By on May 24, 2014

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Standing on the sidewalk in front of his house, a young boy watches his neighbor across the street back out of her driveway. Her moss green Expedition starts to roll backwards. Suddenly, a blue beach ball blows into the SUV’s path. She hits it with one of her rear tires, and the truck rises up on top of it for just a moment. The ball bursts with an enormous bang, and the truck crashes back to the pavement with an equally loud noise. The top-heavy rig sways back and forth as the boy laughs.

That young boy was me, sometime over a decade ago. The moss green Expedition was hardly the only SUV on the block. Our own family had two, at various points in time. The first was a second-gen two-door S-10 Jimmy that we assumed the lease on after my grandfather passed away suddenly. The second was another Jimmy, this time a four-door in dark green. The parents didn’t keep either of them for long. The two-door wasn’t very practical, and of course had to be returned at the end of the lease anyway. My mother hated the swinging rear spare configuration because it was difficult for her to lock securely; one time the latch came loose on a freeway exit ramp, and the tire swung out crazily on the swivel mount. The four-door was more practical, but a maddening front-end squeak that was never quite fixed led them to trade it in on a new Mustang. It was the last GM product my family owned.

For us Millennials, the SUV defined the automotive era in which we grew up. Consider that the first Ford Explorer, the most paradigmatic SUV of the entire boom, rolled into showrooms in 1990. The Explorer was mostly just a softer clone of the unibody XJ Cherokee, with fewer off-road chops and less sophisticated engineering. It didn’t matter- the Explorer went on to become one of the greatest sales successes of the 90s, despite the notorious rollover scandals. The Explorer inspired yet more imitators, and the passenger vehicle market has never been the same since. A multitude of causes have been cited to explain the SUV boom: historically low gas prices, a booming economy, a resurgence of interest in outdoor leisure activities, tax write-offs, and regulatory loopholes. In terms of the Millennials and their relationship to the automobile, arguments about what caused the SUV boom are less important than the mere fact of its existence. The rise, fall, and partial rebirth of the SUV made a powerful impression on the automotive consciousness of the Millennials. The negative externalities of the BOF Era (a period I’ll define as the years between the introduction of the Explorer in 1990 and the collapse of the world economy in 2007) are at least partly responsible for the ambivalent, occasionally hostile attitude of many Millennials towards the automobile.

SUVs became a ubiquitous sight on the roads as Millennials were growing up, but their conquest of America’s driveways and garages was never total. Low gas prices made it feasible for more middle-class people to operate them as regular-use vehicles, but they were never particularly cheap to buy. In 2000, the Explorer hit its all-time sales peak of 445,157 units, although Ford managed to shift more than 400,000 units in all but two years between 1995 and 2002. At that time, the very cheapest four door, two-wheel-drive model was still over $23,000- close to $32,000 in today’s money. In reality, most models were nudging thirty grand in year 2000 dollars by the time all the paperwork was signed. The bigger Expedition and Excursion were more expensive still.

In hindsight we now know that there was some pretty hair-raising over-leveraging of credit that went on in the first decade of the 2000s. Even so, not everyone could afford an SUV, and they became an unavoidable distinction between haves and have-nots. They introduced a classist element to the American roadways that differed from the old brand hierarchy. That made a deep impression on myself, as well as many of my friends. We were getting old enough to start understanding the basic tenets of American consumerism. Things cost money, and people made money by working. If you had more money, you could buy more things. In the context of our economic times, this had two important manifestations. Wealthy people drove SUVs and lived in large houses; poor people had sedans (or nothing at all) and lived in apartments or bungalows. The childish mind doesn’t understand that size isn’t always a virtue; nor, it turns out, did many adults.

The logic of the SUV boom was wildly simpler than in the supposed salad days of the Sloanist brand hierarchy in the 50s and 60s. It’s debatable to what extent that brand hierarchy ever penetrated the public consciousness in the manner imagined by automotive historians, anyway. The “buyers’ strike” of 1957, the failure of Edsel, the backlash of the nascent independent consumer press against the excesses of Detroit, the overwhelming dominance of “low cost” brands even during times of rising affluence, and the early success of the Volkswagen Beetle and its imitators are all challenges to the old story. The point remains that drivers who were uneducated about brands, or who didn’t care about cars in general, could easily fail to be impressed. The 1957 Chevrolet looked a lot like the 1957 Cadillac, and this was still true two decades later. If you didn’t pay attention to the brand, the conspicuous consumption aspect was lost on you. That’s how all pure, tiered branding works, right? You have to convince the consumer of his position in the brand hierarchy; but you also have to impress everyone else with the strength of the brand.  The non-purchasers of your product are the ones that make the act of conspicuous consumption truly possible. They are the ones that provide the admiration (or envy) that makes the whole system turn.

The marketing genius of the SUV was that it radically simplified the display of wealth. You didn’t need to know anything about brands, drivetrains, or interior fabrics to guess that an Expedition was more expensive than an Explorer, and an Excursion more still. Pure size turned out to be an incredibly effective substitute for the delicate logic of branding. Unlike the carefully cultivated advertising of yore, SUVs didn’t need an abundance of consumer knowledge to be effective in their message. Bigger meant more expensive, and thus more exclusive. Every kid of the 90s understood this, as did their parents. It was consumption reduced to its crassest, most vulgar form. Even the most ostentatious land yachts of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were rarely much larger than the more pedestrian sedans on which they were often based, and they utilized most of the same styling cues. The SUV was an unavoidable sensory assault that based its appeal not on some form of enlightened coexistence, but on physical dominance of the road. It was literally impossible to ignore.

SUVs trampled the notion of an enlightened, “real” luxury. They put paid to the idea that a luxury vehicle must somehow provide the owner with a superior driving experience, even if that only meant a plusher ride or easier steering. No, the remorseless logic of SUV ownership proclaimed. It must only be expensive and readily identifiable as such. Sure, there was an avalanche of phony “lifestyle” marketing associated with SUVs- they were “sport utility vehicles,” after all. We all know, though, that most SUV purchasers had no interest in the supposed rugged capabilities of their vehicles. They were minivan and wagon replacements with more swagger. As the Germans and Japanese joined in on the SUV orgy, this logic was carried to completion. The hopes of the David E. Davises of the world that the late Seventies had marked some kind of turning point in America’s love affair with the automobile were crushed. Those yuppies didn’t buy their Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and various other upscale European and Japanese hardware because they offered superior driving experiences or quality; they bought them because they were the latest trend in loudly advertised wealth. Those cars might have been excellent driving machines, but that isn’t why most people bought them. Toyota learned this lesson and hit a home run with Lexus. Nissan and Honda didn’t, and their luxury ventures floundered.

