why do people buy so many SUVs, one needs to look at the big picture.

FACT OR FICTION: The US has 5% of the worlds population yet consumes 20% or more of the worlds resources and creates at least 20% of the worlds pollution?

The United States does consume 20% plus of the resources, but it also produces more than 20% of the worlds goods and is a major factor in powering the worlds economy. Having said that improvements in the efficiency of US life style would in the long term save money, improve public health and make America less hated around the world.

As I see it, fast food, larger cars such as SUVs, poor public health and poor perception of the United Sates by many peoples of the world are all interrelated. The never ending cycle, could begin with fast junk food which is inexpensive, poor in quality and makes Americans fat. Fat people don't fit in small cars, so they demand larger cars such as SUV to haul their big fat butts and junk around in.

Since fat people tend to want drive (larger cars such as SUV), they don't walk as much which is a form of exercise, a lack of basic exercise such as walking leads to poor health. When fat people walk less they tend to grow even fatter and desire ever larger cars that utilize even more natural resources such as gas.

Increased oil consumption creates pollution and destroys the atmosphere. Since ever growing larger cars need roads, parking lots, etc. we in the US are creating urban sprawl and wastefully using the environment. Urban sprawl creates a situation where fat ass people, drive big cars such as SUVs that suck down lots of gas, and isolates people from one another (the exception being when people drive to the mall so they can shop till they drop, then stop at a food court where they can get a fast food fix). Because many Americans in urban setting only interact at malls, amusement parks, etc. they have a pretty narrow world view.

A narrow world view by the American SUV driving, mall going crowd, leads to a society of elected officials which caters to the SUV driving, mall going crowd. American political leaders then have conflicts with a many people from around the world who don't have an SUV, a mall or for that matter the opportunity to even envision what a mall or SUV is.

retail space per person usa vs other countries
The United States leads the world not only in the number of inefficient vehicles such as large SUVs but also in the largest amount of retail space per person.

Over the years I've been luck enuf to see many parts of the world, and realize how lucky we are to live in the USA a land of opportunity, wealth, natural resources and a land where too often we take for granted the freedom of speech. I've also noticed that America is a land a whiners and self centered short sighted idiots.

FACT OR FICTION: SUVs are sexy and safe?

WTF is so sexy about a big box on wheels? Victoria Secret models are sexy, a Ferrari has sleek sexy styling but the styling of all SUVs is based on a box, just like a mini van! The only thing an SUV is suppose to have is 4x4 capability which is useless in urban settings and for the most part SUVs on the market lack a true low gearing ratio, solid axle and ladder frame, sliders, etc. necessary for true outback vehicles. The H2 has a number of features necessary for taking it into the bush, but it was built because marketers figured the tonka toy styling appealed to wanabe explorer soccer moms (or dads) who if really taken out into the bush would not last more than a day or two at most.

All too often I've seen SUVs on the interstate blast past me at 80+ MPH. If people want a fast, safe luxury ride there is nothing like a 700 series BMW blasting down the freeway at 100+ MPH (which is not even taxing the design), or for a more unpretentious ride try a Mercedes Benz station wagon. SUVs are not optimized for high speed cruising since they have barn door aerodynamics which results in poor fuel economy, a higher than average center of gravity which results in poor handling and on average blind spots behind an SUV is much larger than that of a car (which means there would result in a greater probability for an accident in an SUV).

As far as being safe, DOE researchers who performed a “risk analysis” using crash data from the Institute for Highway Safety, found that most passenger cars are safer than the average SUV or pickup truck when the risk posed to other drivers is taken into account, a figure the research call “combined risk.” Even the the safest SUV on the road the mammoth Chevy Suburban, is bested by much smaller Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. The safest vehicles of them all? Minivan and import luxury cars. The worst: full-size Chevy, Ford and Dodge pickup trucks.

