Why SUVs?

As part of my day job I keep an eye out for interesting virals, so I’ve just watched a Greenpeace anti-SUV ad. It’s pretty complacent and I suspect, preaching to the converted: the idea is that if you drive an SUV, people will shit in your tea. I’m only paraphrasing slightly.

I’m no great supporter of SUVs – they’re a menace round here, although I’d also point out that the knackered Volvo 940s driven by the local enviro-weenies pump out considerably more crap and burn considerably more fuel than some SUVs – but environmentally they’re no worse than many big cars, and a quick shufty through department of transport figures shows that cheap flights pump out almost double the amount of CO2 per passenger mile than cars do (lorries are worse and trains are best). And of course, aviation fuel isn’t taxed the way car fuel is.

So why don’t there seem to be any ads aimed at people who fly EasyJet?

37 thoughts on “Why SUVs?”

  1. Well, there’s shades of it already, writers in the Independent bleating about “cheap air travel destroying the environment”, and I think there are moves afoot to add a carbon tax to an airplane ticket. Problem is it only works out to about £10, so now there are rumblings about “no deterrent effect”, which is a bit rich; if that offsets the carbon, that’s the price, no two ways about it.

    I suppose there are also issues with hypocrisy: the twits who witter on about global warming are also often the ones who jaunt around the world attending “climate conferences” (at our expense), and they don’t want to put the kibosh on that. Scott Burgess often comments on one Kensington socialite, writing in the Independent, who doesn’t let her supposed Green credentials get in the way of jetting off somewhere every week, it sometimes seems like.

  2. The main crux of the argument aginst SUVs has always been simply that you don’t need a light truck (and that is what SUVs are) to do the school run. i.e. That they are conspicuously and obviously total overkill for what they are typically used for and there are numerous vehicles that are safer, more practical and less polluting that could be used for the same purpose. If you have to use a vehicle at all.

    This argument still fundamentally holds (after all nearly anywhere in britain using an SUV as a town run about is demostratably ludicrous) but the whole thing has now moved into an enviromental/marketing sphere which means that old fashioned ideas like solid arguments based on fact are completely out the window and the same folk who managed to actually make me feel some sympathy for the pro-hunting camp are running the show.

    If I could be bothered I’d find the link to the post about the green peice press release with ‘insert outlandish tale of death and destruction’ in and put it here, but you know they’re just not worth it…

  3. I linked to that press release fiasco when it happened but like you, can’t be bothered looking for the link :)

    > the same folk who managed to actually make me feel some sympathy for the pro-hunting camp

    I’m reading a collection of Boris Johnson columns just now (yes!) and he describes a commons hunting debate where a Scots MP shouted “you didn’t care about the miners!”… Johnson was annoyed on two fronts: first, he wasn’t aware legislation was about revenge; and secondly, as a Scots MP the heckler was voting on something that wouldn’t affect any of his constituents. Both good points, I thought.

  4. Sorry, meant to add a bit.

    > This argument still fundamentally holds (after all nearly anywhere in britain using an SUV as a town run about is demostratably ludicrous)

    Oh, I agree entirely, but equally I lust after a Range Rover (they’re fantastic motors) and if I had the cash, I’d use an Aston Martin to drive to Tesco. But if I got the latter the reaction is likely to be “ooh, nice car” – even though it’s an over-powered, gas-guzzling monstrosity if your interest in cars is purely practical – but if I got the former I’d be accused of eating babies…

  5. There was a sensible reason for opposing SUVs in the US — can’t remember the exact details, but it was to do with vehicle manufacturers being obliged by law to meet certain emissions/efficiency targets but their compliance being measured across their entire range instead of per vehicle… basically, making SUVs was a way of avoiding the intention of certain legislation. So the original anti-SUV campaign made sense, even if you disagreed with it. And now it’s become a matter of dogma and has been exported to countries which don’t have that legislation. Tsk.

  6. Kinda what Joe sez. There were minimum standards set for fuel efficiency (ie mpg) in the states. (The idea behing this I’m sure was to do with reducing reliance on OPEC countries and the Middle Eastern oil supply – bvecasue you could never be sure what was going to happen out there in the future.) It was lower for small trucks than cars. So, instead of improving the efficiancy of stationwagons the manufactures shoved a similar thing on a truck chasis and charged twice the amount. And, therefore, introducing more emissions to the (sub)urban environment.

    If as many people drove aston martins as drove SUVs, you would find just as much focus on them. As for the budget airlines thing, the focus is moving much more into this area.

    >>on one Kensington socialite, writing in the Independent
    What? A journalist turning out to be a hipocritical ligging gravy pig? Surely not!?!?!?!?

  7. And if you were driving an aston martin you would still be driving a *car* and not a *truck* with bodywork to look like a car.