In the BOF era, the crude size contest undermined the traditional logic of branding to an unprecedented degree. It proved that customers could be receptive to expensive pleasure vehicles without the benefit of a premium brand image. A Land Rover Discovery with leather, a V8, and four wheel drive retailed for $36,100 in 2000; an Eddie Bauer Explorer with the same set of options was only about two grand less. BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lexus maintained their pricing premiums at the top end of the market, but their advantage was slim and their overall share of the market small. The reality is that nobody struggled to sell SUVs at huge margins in the late 90s and early 2000s, regardless of the strength of their brand. Honda was so desperate to get in this game that it agreed to stick its badges on a GM product. There were plenty of weak brands that got a new lease on life because of the SUV gold rush. When the SUV market entered a sharp decline around 2003, Oldsmobile imploded, Isuzu and Mitsubishi ceased to be relevant entities, and Saab and Mercury were fatally weakened. Sales were more a function of capacity and availability than anything else; “brand” was a secondary consideration. The incessant drive downmarket by virtually all of today’s luxury automakers, and their subsequent erosion of pricing power, is at least partially a legacy of what happened in the SUV market.

In this atmosphere of radical consumption, my contemporaries and I played out our formative years. I didn’t get as much seat time in SUVs as many of my friends, but I had a favorable impression of them. SUVs and trucks were cool. Bill Paxton drove a Ram in Twister. The kids drove an Explorer in Hocus Pocus, and people got eaten out of them in Jurassic Park. I had a die-cast Explorer that I played with constantly. I didn’t have any deep ideas about resource depletion, or climate change, or driving a car that actually put you in touch with the road. I just thought they looked awesome, and that cool people drove them- the main criteria of any adolescent boy. If nothing had changed in the American political and economic picture, I’d probably be driving one today.

Of course, things did change. 9/11 was the first major world political event that Millennials experienced in a meaningful way. The long-term implications of that are enormous and wide-ranging in scope, but for the purposes of the current discussion it’s sufficient to say that the attack and the wars that followed were fodder for a critical look at the American transportation complex. Nobody who was an adolescent in the mid-2000s could avoid the acrimonious debates about American energy policy that accompanied the wars. They couldn’t ignore the mounting crisis that was beginning to thin the SUV herd either. After the Iraq invasion, gas prices began to rocket upwards. Suddenly, middle class budgets were squeezed. Expenditures had to be cut in order to feed ravenous 14 MPG gas hogs. Family trips were curtailed. Parents carpooled. Young teenagers spent long hours in boring dealership waiting rooms as Mom and Dad desperately tried to get out from under their mountain of debt and into something that didn’t cost $150 to fill up.

Meanwhile, there were other problems that combined to make driving a gas guzzler deeply unfashionable and out-of-touch. Casualty lists were ever-present in newspapers and on television. Weapons of mass destruction weren’t found where they were supposed to be; nor was the zealot who had caused us all this pain in the first place. Despots in oil-rich nations laughed at us. The public debt ballooned. Climate change science became harder and harder to deny. Deindustrialization was a mounting problem. Corporate fraud cases exposed shocking levels of institutionalized avarice. Political discourse was ever frothier. In the grim atmosphere of national suffering and sacrifice, people began to question the wisdom of consumption for consumption’s sake. SUVs were beginning to decline in a major way after the gas price spike, but others doubled down- the H2 was introduced in 2002, you might recall. Even so, the long term projections weren’t good. The political Left embraced the SUV as a bogeyman and a symbol for a wide variety of ills.

Just as those kids born the same year the Explorer debuted were about to start their senior year of high school, the bottom fell out. Of everything. The BOF Era had really died that summer, when gas crested $4 a gallon nationwide. The financial crisis was just the nail in the coffin. Now we got to see just how over-leveraged our “boom economy” really was. It was a swift, brutal lesson about the value of living within your means. More than anything, it taught us that luxury and consumption were two different things. You can get by without fancy clothes, eating out, and expensive vacations. Those can be easily set aside when times are tough. It’s much harder to get out from under a car payment for a vehicle that is now too expensive to drive and which no dealer wants to take in trade; to heat a house full of empty rooms you never use; or to pay the mortgage on that same house when the fixed-rate term is suddenly up. I was lucky in that I had a family which understood these things, so our pain was minimal. Lots of people in our community weren’t so fortunate, as was the case all across America.

So what did observant Millennials learn from the BOF Era, when the dust had settled? Mostly, that overspending on commodities isn’t a smart or fulfilling substitute for luxury. You can’t go without a place to live or a way to get around. If you’ve over-leveraged yourself into buying more housing or vehicle than you really need, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to jettison those commitments when times are tough. This doesn’t mean that luxury cars or expensive houses are going to disappear. What it does mean is that the mindless “more is more” mentality of full-size SUVs with two passengers and poorly-constructed McMansions with no furniture in bland suburbs is dead. Energy and space are basic goods that everyone needs. They aren’t meant to be burned up in an endless quest for inefficiency. Neither is inexhaustible, or totally predictable in value. Better to indulge in something with a fixed cost whose long-term obligation isn’t dependent on the vagaries of global financial and commodities markets. Keep your money tight to your chest. Only take out debt that enriches your personal equity: student loans or perhaps a fixed-rate mortgage on a right-sized house in an established neighborhood. Of course, I can’t speak for everybody. There will always be people who make bad decisions as long as money exists. If we start to experience the same level of prosperity our parents enjoyed, we might regress. But we’ve seen the inevitable end to irrational exuberance, and the conspicuous waste that follows. The shameful discarding of SUVs, many with lots of life still left in them, is the final and most sordid legacy of the era.

Like the car-critical Baby Boomers of the 60s and 70s, Generation Y is looking for alternatives. The Boomers looked to fuel-efficient imports as an antidote to Detroit behemoths. The CUV is one of Gen Y’s alternatives to the excesses of the BOF Era. The CUV offers the efficiency of a car with the headroom, seating position, and interior space that were the most redeeming qualities of SUVs. Mid-size pickup trucks are dead, so they say- but new materials and engineering techniques are already making full-sizes more efficient. Hybrids and alternative energy vehicles are only going to grow in demand. The Millennials have been castigated as a generation that doesn’t care about driving or mobility in general, but that isn’t true. We just don’t want the millstone of vehicles that are too cumbersome, too inflexible, and too inefficient to be an effective hedge against the future. The Millennials will go on to buy plenty of cars, but not by the pound.