So much for convention wisdom about big cars being safer than small cars. It should be noted that there is a wide disparity among small cars like the front-of-the-pack Jetta and Civic and the relatively risky Ford Escort and Dodge Neon, the bottom line is good vehicle design is more important that sheer mass in terms of occupant safety. The full report can be found at: http://www.aceee.org/pubs/t021full.pdf

The general population trend in the United States is faster growth in urban areas along the coast such as California, where people are buying more vehicles that get lower mileage such as SUVs. Commute times and distances are increasing, and average speeds are decreasing. In order to be productive and because of new technology, people are using cell phones to stay in touch (which is a double edge sword cause using a cell phone while driving a vehicle such as an suv, I'd estimate kills or injures at least as many people who died on 9/11, given known figures on drunk driving). As income levels increase, many people are purchasing bigger less energy efficient vehicles (NOT JUST SUVs). As more SUV and light trucks are being purchased, more SUVs are used as daily commuters and driven solo.

What is the advantage of a tricked out raised, 4x4 SUV in a traffic jam?
A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is something from Sweatybutcher.com which depicts an xssive suv, stuck in urban traffic.

One major problem of SUVs is that some drivers tend to contract SUV invincibility syndrome, which manifests itself by aggressive behavior. Infected individuals mistakenly reason that the sheer size of the vehicle suddenly makes them supreme road worriers. In other words some mild mannered women who drive SUVs become aggressive chicks with dicks, and a few normal guys who drive SUVs become über dick heads.

The big question is, what price are we willing to collectively pay to drive SUVs, given concerns about environmental damage, national security risks due to oil dependency, etc? As with anything there are tradeoffs, I just ponder the logic of mass marketing and mass consumption of SUVs without really thinking about all variables.

FYI one item very, very, very few people realize is that it takes 98 tons of tiny plants and animals, buried at the bottom of the seas, lakes or river deltas and a really long time, to produce a gallon of gasoline. Every day, the amount of prehistoric biological material needed to produce the fossil fuels that we burn that day is more than the entire world's production over an entire year.

What's up with Communist environmental wackos and baby killing gay democrats? They are using the elite liberal drive by media to scare God fearing Christian SUV drivers and gun owning Americans that a GAO report found no focussed coordinated government plans to prepare for peak oil or other supply disruptions and We are on the verge of replacing the term "global warming" with the term "peak oil."

As an american I think we have the right to drive what ever, however I also think it is our responsibility to buy and utilize the most efficient vehicle available. From what I have observed in a great majority of cases the general class of vehicles called SUVs are poorly designed, over priced and under utilized. If an SUV is suppose to be able to be used in the bush, then why build a unibody (I’ve been in south america, central asia, etc., where a typical SUV with a unibody sold in the states would fall apart). In the bush, a person does not want leather seats, an automatic transmission, a gas engine or unibody construction (guess what, a majority of SUVs sold in the USA have these features). The simple truth is a majority of SUVs in the USA are used in urban settings. Because SUVs have barn door aero dynamics, less responsive handling and larger parking footprints, they seem like the wrong type of vehicle for daily urban use.

does driving an SUV in town indicate a person is an extremely fashion conscious lemming or just unconfident?
Here is a picture from GasPig.com which perfectly illustrates American consumers exercising their individual right to freedom of expression by driving similar poorly designed, overpriced, inefficient SUVs in an urban setting (note the fashionable mall guard on the lead vehicle). SUV ad campaigns never feature this reality!

Lots of people drive SUVs in urban areas, but it seems most are in denial that SUVs are boxy inefficient vehicles, which are expensive to operate and insure and are potential accidents waiting to happen. As for reasons why manufacturers produce and market so many SUVs is, first since SUVs are classified as light trucks they escape most of the federal fuel and pollution standards that apply to passenger vehicles, second SUVs are exempted from testing for crash-worthiness and roll-over resistance, and third the profit margin on SUVs is much higher than typical autos.

cigarettes and SUVs, two questionable products that are a waste of money
The Marlboro Man, was designed to associate cigarette smoking with an image of being tough and independent (FYI years after this very successful ad champaign he died of lung cancer). Like cigarettes, SUVs are another dubious product that advertisers try and associate with a rugged outdoor lifestyle (coincidentally both products have mandated government warnings labels).

