They are marketed as a must-have for the outdoorsy, adventurous
type. They make robust statements with their size—feeding on
the philosophy that bigger is better. They provide a sense of
safety and protection with the appearance of a durable structure.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, the Sports Utility Vehicle,
commonly known as the SUV, is one of America’s biggest advertising
hoaxes and political scandals.
Before you step on the gas and speed out of this editorial,
consider the following issues. Ask yourself if any of these
matter to you: environmental protection, family and personal
safety, honest advertising, economy, and practicality.
If you answered, “Yes,” to any of the above, put on the brakes
because the SUV is the archenemy of many things that we say
SUV purchases have been on an upward trend since the late 1990s,
and they now make up the biggest portion of automotive sales
in the United States. Americans have forsaken practicality and
reason to engage in an unfortunate love affair with America’s
biggest waste on wheels.
During the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), created by the Nixon administration, passed the Clean
Air Act, which established Federal regulations on air quality,
motor vehicle emission, and fuel standards. The trend at this
time in American history, probably a result of OPEC-generated
oil shortages, was toward fuel-efficient, small cars. Detroit
wasn’t producing them. Japan was.
Detroit needed to pitch a new product to save itself. At the
same time, American Motors wanted to sell its vehicle, the Jeep,
popular with the Paul Bunyan types, to average Americans.
It’s been reported that American Motors’ lobbyists told the
Nixon administration that if the company went bankrupt, blame
would be placed on the EPA regulations. So what does the government
do? Rightfully, the government should enforce the Federal standards,
but the regulation of businesses is never popular, so, naturally,
the administration exempted American Motors from the anti-pollution,
anti-smog regulations on the basis that trucks are not primary
vehicles. Go figure. Of course, other manufacturers caught on
to the Jeep’s federally favored position, and demanded the same
free pass for their trucks and truck-like vehicles.
Detroit was quick to call anything new a truck, and enlarge
it to fit the definition. Today one in every four new vehicles
sold in America is an SUV. People are using SUVs as cars, not
for the purposes originally intended – heavy transport, long-distance
moves, riding on rough terrain. So here we have these large,
obtrusive vehicles driving all-around town emitting significantly
more pollution because they are driven more frequently. They
violate the original justification for Jeep’s exemption. SUV
makers are getting rich off the regulatory free-ride at the
expense of Mother Nature – which means at the expense of your
Let’s touch on fuel efficiency or lack there of. SUVs have
a terrible mileage record. EPA regulations requires cars to
run 22 miles per gallon. The law has been bent for SUVs which
are allowed 12 miles per gallon. Point blank, these gas-guzzling
oil hogs use more fuel operating with maximum inefficiency.
The inefficient fuel system is another area that needs Congressional
attention, especially in this sensitive time as war with Iraq,
an oil supplier, is a looming possibility. More fuel pumped
into inefficient SUV gas systems is wasteful and contradictory
as we put food on the table and weapons in the hands of our
opponents. Is it a coincidence that we buy $12 billion of oil
from Iraq every year and that SUVs consume $12 billion every
Regardless of the disregard for environmental protection, Americans
continue to buy SUVs. Why? Safety is noted as one of the top
reasons for SUV purchases. Because the SUV is as big as a boat
with more metallic meat protecting the driver, an interstate
accident is expected to be merely a minor misfortune. The SUV
is marketed as the invincible cage with the ability to superhumanly
protect its owner from the perils of highway wrecks. However,
these beliefs are simply not true. SUVs are a danger to themselves.
In the PBS program, Frontline, investigative reporters examined
the dangers of SUVs and their tendency to roll over. The documentary,
“Rollover: The Hidden History of the SUV,” reported that more
than 12,000 people have died in rollover accidents since the
first SUV was bought almost 20 years ago.
The common occurrence of SUV rollover-related deaths was brought
to Congress’ attention so that proper regulation could be established.
However, our elected representatives once again ignored these
cases in favor of business deregulation and the promotion of
the automobile industry. After all, industry contributes more
to election campaigns than do individual people. Congress gave
its attention to the dangers of SUVs only after the Firestone
tire incidents in fall of 2000. What did they do? Nothing.
Do you want to know what SUVs really are? They are nothing
more than car bodies mounted on truck frames. A danger in itself
but also a dangerous design that makes the SUV narrower and
taller - and thus with a higher center of gravity than regular
pickup trucks and cars. Thus, there is an increased tendency
for the vehicle to rollover even at speeds as low as 20 m.p.h.
SUV manufacturers, such as The Ford Motor Company, knew that.
Prior to the release of Ford’s Bronco II, engineers concluded,
based on data gathered from test drives, that this vehicle would
cause more accidents and deaths than other cars because of its
too-tall, too-narrow design. The problem could be fixed by lowering
the center of gravity to increase stability. However, the prescription
for the ailment would cost an additional 18 months in labor
and money. What was more important, consumer safety or profit?
Easy. Businesses are in business to make money. Ford placed
a warning disclaimer on the sun visor and released Bronco II
knowing its deficiencies.
A bigger-than-normal car-like body mounted on a light pickup
truck frame does not do well when it comes to suspension, acceleration,
and passenger compartment integrity. For most passenger cars,
frame and body are welded together forming a solid shell around
the passengers. In SUVs, the body or the passenger compartment
has sheared off the frame in collisions. Even though SUVs encompass
their passengers with heavier, more durable metal, time and
again they perform worse than average cars in Federal crash
worthiness tests. (NOTE: The 1997 Chevy Blazer, General Motors
Jimmy, and Oldsmobile Bravada earned one star in these tests,
which means they are “death traps” for passengers.) Passenger
cars seldom score less than three stars on such tests.
A recent SUV study by the National Research Center, discovered
that passenger deaths were higher in the SUV-type automobiles
than in regular cars. What does that mean? It’s simple. You
and your family have a higher probability of dying in an accident
if you are riding in an SUV instead of a standard car. It’s
the quality (safety design) not the quantity (size of the car)
So lets recap. Twenty-five percent of Americans are driving
around in environmental destroyers that are confirmed as being
less safe than average cars. Does this make sense?
So if consumers choose to disregard the environment and comprise
their safety, why do they buy SUVs? Advertising. It’s purely
the bandwagon effect. Everybody has one so I should have one!
I won’t deny that SUVs look cool. “They are big yet sporty.
They are rugged yet luxurious,” said Frontline. That’s exactly
what advertising gurus want you to think. SUV campaigns are
meant to manage your views on what makes a good car, to create
a trend, and produce a demand for a product that brings up to
$15,000 profit for every SUV sold. SUV advertising sells safety,
ruggedness, adventure, and space. Boy, makes me want to run
out the door and exchange my 1991 Nissan Sentra for a car that
really counts! But don’t be fooled. As we have already seen,
SUVs are not safe and few people actually use them as all-terrain
Furthermore, the impressions of ruggedness and adventure are
just impressions. Having an SUV will in no way transform suburbanites
into camp-fire-cooking, outdoor-plumbing-using adventurers.
You aren’t any more cool or stylish driving an SUV. Rather,
like an ill-guided, naive consumer, you have succumbed to one
of America’s greatest advertising hoaxes, buying into the trend,
and riding with the rest of the foolish fish in the sea of SUVs.
Source: George Easterbrook, “Axle of Evil – The Scandal of
the SUV.” The New Republic. January 20, 2003.