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141 Comments on “Coming of Age in the BOF Era...”


  • avatar

    My first SUV was a 2002 Ford Expedition which I bought after wrecking a 1993′ Mercury Cougar XR7 (wasn’t my fault – I was hit by a cabbie).

    I got an XLT model, fully loaded, which basically meant it had the pipes instead of plastic running boards, moonroof, leather interior and a CD changer.

    It was a beautiful truck and had so much interior space, I was able to carry home improvement stuff and just about anything else.

    I moved up to an Escalade EXT – which I thought was probably the most beautiful truck on the road. Back then, cars weren’t very big and I wasn’t very comfortable in them. I thought SUV’s were the coolest thing ever.

    But then, some things happened…

    Hurricane Katrina hit and suddenly I found my fuel expenses going from $1.50 a gallon to closer to $4 a gallon. The only time fuel ever dropped lower than $2 a gallon was much later in January 2009 – where even super was $1.80 per gallon.

    I wanted out of trucks by then.

    My business partner bought a 2006 Chrysler 300c AWD. I originally hated it, but after he got a DUI and I needed to drive it to carpool with him back and forth to work, I learned that what I really needed was a very large car with sufficient engine power.

    Leased an 07′ S550 and later got into SRT.

    I never liked crossovers, or wagons until I realized what kind of interior space and car-like drivability could be had in a Magnum.

    A large car built into a wagon with available AWD and a V6 could really turn the tide of the crossover (if done right), but the large SUV will stick around for the wealthy with big families.

    Have you seen the prices of large SUV’s lately? A Tahoe is close to $65,000 now. An Escalade -closer to $90,000.

    Unless Jeep comes up with something really creative, I’m done with the SUV this time around.

    • 0 avatar
      michal1980

      so you wanted out of trucks because the gas was expensive but then ended up with a SRT?

      • 0 avatar

        I should clarify:

        What I really wanted was a very large car that was very fast.
        I didn’t understand that till the S550.
        But I didn’t want to pay those prices again so I got something half the price, but twice the fun.
        The gas prices are a consequence of my demand for wanting to be bigger and faster.

        • 0 avatar
          WaftableTorque

          >What I really wanted was a very large car that was very fast.
          I didn’t understand that till the S550.

          Tastes and wants evolve over time. What you wanted in your 20’s and 30’s might be totally opposite of what you want later.

          My fantasy car during the 90’s was an AWD rally car. You couldn’t give one to me now even if you paid me.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      “A large car built into a wagon with available AWD and a V6 could really turn the tide of the crossover (if done right)”

      Ford have followed this train of thought, but the tide hasn’t turned yet. Some blame the styling (MKT) other blame the perennial whipping boy, My Ford Touch. As with anything, you pick your poison.

      Underneath it all are a pair of highly capable and just plain fast Egoboost wagons. Shame there’s no more Magnum to compare them to.

      • 0 avatar
        agent534

        Its funny, ford tried really hard with the Freestyle/Taurus X and then the Flex. They finally had to badge a D3 as an Explorer to find successes with that platform.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “but not by the pound”

    Same goes for writing, particularly about the obvious.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      Amen, brother.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      You just conveyed more with one sentence.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Car buying is not a generational descriptor. Labeling generations is a post WWII marketing ploy. It is entirely nonsense.

      Car buying is about function. When you are young and have not yet began a family, you have a different transportation need than you would when you marry and begin your family. If your family has more than two children, this will force your transportation needs into a larger vehicle capable of carrying that family.

      When your family becomes old enough to move out on their own, your transportation needs will change again.

      So, this has nothing to do with generations – it is all about vehicular functionality.

      How many people in their 20s to 30s need a big family hauler? So, this “generation” appears to want something sensible and small – so they currently say. This is no different from any other group of people in this age range. It has nothing to do with generational marketing labels.

      Wait a decade and if you are blessed with more than two children, then you will need a much bigger vehicle than you would when you were younger. It doesn’t mean that your generation suddenly sold out or something happened politically. You had kids! Big deal. That is what we all do if we are normal.

      The moment I had more than two kids is the moment I had to drive a bigger vehicle. Cramming those humongous car seats into a car built for four, possibly five – doesn’t work. Especially when you realize that most of the time after you have those kids, your parents start tagging along with your new family, and you will need room for an extra adult or two. It doesn’t mean you don’t give a fig about the planet – like it needs your damn help, or something.

      Generational marketing is a fraud. Each of us is an individual buying for our needs at the moment. No one is a lemming. Even a Camry owner is an individual. Lumping everyone within a specific birth era, then classifying them is just damn stupid.

      You need transportation. Stuff happens in life as you grow up. Your transportation needs change along the way.

      Get over yourself.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Did Honda not put their name on an Isuzu and call it a Passport? Don’t recall a GM SUV marketed as a Honda.

    I hope that someday Americans get out of being brainwashed early on that bigger is always better. When it comes to vehicles, bigger is no yardstick for better, period.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    CUVs were the inevitable. Manufacturers just had to figure out how to build them and needed a business case for them. BOF SUVs were/are easy to make and extremely profitable. There was no need to spend R&D funds on CUVs during BOF SUV’s best years because the market didn’t demand CUVs at all. Once fuel prices went through the roof, the market demanded efficiency and now we have CUV Explorers, Enclaves, Traverses, Highlanders, Pilots, etc.

    CUVs are great replacements for their BOF forefathers (Explorers, Rodeos, Passports, Troopers, Blazers, Durangos, 4Runners, etc.). CUVs of today do everything BOF SUVs of yesterday were PRIMARILY intended to do, move people, provide better visibility and space than cars, and provide command seating that we all have come to love. They also do it with better economy and much better ride quality.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for SUVs of years past, particularly the 1st Generation Explorer Limited in white, but those days are gone and aren’t coming back. Quite honestly, we don’t need to revert back to the days of inefficiency, unrefined ride quality and extremely high pricing for what you get.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Station wagons in disguise.

      • 0 avatar
        Spartan

        A CUV doesn’t look like a hearse. Station wagons do look like hearses, which is one of the underlying reasons no one wants to buy them. Also, there’s the obvious differences like ground clearance and higher ride height, which is preferred by most consumers.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          My 328i does not look remotely like a hearse, I used to drive one for a living occasionally. Well other than the hearse in Harold and Maude, maybe…

          Given that a station wagon has the same ride height and ground clearance as a sedan (still the most popular configuration in the US), that doesn’t seem to be quite it either.

