Trade in your SUV for a hybrid? Now that’s a stretch for many drivers who are hooked on the notion that more is more, even in the age of doomed resources.
Why is it that well informed, nice people refuse to pull the plug on those ubiquitous waste wagons, despite poor gas mileage and environmental concerns?
The valid eco argument rubs up against a strong attachment to the behemoth breed at every turn as America keeps on trucking. People feel good having them in the garage, owning one after another, perhaps scaling down with a “hybrid” sport ute but not going cold turkey.
It’s a pernicious addiction flaunted in outdoorsy states like California, Arizona and Colorado, where the boxy cars dominate the parking lots of public beaches, shopping malls and ski resorts. Hey, they’re super suburban and sporty, can hold a family of five to eight extremely comfortably, and can’t be beat for schlepping unruly, drooling pets. And don’t forget the winning outcome in bumper-to-bumper combat with puny Smart Cars and other precocious upstarts.
The benefits keep consumers from succumbing to pressure levied by anti-SUV groups like Greener Cars.org, who have galvanized movements against what they deride as “Land Bruisers” and “Extinctions,” spreading slogans like “SUV’s Suck!” I spoke with some of these critics, along with owners to understand the mega car mindset.
There are many obvious and hidden reasons good people won’t buck the truck:
You can dress the trucks up or down. They handle like cars but have truck qualities. This is what attracts Rob Raznick, a childless, L.A. real estate developer with three horses and three dogs who has owned five super-sized SUV’s. “You’re mixing luxury with utility, cargo, space and amenities for sure,” Raznick says. “I can take my Navigator to the finest restaurant in the evenings with seven people, then put saddles in it the next morning and hook my horse trailer to it and go off road. ”
2. Safety and Security
Sitting high up, looking down on people, not hearing the road or other cars. The stereo is on – the preferred soundtrack to life – and the kids are quietly seated in the back watching a DVD. “It feels like a comfortable couch or easy chair, a safe family room on wheels with that video player, phone and coffee holder, and that’s why one of the biggest ones by Chevy was called the Suburban,” observes consumer activist Ed Lamar. “But it’s like feeling secure because you have nuclear weapons. It is a false sense since they are not safe or secure.”
3. Great for Kids
How many kids can you fit in your car for soccer practice? SUV moms sometimes say eight, while many of us can only fit four. Carpool duty, built-in DVD players and getting those baby carriers easily in and out are among the big lures for parents who opt for the vehicles. Although Janelle Ticktin, a mom of two, says it isn’t as much the kids but the curbs. She can drive up to them with her mega wheels whenever she needs to. “Everyone in Scottsdale drives them because there is tons of space to park all over the city, unlike the situation in congested towns like San Francisco,” she says.
Many of us are looking for power in our powerless lives, and this clearly extends to the road, where big rig envy lets you rule with a small sense of anonymity, especially with that tinted window option. American workers sit in cubicles all day to pay for luxuries like the sport vehicle and a growing number are hiding them from the re-po man. Does fear drive these owners? “You can bring a little suburbia with you when you go the mean streets and pose a threat to everyone around you, and assert your power by not allowing lane changes,” explains Lamar. “Anyone who looks in their rear view mirror will see your grill.”
4. Off Road Use
Commercials featuring minis gliding through water? Nah. Can’t compete with the way SUV’s are hyped on television. The ads show the picture of the sporty, American life, not being limited by pavement, tearing up some big wheel ruts. And it is a huge draw for weekend warriors who want to get out of Dodge in a Ford Escape and head to the beaches, mountains and other beautiful terrain. “It’s like a ballet for a depraved society,” says one critic.
5. Hauling Cargo
Those without trucks must hire people to lift and haul cargo – or hit up a friend with an SUV. Put the seats down and store your work tools and supplies, Costco economy bundles or toys (skis, snow board, mountain bike). Take home that giant squishy chair you bought on sale at Urban Outfitters. The SUV supports both work and play for many. But the question remains: Is it still okay to drive so much to play?
It takes money to buy them and keep the tank fed, and lots of drivers tend to equate the shiny trucks with having arrived, even if it means having arrived on the freeway or at Yosemite’s ritzy Ahwahnee Hote. If you are what you drive, does lugging an SUV make you a sportsman, surfer dude, powerful real estate woman or fierce weekend warrior? Conversely, what does driving a Mini Cooper make you? Clearly, many drivers can’t go there.
7. Hybrid = Eco Option
The introduction of hybrid SUV’s offered even more status to those ready to compromise but not sever their love of trucks. Hybrids are powered by the combo of a gas engine and an electric motor and there have been federal tax benefits offered to those embracing the hybrid technology, which the EPA estimates delivers twice the fuel economy in city driving and nearly double on the highway, along with lower emissions. People can feel hip driving one, like they are doing their part to reduce consumption and fossil fuel emissions.
8. Using them Economically
Some frugal owners clinging to their 1984 Caravans argue there are good ways to green their impossible-to-sell SUV’s. They include driving less and abiding by rules of the road (slowing speeds and brake and gas acceleration), keeping tires inflated and not idling. It could be those employing these methods are doing less damage than hybrid owners who don’t.
9. The “Fun” in Functional
Hummers, Land Rovers, 4-Runners and Land Cruisers have all been added to lists of the “most fun off-road cars” because of attributes like solid suspension, high ground clearance, crawl, action and stability control. The best ones can venture where many other vehicles can’t, and best of all, they look and feel like big toys as they cover rough terrain with ease. The Mercedes G-Class may rate badly in road tests and on fuel scores, but the car is just so darn adorable. One fan says this Jaguar of jeeps looks like “Herby the Lovebug and a Hummer got a little too friendly.”
10. Beauty and the Beast
In this beauty contest, fuel efficiency might take a back seat to striking good looks. Black SUVs have the largest cache (heck, they’re even in the President’s motorcade) and are common sites in downtowns these days as the choice of “important people.” The Mercedes G-Class may rate badly in road tests and on fuel scores, but the Mercedes emblem is still a yuppie success symbol.
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