To sell a product (like an SUV) ad campaigns repeat a message over and over again in seductive way that appeals to a target audience, and like it or not people are not immune to it. Advertising like political propaganda is the art of getting people to believe a crafted message and advertisers know what buttons to push, kind of like how the Taliban brain washed their followers into believing that the United States is the enemy of Islam or how Nazi propaganda was able to put Hitler in power. So to some degree consumers of SUVs, followers of the Taliban and Nazi party, all have something in common and that is they all were fooled into buying bullshit!

In the case of SUV consumers, the auto company marketers start by implanting the subliminal message you can be tough, independent and sexy, if ya buy and drive our brand of SUV. Notice many ads show an SUV in a wilderness, the H2 ads show it off roading in Iceland (the viewer is shown beautiful people conquering nature and having fun). In some National Geographic print ads for Toyota, they show back packers with their SUVs in the wilderness, with the slogan “oh what a feeling.” The basic idea of an auto company ad campaign is to associate driving their SUV with the idea of being sexy, tough and independent. The tough and independent image of driving an SUV is further reinforced by the name of the vehicle (Path Finder, Trail Blazer, Mountaineer, Escape, Explorer, Expedition, etc.). Constant exposure to slick ads fools people into thinking they can “walk the walk” of being independent and tough just by buying the SUV shown in the idealized dreamland of advertisers. If you do not think SUV propaganda effects the consumer, then ask your self is it just a coincidence that SUVs became trendy after SUV advertising rose nearly nine-fold from $172.5 million in 1990 to $1.5 billion in 2000.

cigarettes and SUVs, two questionable products that are a waste of money
SUVS represented nearly half of all automotive advertising during the first quarter, according to a recent study from Nielsen/NetRatings.

The harsh reality of SUV ads is too many people do not even know how to “talk the talk” or even understand what being tough and independent out in the wilderness means. By that snide remark I mean, if you are on the top of a mountain in the Andies or hiking in the Arctic, the best tool out in the wild is a sharp mind and fit body, not an overpriced, large boxy inefficient “stupid urban vehicle.”

SUV alternatives
“make money by thinking outside the box”

Runzheimer International, a specialized consulting firm which does research to determining costs, broke down, by percentage, the costs of operating an automobile. Their findings, gasoline is NOT your biggest expense! The following breakdown is a general case summary of "Automobile Driving Costs," which assumes ownership of 5 years or 75,000 miles before replacement.

Depreciation and interest 55.7%
Gasoline 16.5%
Insurance 15.1%
Maintenance 6.8%
Tires 2.6%

“American drivers often seem fixated on prices at the pump because it is such a visible portion of the total car expense,” said Larry Snyder, a VP at the consulting firm, Runzheimer International. “Depreciation and financing are a much larger expense, and insurance now consumes nearly the same amount of your automotive dollar as gas.” When a brainwashed consumer spends or borrows countless dollars to purchase a new vehicle, for whatever the reason, it might be said that they are pissing money away instead of using their brain.

A thinking person would also realize that careful driving (NOT speeding, rapidly accelerating or braking) can INSTANTLY improve gas mileage (i.e. MPG) by up to 33 percent. Other tips to save money and the environment include keeping your car in shape which means taking care of your engine, having tires properly inflated and keeping unnecessary items out of the vehicle.

If the objective is to get from point “A” to point “B” there are many alternatives to the big hulking SUVs. Depending upon the mission my own “stupid urban vehicle” alternatives are a private airplane, a well engineered german sedan with a manual transmission, a bike or just walking. BTW if operated with care older “gas guzzling” vehicles can in fact be relatively economical and environmentally friendly. A used luxury car for example will not depreciate as much and might not cause as much environmental damage as manufacturing a new hybrid vehicle (this is because “product life cycle costs” show more energy and raw materials are needed to make a whole new car as opposed to just operating an existing car).

I did my own modeling, but Argonne National Lab has a public domain model for analyzing the material intensity and energy consumption in manufacturing vehicles and vehicle fuels. Their work is packaged in GREET 1.7 for fuel-cycle analysis and GREET 2.7 vehicle-cycle analysis, both are Excel-based spreadsheets.

There are other high costs associated with mass consumption of products such as SUVs, environmental damage for instance, and national security concerns, but most consumers do not think or refuse to acknowledge these aspects.

Have your own take on the SUV issue? Then use the graffiti wall to post your own opinion!


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