          I think is it simply that common sense is particularly uncommon in America.

          • 0 avatar
            Spartan

            So because American don’t like wagons, we lack common sense? Furthermore, the wagon hate isn’t just in the US. Euro-snobs don’t like them nearly as much as the internet would lead us to indicate.

            How many 3-Series wagons did BMW sell this year?
            How many X3s did BMW sell this year?

            How many A4 Estates did Audi sell this year?
            How many Q5s did Audi sell this year?

            How many E-Class Estates did MB sell this year?
            How many GLKs or MLs did MB sell this year?

            I’ll wait, but I can tell you that the global or Euro sales aren’t in favor of the wagon. Consumers voted and the manufacturers gave in. Wagons aren’t in anymore. The same is happening to manual transmissions, but it’s not nearly as much of a hassle to put a manual transmission in a car than it is to engineer a wagon version of a car.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        CUVs are taller and bloatier. On the inside, that’s a good thing. Sure, they all look like family-sized Cozy Coupes.

      • 0 avatar
        Blue-S

        “Station wagons in disguise.” Exactly. In the 70’s, we had station wagons. In the 80’s-early 90’s, minivans were the choice for families. From the mid-90’s through the early oughts, the SUV reigned supreme. All of these were big vehicles which could haul families and their stuff. The BOF SUV was a particularly stupid, inefficient and sluggish implementation of the theme.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        That get much WORSE gas mileage than proper station wagons, and very little better than the BOF SUVs. Every time I get a CUV for a rental I am appalled at how bad the mileage of them actually is.

      • 0 avatar
        WildcatMatt

        “Station wagons in disguise.”

        Until you try to put something large and cube-shaped in the back and discover that the rake of the liftgate means you have less room back there than you think you do.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Impressive: you Godwined the thread before the article went over to comments.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Millennials are special

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Yuppie oops-babies. Or worse yet, spawn of career moms (I can do it all!).

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      We Gen X’ers were pretty special at that age too. I think it’s a common pitfall of youth to believe that you’ve discovered something that no one else has.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Speaking as a millennial who works primarily with the generation who spawned them/us, I’d say that it’s a tough contest as to who acts more entitled. Working-age millennials are much more accepting of our current economic realities; their parents still think they should retire at 55 with a full pension while able to live comfortably and fund their kids’ lives until they turn 25. The millennials, on the other hand, realize that we should count ourselves lucky if we can one day afford to have a modest house and squirrel enough money away to keep debt at bay after we retire at 65+.

      The millennials’ biggest problem is that they’ve been coddled by their parents’ relatively-easily-won wealth. When your tuition and life and leisure expenses are paid for until you finish college, and you grew up in a nice house with two fancy cars in the garage, it’s easy to expect that life will be easy when you hit the real world. However, once you enter today’s job market, the wakeup call can be swift and effective.

  • avatar
    Tim_Turbo

    Growing up in a rural area I never realized SUV’s were a status symbol. We had Cherokees, and then Explorers-used them to haul stuff, go camping etc. You know-their intended purpose.

    Then one day when I was in college my car broke down on break, and I had to borrow my parents 1993 Explorer (which was black and looked brand new thanks to my Dads obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to cars) for a few days. I didn’t really understand all the attention it got-to me it was just an Explorer, I’d have rather been driving my 626 v6 5 speed. This was probably 1998 or 1999.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I grew up in a rural area, too, but an SUV (especially the Explorer) meant you were a rich city slicker who thought they were slumming with us country folk.

      You could tell they were city slickers, because you don’t need an SUV to get around a rural area, just a regular car and a friend with a tractor if your adventuring doesn’t go as planned. Also, they didn’t know the roads as well as the local teenagers and held up traffic.

      My world is *much* bigger now, but SUVs still don’t impress me much. Luxury brands have never meant much to me either. What does impress me is a well organized house and well spoken people – and I’m more impressed by those things the more I take on in life.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    @J.Emerson – You’re over thinking it. Around twenty old vehicles usually dominate junkyards and millions of SUVs are simultaneously reaching drinking age. They stick out like a sore thumb and dominate the junkyard landscape, like they do on the road.

    Millions were sold at the height of the SUV crazy, so much that they’ll never truly go away. But I’m sure sedans still out number the rest of the junkyard population, many times over.

    Perceptually, it seems like SUVs are getting picked on, and singled out. Not so much.

    And although new pickup sales have always greatly outnumbered SUV sales, aging pickups of the same vintage are still in very high demand. And in short supply. We may be losing up to a million pickups a year to Mexico, South America and overseas.

    Old SUVs must die, just like old cars we don’t want.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Full frame chassis vehicles will leave the US sadly.

    SUVs are cheap because many are built on essentially a pickup chassis.

    We have the same mentality here with SUVs.

    CAFE will is killing off the full chassis SUVs in America and I’m so glad we will still have them.

    What is keeping the full chassis SUV alive in Australia is the diesel engine. We have 2 tonne and over SUVs that can pull over 30mpg on the highway at the moment.

    But, CUVs are making large inroads here.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “So what did observant Millennials learn from the BOF Era, when the dust had settled? Mostly, that overspending on commodities isn’t a smart or fulfilling substitute for luxury.”

    The market research says largely the opposite, namely that Gen Y has acquired a taste for luxury cars (Audi is a top brand amongst them) even though it can’t afford them. They’re an aspirational bunch, but lack the cash to back it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      And some are surprised that the Germans are de-contenting and spraying new product down market like a diarrheic monkey.

      They have an emotionally captive market but it’s hitting the skids.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        In 2006 I bought a new Jetta TDI sedan. While chatting with the salesman he mentioned that his dealership got a lot of young windowshoppers who really wanted to own a Volkswagen, but couldn’t afford anything VW was selling. It really frustrated this salesman that Volkswagen had an eager group of prospective buyers, but offered nothing in their entry-level price range. I don’t doubt the same thing happened at most VW dealers. The current generation of decontented, value-priced Jetta and Passat are a direct response to this demographic.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Maybe things were different elsewhere in the US, but here in Maine young people have NEVER bought new cars in any meaningful number. I bought my first new car at 33, and I was a good 5 years ahead of ANY of my friends. I don’t think anyone in my extended family bought a new car before their early 30s, and my family is pretty firmly middle to upper middle class. So I find the thought of all these kids pining for new cars quite amusing. They should be thankful they have a car at all!