    You’d also be showing everyone else exactly how small your knob is but hey ;-)

  8. I have to say that the situation is a bit more complex than “you don’t need a small truck to do the school run”. In the first place, 4x4s are much safer to drive: being up high improves your visibility a lot, and some 4x4s are virtually indestructible: I had a Jeep CJ6 in South Africa that I drove into the side pillar of a garage while parking: it took a few bricks out of the pillar, but there was barely a scratch on the Jeep. My parents were once hit by a rogue driver in it: the other car was a writeoff, the Jeep just needed its paint touched up.

    Secondly, while it may be true that many American SUVs are simply car-spec bodies on truck chassis, that is not the case with many of the SUVs from European and Japanese manufacturers. The Lexus RX and the BMW X5 both feature fully independent suspension, just like a modern car, while the Landrover Discovery is so car-like that it’s reputedly useless off-road: virtually no ground clearance (much to the disgust of the real Landrover fans!).

    Now you can say that anyone who drives a 4×4 on the road 100% of the time is an idiot. But like people who wear combat trousers without being in the army, or people who wear hiking boots or desert boots as everyday attire, everyone should be free to express something about themselves that isn’t necessarily completely practical. Should shop assistants demand to see membership in a mountain club before selling climbing boots? So why should an aspirant 4×4 owner have to prove that he intends to “use his 4×4 properly”? If he has the money, and it makes him feel good to buy one, why not? To say otherwise is an unwarranted interference in the rights of others, and a worrying trend towards enforcing “appropriate” behaviour.

  9. I’ll cheerfully admit that I haven’t delved into the SUV thing in *huge* detail, but that’s pretty much my take on it: if you buy a Disco or whatever you get utterly hammered financially, from higher insurance premiums to silly fuel costs, the insane price of tyres and oily bits and the insane depreciation on it. So SUV owners are *already* getting a severe kicking.

  10. I’ve just been trawling various discussion boards, and wherever the subject of SUVs comes up the majority of posts are like this:

    Sure, there are people with a genuine demand for a SUV – but those who don’t require them do it through greed and vanity.

    These are on forums where people get excited about the latest, greatest games consoles, plasma TVs, overpowered PCs, etc etc etc… it does seem as if envy’s the real motivator here.

  11. I know what you mean: while looking for Hummer pics to ogle, I came across a weird site (its name contains a Rude Word) that encourages people to send in pics of themselves giving the finger to Hummers. Pretty lame, right? Except that they seem to have hundreds of pics!

    Envy? Or some sort of righteous indignation, akin to a religious outrage? Oh look, here we are again, back at my “enviromentalism is a religion” theme: wonder how that happened? ;-)

  12. not really relevent, but: The bloke down the road from my work that owns a Hummer has hit me twice. I don’t care if he didn’t get a scratch.

    (I should point out I was on foot.)

  13. > some 4×4s are virtually indestructible

    But that’s a bad thing. Most cars are designed to crumple in order to absorb impact and distribute force. An indestructible car will simply kill any pedestrian it touches — which is especially important if you’re double-parking your SUV outside your kids’ school at 8:45, as most SUV-owners do. What’s more, it’s great not to get damaged in a low-speed collision, but, at high speeds, that indestructibility will mean that instead of the momentum of the impact being spread and absorbed through the bodywork, all the force will go into moving the whole vehicle — in other words, the car’s more likely to get spun around, thrown backwards, flipped upside down, etc. That’s if the car doesn’t simply break: all that inflexibility can make them brittle. Have you seen what happens to the inside of a Land Rover in an impact? The driver gets crushed.

    I have a theory about shite drivers in SUVs and 4x4s, of whom there appear to be many.

    People buy huge vehicles for the safety and security. People who feel they need lots of extra safety often do so because they’re not great drivers. Driving huge vehicles is considerably more difficult than driving normal ones. People who are good enough drivers to manage huge vehicles properly tend to be confident enough drivers that they don’t feel they need lots of extra safety, so don’t spend the extra money on size.

    I’d actually really like to own a transit van. They’re great fun to drive and have the most comfortable driving position ever. Get some seats and windows put in the back — fantastic.

  14. I thought the Ute was the equivalent of a Pickup (P200 or something) rather than something like a X5.

  15. >>People who feel they need lots of extra safety often do so because they’re not great drivers.
    Who was it that said instead of an airbag, you want a six foot steel spike in the driving column; wipe out reckless driving overnight?

  16. just realised the way I phrased that was a bit ambiguous. I meant people would drive a lot more carefully (which I’m sure you followed), not that the bad drivers would be massacred

  17. I may be wrong, but I wouldn’t have thought the crumple zones do much for pedestrian safety: if they’re meant to absorb impact with another car (800+ kgs) then a 50 kg pedestrian wouldn’t get them to crumple much. (Sorry, I don’t do “stone”.) Although I believe that modern soft bumpers are meant to absorb pedestrian impact: in the case of car impact, they simply take the merest edge off, with the rest (hopefully) absorbed by the crumple zone. Now my Jeep certainly didn’t have soft bumpers: just a C-section steel bar, bolted to the front of the frame runners. (That’s why it could happily demolish garages.) But it wouldn’t be difficult to add soft bumpers, and obviously the Lexus, Mercedes and BMW SUVs have them. They also have modern unibody construction, just like cars. In fact there’s no “truck” in their heritage at all: they were designed from scratch as big, high-riding cars, with certain design cues meant to evoke classic 4×4 features.