          But we Yankees are also notoriously cheap, this being the part of the country where station wagons and manual transmission remain relatively common.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        “Spraying new product down market like a diarrheic monkey” Kenmore for President!

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Can’t take credit. There’s an old episode of All Creatures G&S where a spider monkey with that malady gets loose in their surgery. All. Over. Everywhere.

          It had a profound developmental impact upon me.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          >> “Spraying new product down market like a diarrheic monkey” Kenmore for President!

          Someone must have recharged his freon and cleaned his coils. :^)

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Uh… we don’t say “freon” anymore, we say “refrigerant”. And real freon is only for parties.

            Chill Responsibly.

    • 0 avatar
      J.Emerson

      PCH-
      My argument isn’t that Millennials don’t like luxury cars, or won’t buy them. It’s that they want something more efficient and more in tune with their actual transportation needs than a BOF SUV. Something like an A3 has a better long-term cost of ownership calculation than a 14 mpg SUV, is easier to park and drive, and won’t be as much of a liability if energy prices spike again.

      The luxury market is heavily lease-driven, which also appeals to Millennials. For many of us, higher fixed costs are worth it in exchange for dealer support throughout the ownership period, an easily calculated total investment, and a lack of long-term commitment to the ownership and care of one vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        williambwarren

        Exactly.

        I am a car buff millennial, but I’ve already decided that my next vehicle that I spend money on (once my ’05 Focus is beyond keeping, which I bought for the exact reasons above, being the lower liability when gas prices were going to go up, which they did) is going to be a lease for the reasons above: warranty, lower commitment to keeping the vehicle, and did I mention warranty?

        My friends were all asking “Why didn’t you get an Explorer/XTerra/Rodeo/Cherokee/Liberty when I got my Focus. I proceeded to laugh when I could travel from college to home on one tank of gas (400 mi) and $45.00, and they needed a $75 fill at least once.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “they want something more efficient and more in tune with their actual transportation needs than a BOF SUV.”

        Do you have any data to back that up? The research that I’ve seen suggests that Gen X cares more about fuel efficiency and being green generally than Gen Y.

        In any case, I doubt that the average Millennial even knows the difference between a body-on-frame SUV and a crossover. And there will be fewer of the compact SUVs produced going forward, for a number of reasons, so there won’t many of them to get. (The half-dozen guys here who are nuts for compact pickups should take note, as this impacts the fate of their favorite segment, too.)

        • 0 avatar
          agent534

          His data backs up the opposite if we assume his friends are millennials also.
          My friends were all asking “Why didn’t you get an Explorer/XTerra/Rodeo/Cherokee/Liberty when I got my Focus.

          He seems to be the exception in his peer group.

          • 0 avatar
            williambwarren

            All my friends are millennials (within 1-2 years of my graduating class). I got my Focus in 2010 as a partial graduation gift from my grandmother – we traded in my late grandfather’s Town Car and she promised to match the value we got for it. Prior to that, I drove the family beater – the ’95 Tacoma 4 cyl. with 300k+ miles. So around that time all the SUVs that were affordable that were “cool” To high school students (especially dudes) were the BOF models – with a rare girl showing up in her Rav4/CR-V/Escape.

            The key factors though, why I was an exception (and actually still am as a recent college graduate):

            First is the fact I grew up in the Suburban South – where cost of living is reasonable compared with rest of the nation, especially gas. So most of the school parking lot was filled with BOF SUVs or pick-up trucks.

            But more importantly, is that I actually had to pay for my own fuel, not mooch off of a parents credit card, with the rare exception of “Oh crap. I need $10 to get me until pay day”.

            (But I was an exception also in that I actually knew/know about cars besides “It has an iPod dock and looks cool”…)

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    For as much hate and loathing as so called “enthusiasts” (usually cheap old men) seem to give them, I love SUVs and always will. There is just something cool about them, being up high ensconced in leather with a commanding view of the road.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Mandolorian,

    Gauleiter syndrome.

    *Godwin Gong*

  • avatar
    Joss

    Yes “Jurassic insight” in 1993 when a movie Rex rolled an EV Explorer and bit the tires

    North Americans are the Earth’s obese population. Buy them large, small won’t fit.

    The folly of humanity is median consumption for shelter & transportation.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Alex Dykes has written many a good counterpoint in favor of the BOF SUV here. It’s a shame he seems to be absent these days because his perspective would be interesting here.

    The elephant in the room for this entire subject is declining and stagnating income. One result of our overleveraging crisis has been to reconnect demand with income rather than borrowing ability for many people. The scramble downmarket for luxury marques is a supply side response to reduced demand.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “The scramble downmarket for luxury marques is a supply side response to reduced demand.”

      Eh. You get what you pay for…and sometimes less. I won’t touch a CLA, in particular, with a twenty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        “I won’t touch a CLA, in particular, with a twenty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.”

        Let me guess – The three words which best describe the CLA are, and I quote, “Stink!, Stank!, Stunk!”

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Ultimately, I feel about the same about BOF SUVs as I do about pickup trucks (and note, I own an older Range Rover). If you NEED one, you need one and they are great tools for particular jobs. But they make monumentally stupid single driver commuter cars, or Mommy-mobiles, which is what a majority of are used for.

      In my case, I use my Rover to pull a 6500lb boat, and it is useful in the winter. But at 12-16mpg it does all of 3-4K a year, and I only paid $5500 for it. Not a snowball’s chance in Hades I would ever buy a new one and/or commute in it.

  • avatar

    I’m probably a little older than the author, and my parents were notoriously behind trends. Which is probably why the car that brought me home was a wood-paneled station wagon (a ’78 Aspen) until my parents transitioned to minivans (the first one being an ’89 Voyager).

    So maybe that’s why my brother and I both like trucks – my brother has owned a suburban, an expedition, and a couple f-150’s. I’ve had a Ranger and currently drive a 2012 Pathfinder, the last of the BOF. More likely, though, it’s because we actually use them to haul stuff – I have an auction and flea market side biz, and he’s a DJ on the side.

    I’m not sure the consumption argument holds much weight, though. The CUV 2013 Pathfinder that replaced my BOF is about the same price. Sure, it probably gets a few more MPG’s, but it’s still not thrifty. The CUV Durango, Explorer, ect are pretty much in line with prices of their BOF predecessors as well.

    i think the CUV boom has many causes – high gas prices, higher CAFE standards, few people who used them to their full potential. But I think they are almost as conspicuous in terms of consumption.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    Today’s hybrids/electrics are no different an exercise in one-upmanship and look at me.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Nah, they are also investments into the future. MPGs and emissions are driving a lot of design… that there are a lot of green attn whores is just an added bonus.

      I would buy a hybrid if it came in the right configuration. I’d love something like a Murano hybrid for my wife, or if they could keep the weight down a 370Z 6MT hybrid for me. I could care less about broadcasting my green credibility- if the payback made sense I would love to double my gas mileage. I’m happy to get over 20MPG combined in my 350Z.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Actually, despite being “green” long before it was fashionable, I really like the fact that my Altima hybrid looks just like a regular one.

  • avatar
    ant

    It occurs to me that going forward, Toyota and Honda would be wise to build hybrid versions of their crv/rav4 models. They should design them from the ground up with innovative solutions with regard to packaging the batteries, and build them in volume to keep costs reasonable.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      From what I understand, the Accord Hybrid is a phenomenal product, and the MPG king of the mid-sized class. If Honda could put that power-train in one or more if its crossovers, I can’t imagine it’d be anything but beneficial.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Toyota did make a Rav4 EV – they were around in the early 2000s, were limited to California only, and limited to leases only. There is another Rav4 EV on the road that was built in tandem with Tesla – and of course is California only and lease only…

  • avatar
    bikephil

    You really should clarify at the beginning of this (overly long) story that BOF stands for body on frame. Not everyone knows what that is, and the story is meaningless without this information.

    • 0 avatar
      MK

      Good review from an individual perspective and i didnt think it was too long. it reads little like something that might be an MBA asssignment, but I’d rather someone be given the room to fully develop their presented ideas than go with the “USA Today” format of no more than six column inches or whatever.

      I’m a gen x er and due to my dads business in used cars and insurance salvage we always had a lot of different vehicles around so i never understood the idea that SUVs represented “status” or aspirational purchasing.

      I remember in college around 1993 or so and taking a ride for the first time with an older teammate in his brand new Eddie Bauer Explorer, (he was a newly minted Dr) and although I didn’t say anything to him about it I absolutely could not understand what the fuss was about. It was okay but not perceptually that different from the Pickup truck I had been driving a few years earlier.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Great piece, I like your writing style. I think the “bigger is better, pound for pound” mentality has been with us since the first cars rolled off the assembly line. In the 50s and 60s it was all about longer, lower and wider, bigger fins = bigger bucks. You may think a ’57 Chevy looked like a ’57 Cadillac, but believe me most everyone knew the difference, the Cadillac, if nothing else was always the biggest. I think after almost 20 years of malaise where downsizing became the norm and rebadged Cavaliers became Cadillacs, the SUV made sense in this automotive identity crises we were having as almost a through-back to the easier to identify “bigger is better” and more expensive comfort zone we were used to.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    It’s interesting how people began to flock to SUVs in part because minivans, while practical, rapidly took on the “suburban drudgery” image.

    (Side note, have you ever noticed how people who drive minivans radiate an aura of having given up on life?)

    People went to minivans because they liked the utility of a station wagon, but hated the image of uncool suburbia that the station wagon radiated.

    Minivans, in turn, were abandoned in droves for SUVs when THEY acquired that same stigma.

    Now, SUVs have lost their manly, virile image and are seen for what there really are – a big station wagon.

    The station wagon never died, because it’s a great idea – a capacious, durable, easy-to-live-with car. It just keeps changing forms.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Driving a minivan has the same stigma as wearing sweatpants to work. It’s a giant white flag if surrender to the world you’ve given up on influencing. Both are sensible and flexible solutions. Neither one will garner any respect.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        Isn’t driving a SUV or CUV also a flag of surrender? The pretense is that these vehicles identify the owner as a rugged, individualist. The truth is, you have already surrendered your individuality when your choices and behavior are based on the latest fashion, fads and what you want other people to think.

        When someone says their car is an expression of who they are, what they are really saying is that their car is an expression of who they want people to think they are.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        No.

        Proud minivan dad here. The minivan is invisible. I owned mine for months before my friends noticed I was showing up in something new.

        When you drive an invisible vehicle, you’ve got to impress people with your personal presence instead. I’m man enough and talented enough to do that.

      • 0 avatar
        Blue-S

        Last year, I used my 2008 Grand Caravan SXT to tow the neon to the 24-Hour Chumpcar race at Buttonwillow. We won the race – beating Miatas, E30s, Mustangs, Camaros and various Hondas – then towed home. Tell me again how I’ve given up on life…

      • 0 avatar
        usernamealreadyregistered

        “Driving a minivan has the same stigma as wearing sweatpants to work.”

        Driving an SUV instead of a minivan so you’re not seen as “surrender[ing] to the world” is like wearing a hairpiece: functionally irrelevant; aesthetically inferior; suggests insecurity; fools nobody.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        A surrender to what? As if growing up and having people and things to move is some sort of shame? It used to be something to be proud of.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t think image EVER had anything to do with minivans. They were never “cool”, they were just really, really good at hauling people around, and got much better fuel economy than the big boat wagons at a time when fuel economy was a really big thing. Note that tons and tons and tons of smaller wagons were still on the market until the SUV craze, long after minivans appeared. And I am still convinced that a huge reason for the disappearance of the wagon was the profit motive. You could sell an SUV for tons more money than a wagon (and the BOF SUVs were CHEAP to make), and so that is where the marketing money went.

      A CUV is ultimately a minivan for people who refuse to be seen driving a minivan.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I certainly didn’t buy my van for image or coolness. It was all practicality for me.

        Honestly, I would have preferred something more compact, but the minivan is where the sweet spot is by the numbers in the US – and this thing shows every indication of being as reliable and useful as the Ranger I owned for my 20s. I’m probably going to own this van until the doors rust off, or until someone sells me a hybrid version.

        After I owned the van for a while, I found that I like being assumed responsible family man when I show up somewhere. It’s a comfortable image, and accurate. But, I really like being able to haul people, haul stuff, and do some light towing, while getting midsize car MPGs on the work/preschool circuit.

        • 0 avatar
          SSJeep

          I have seen some Honda Odyssey vans that have been on the receiving end of great exterior upgrades – black body with black rims, dual exhausts, performance tires, etc… and they actually look good in the current sea of blob-shaped CUVs. And they certainly looked masculine enough.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      That makes me a rebel then, because I had no (image) problem driving a 1997 Honda Odyssey for 10 years. Yes, acceleration was slow, but it could carry 7, or my 90 pound dog. It was great.