    I agree that some people who buy them have security issues. This may be due to lack of driving confidence. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad drivers. Some of the confident drivers I see on the road in their pocket rockets, blue undercarriage lights ablaze, strike me as far worse drivers. And some 4x4s are easy to drive. My Jeep was fantastically easy to park: short wheelbase, effortless power steering, high driving position. I could get into anything. (Not always by driving over the other cars!)

  18. Crumple Zones are all about maintaining the integrity of the passenger shell, so the force of an impact is absorbed without stressing the (steel?) safety cage that contains people.

    Pedestrian safety features are things like recessed wiper mounts (the damage they can do to your head is scary), curved bonnets (so you don’t lose your legs) and a certain gap between the bonnet and the engine block (so you don’t smash your napper against the top of the engine).

  19. > Some of the confident drivers I see on the road in their pocket rockets, blue undercarriage lights ablaze, strike me as far worse drivers.

    Yes, but they’re dangerous in a different way.

    > My Jeep was fantastically easy to park

    For you, maybe. A quick glance round any carpark will show that lots of the people who own them can’t park them.

  20. Bad parking isn’t limited to SUVs, believe me. Most of the times I’ve been pranged it’s been by mere mortals – when you spend 40K on a motor you tend to be more worried about scratching it than you would if you had a clio or a fiesta :)

  21. I see a lot of claims about SUVs being safer, yet I’ve never so much as seen a synopsis of any research that actually demostrates that overall they actually work out safer.

    For example i’ve never driven an SUV, but I’ve driven plenty of vans and the higher viewing position is *different* but not neccessarily better. Likewise every SUV I’ve ever seen is festooned with massive pillars creating huge blindspots.

    And lets remember that the grandfather of all these vehicles – the jeep – was a notorious death trap.

    As jo points out *over-confident* drivers are a danger no matter what. That’s not inherent to the car, unless the car itself encourages over confidence – a charge which could be levelled at SUVs although with no more proof as far as I’m aware than the safety stuff…

    Oh and don’t you believe it Gary. Park anywhere in livingston and you’ll be amazed how the value of a car makes no difference to how likely it is to leave with with a dent…. ;-)

  22. > I thought the Ute was the equivalent of a Pickup

    Yeah, but the “UV” in “SUV” stands for “utility vehicle” and “Ute” is short for “utility vehicle”. They’ve already been given roughly the same name, even if they shouldn’t have. I just think “Ute” is a much better abbreviation of that name.

  23. You are right – “Ute” is short for “Utility Vehicle”, but these are “Sport Utitlity Vehicles” rather than plain old “Utes” so surely it should be “Spute”?

  24. Surely the main argument against Sindy Jeeps is that they’re ugly-looking. The worst offender here has to be the Mitsubishi Warrior, aka the Wife-Beater’s Wagon.

  25. I quite like the Warrior, I must admit. I suspect that somewhere in my psyche I have an inner redneck.

  26. On a slight tangent but still related: if the green car du jour, the Prius, averages 40-odd mpg and a typical, planet-killing Volkswagen TDi averages 50 to 60 mpg, should we be dragging Prius drivers out of their cars at traffic lights and beating them with clubs for their smuggery? There’s only 30ish g/km differences in their CO2 emissions…

  27. Yeah, I think the Prius is way overhyped. To get decent mpg you need to drive very carefully. If you think about it, the losses on conversion of petrol energy to electric energy must eat up a lot of the gains from the smaller engine and generator braking.

    I’m all for beating the smug bastards regardless, especially the ones with personalised plates proclaiming their virtue to the world…

  28. >typical, planet-killing Volkswagen TDi averages 50 to 60 mpg

    remember that if it’s a diesel it may not kill the planet that much quicker, but due to the particulates it’s almost certainly killing *you* a whole lot quicker ;-)

  29. Well, real car people don’t drive DIE-sels! ;-)

    Noisy, unrefined clatter, always start smoking after a few thousand miles…

  30. Incidentally, I’m highly amused that the latest Lexus – a major, major gas guzzler – is exempt from the congestion charge due to its hybrid status.

  31. Yeah, that is funny: according to the ad, the electric and petrol engines work toghether to produce “exhilarating V8-like performance”. Woo-hoo!

  32. I don’t like “SUVs” as we’ve taken to calling them (4×4 if youre British) because they block my view when I’m parking. If anyone wants to roll up in a 70s American tank pumping out the sweet sounds of a cast iron 5.7 litre V8, I’ll probably give them money to sit in it.

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