      Nowadays, I don’t need so much hauling capacity, so I drive a… TSX station wagon! It’s great.

      And in the future, I am eyeing a Miata ND. Don’t expect to have any image problems there either. And it will be great.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    To the author: I think you may have forgotten to add a WordPress “jump link” somewhere, so the entire article is displaying on the homepage.

    I was born in the nineties, so I don’t really know an era of wagons and I grew up squarely in the era of SUVs *and* crossovers. Even though I was super young, I remember the debut of the Expedition and Navigator, as well as the RX 300 and the X5. And I thought all of them were cool.

  • avatar
    WhatDaFunk

    Even though this generation may have learned something about living within one’s means (though I’d like to see some hard evidence to support that), I’m sure once the next boom comes around and there’s a generation brought up in prosperity all those lessons will go out the window.

    We’re all still following the lessons our grandparents learned during the Great Depression, right?

    I’d like to add I thought this was a well written piece, but would have been a lot stronger with some research based evidence provided to back up the points, not just anecdotal.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Status clues change. If I wanted to find a semi-retired plumber or electrician working out of his vehicle for cash (’cause his brood has moved back home) I’d look for a 6+ year-old BOFster.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Too much deference shown to “delicate logic” of branding. All segments sell superfluous, unreliable excess with higher maintenance, operating costs and replacement costs. All segments use the bigger-is-better paradigm when it comes to engines, horsepower, and interior volume. Hybrids might be the only exception, since the equipment actually reduces operating costs, yet marketers are failing quite miserably to move hybrid vehicles.

    SUVs were the 21st revisit of 1970’s fullsize V8 sedans. Nothing more, nothing less, imo.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    What’s up with TTAC’s obsession with what other people think? Who says that buying an SUV or luxury car has anything to do with showing off? Most people just like a nice car. Who are you to say whether they can afford it or not? Do you know their priorities? This and other articles like it say waaaay more about the author’s insecurities than any thing else. This is getting really old on this site.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Yeah, but TTAC is free and some of the commenters here are top notch smart people of many different backgrounds.

      And what site doesn’t have social posturing? That just comes from letting humans have computers.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      I’m a child of the 90’s. I remember the SUV hype, but never really got into them.

      I can’t speak for everyone from my generation, but I don’t really care about showing off. I have two daily drivers- a 2001 Audi A6 Wagon and a 1995 LeSabre. My favorite is the Buick- it is comfortable and nice. I can’t think of anyone who thinks a LeSabre is show-off material. I enjoy luxury, but I really don’t care what others think about my car.

      But, I’m not your typical Gen Y person. I think Station Wagons are man’s greatest automobile achievement, that Buick’s are some of the best cars ever built, and enjoy listening to the True Oldies Channel.

      You may want to find someone a bit more mainstream for an opinion…

      • 0 avatar
        Zekele Ibo

        >> I’m not your typical Gen Y person.

        But do you have a beard? Ride a fixie? You sound from the above that your atypical attitude is fairly typical of your age-group. :)

        I shouldn’t complain, of course. I used to be a hipster too. You know, before it became popular ;)

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          I am by no means a hipster.

          I’m clean-shaven, and have no desire whatsoever to have facial hair. I think the stuff’s disgusting.

          I have no clue what a “fixie” is. I looked it up, and have no desire to own one.

          If the stereotypical Gen. Y person enjoys doing mathematical calculations, running their own business, driving old Buick’s (And Yes, I can afford “better” than a 1995 LeSabre, not that it should really matter), and listening to Tommy James and the Shondells, then I’m typical.

          If that’s the case, all the stereotypes I’ve heard are way off! I’ve never assumed the Gen. Y type would turn out to be businessmen. I just assumed they laid on the couch all day, and then got drunk at parties.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “And Yes, I can afford “better” than a 1995 LeSabre, not that it should really matter”

            I’m not sure it gets much better outside of exotics.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Well, there was the larger Park Avenue…

            You have to love a LeSabre with Dynaride, though! None of the other vehicles I drive (including a 2001 Audi A6) are as smooth as the Buick is.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            G-body P/A vs H-body Lesabre. Eh its tough but H > G, although I would take a G-body Riv over an H – because Riviera.

    • 0 avatar
      Zekele Ibo

      >> What’s up with TTAC’s obsession with what other people think?

      The whole of western society is obsessed with what other people think. It is 90+% of what choosing a vehicle is all about. How can any website about any consumer good not reflect that?

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The BOF SUV to CUV move is largely due to the evolving preferences of youngish women. Each new generation of women DO NOT want to drive the same type of vehicle that their mothers drove taking them to school, soccer practices, etc. because they do not want to be seen as “soccer moms”. Station wagons were the common family truckster in the 1960s and 70s, in the 80s and early 90s it was minivans, and mid-90s to mid 2000s it was BOF SUVs, and now it is CUVs. A minivan makes the most sense for most families since they have the most room and are most easily converted to cargo or passenger duties, but most 30-40 year old women will drop dead before being seen in one because that is what mom drove. Mark my words, the same thing will happen to CUVs in the next 10 years, the only question is what will be the new family truckster to replace it?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “what will be the new family truckster to replace it?”

      Good question; what form factor is left? CUVs are basically a lifted & inflated original minivan w/o the sliding door. Instead of 2-box wagons and SUVs, we have a smaller, bloopy 1-box with a vestigial snoot for weensy, sideways engines.

      Given the steadily decreasing family size of those who can buy new cars, what else is needed?

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “What will be the new family truckster to replace it?”

      Small hatchbacks that call themselves SUVs. The salesman is getting ready to bring a Kia Soul with the “Whole Shebang” package to our house so that my grandma can look at it. A lot of people—including Kia—would consider it a crossover, but I think it’s just a hatchback. Ditto for the 500L, Encore, Countryman, Paceman and especially the XV Crosstrek, which is a lifted Impreza hatch.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Yes! The Soul is a hatchback for tall seniors.

        Finally got my wife to check one out last Thursday. At 4’11” she felt engulfed in it. Everything I love about it she hates. I love being able to see under its mirror, she hates having to crane her neck up for it. I love cranking the seat height all the way down and then the seatback forward for max uprightness, she needs a pillow to see anything even with max seat height. We’ll never agree and of course won’t be buying it for her.

        But it’s a damn fine, 20K-ish ride for taller seniors. So, if you’re right, I’m happy.

        And I hope your grandma likes it.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          She loved it. We’d test-driven a few of them, but they were both Plus models. The Exclaim models, though, are a little harder to come by around here since they sell like hotcakes…especially if they have the “Whole Shebang” package. Her first choice was actually the Nissan Juke (she thinks it’s cute; I think it’s hideous), but it doesn’t have any real cargo space. The seat-backs pretty much kiss the rear hatch, which is so sloped that there’s only a triangular-sliver of cargo room that won’t fit her walker. The Soul, however, easily swallows the walker.

          I think we’re going to go in on Monday and either buy the Soul that the salesman let us test drive, or a similarly-equipped one in a different color.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Strangely enough, I’ve started hearing a radio ad for the Cadillac SRX, asking women if they remember the “sleek SUV” their mom dropped them off at school in, and something about the envious glances of the dads there. Followed, of course, by the special lease rates on a new SRX.

      Mind you, my mother-in-law drove a Chevy Astro for a while (the only van I know for sure she had, unless you count the Kia Rondo she has now), and my wife loved that thing (it swallowed a kayak whole).

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Personally, I liked the piece. It really evoked the feelings of an era. Even so, it is no big deal that cars improve gradually over time and that higher pump prices cause consumers to select smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. It has always been so.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’m seeing a lot of convergence on optimal designs, now.

      With modern CAE tools, there’s no reason to have lousy aerodynamics or structure, even if your priorities are elsewhere.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Lovin this “its the end of the body on frame SUV” mess.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed reading your articles. I will say, though, that just because (A.) the crossover is the flavor of the year right now and (B.) body on frame sales arent what they used to be, I’m not quite following your logic that BOF SUV’s are dying a slow, agonizing death.

    In the midwest, the domestic BOF/Suburban Trio is still a very popular choice, whether in the rural areas or even in the upscale areas.

    I live in one of the highest income per capita cities in the U.S., a smaller city in Missouri called Town and Country. This seems to be Mercedes-Benz and Lexus territory, but I would be lying to you if I told you that people in these parts- that is, the old money conservatives- aren’t snapping up Yukons, Escalades, and even the more modest Suburbans right and left.

    And for the individuals here who’d rather drive an import, there’s an abundance of LX570’s/Land Cruisers along with the (obnoxious in my humble opinion) Infiniti QX80. All body on frame.

    You may live in a very green, “eco is cool”, “Three Cheers for Repurposing!” Prius-driving Liberal Hotspot, but here, in the midwest, the BOF is still thriving and doing well.

    The CUV is a popular choice because generally the 3+ miles per gallon are favored, even if premium octane is required. Also, you get the function of a wagon without the hearse looks (as another commenter has mentioned). Also, most people don’t want to drive something 16 feet in length, just no need for that.

    But yes, there are still households that adore these things, can actually afford these things, and could care less about MPG and guilt trips from overhyped environmentalist special interest groups.In other words, I doubt they will be falling off the face of the earth tomorrow.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, my unibodied CUV needs a wash. Yes, that’s right, a CUV owner.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “But yes, there are still households that adore these things, can actually afford these things, and could care less about MPG and guilt trips from overhyped environmentalist special interest groups.”

      Re-education centers are scheduled for stand-up in your region NLT 8/30/2014. Proof of CUV ownership will allow household exemption of all attendance requirements.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        You secretly covet an Escalade, don’t you?

        .

        … and a chubby soccer-mom with glasses

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          OK… who doesn’t?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Hey, GM and McDonald’s didn’t just fall off the turnip truck

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Uh.. sorry, don’t know. We don’t got no turnip trucks. We got cranberry trucks, dontcha know? We grow half da cranberries in da whole world even outside of America. Yeah.

            But, no, no turnips…but I ate one back a few yearss ago and was I ever glad I had a old bucket over by da pump so’s I could heave in it.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      There is ALWAYS going to be a market for BOF SUVs. The Suburban has been in production for what, 50+ years now? Back in the ’70s there were examples for sale from all of the big 3 plus IH, the Japanese, and Land Rover. But it will be a market like back then – you bought one if you had a reason to need one, and nobody bought them as just ordinary commuter cars.

      In the late 70’s and 80’s my folks had a succession of Suburbans, because they dragged an enormous camper around the country with them. But they commuted to work in a pair Subarus. The Suburban hauled the camper and took the trash to the dump once a week. It went to work only in major snowstorms.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Dinosaur checking in here .

    This article and the young ‘uns comments are very illuminating .

    I grew up riding ’round New England and Canada in early 1960’s Carryalls (now called Suburbans) , mostly they had three rows of seats , I6 engines , manual trannies and no radio / AC .

    They were big but not anyone’s idea of ‘ wealth or success ‘ .

    Interesting take on all this .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    “The CUV offers the efficiency of a car with the headroom, seating position, and interior space that were the most redeeming qualities of SUVs.”

    Uh, not really no. Most CUVs aren’t as efficient as an equivalent wagon or sedan because they are heavier and higher off the ground (read less aerodynamic). And because they are higher off the ground they do not offer the same level of responsiveness or driving pleasure that a wagon does. CUVs are still part of the era you decry, or at least an irrational offshoot thereof. People are still trying to justify their behavior from that era, a part of which is thinking they need “space” and to be high up. I’m anticipating that will reverse soon too.

    Other than that good editorial!

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      I guess the real surprise would’ve been if someone with a Guy Fawkes avatar had said anything reasonable and without a sinister antisocial fillip.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      Well, offcourse they are a compromise. The BOF SUV craze killed off the last stationwagons though (not counting premium and luxury car alternatives) so not much choice left if you want a reasonably modern car…

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I cannot wsit for “longer, lower, wider” to come back into style. It is only a matter of time. And actually, having seen my first new Chrysler 200 parked in front of the dealership today, I think things are looking up! It makes a Fusion look like a slab-sided truck!

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I just wish we could have both trends (L,L,W and Shorter, Higher, Narrower) at the same time. Maybe even in the same segment. But it seems like safety regulations aren’t going to let that happen anytime soon…

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      CUVs aren’t as efficient as wagons, but compared to an SUV that a lot of people had prior they are. I drove Grand Cherokees for years and was glad to give them up for a CUV. For me they are the best of both worlds and suit my needs accordingly

  • avatar
    ajla

    Hey guys, want to hear about the ’02 Durango RT that I just bought?

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      I’d love to have a 5.9L first-gen Durango with the part-time 4WD transfer case, either factory or swapped in. It’d be a nice winter-beater companion to my ’99 Dakota, whose snow tires I could steal for the Durango.

      Unfortunately the overdrive-equipped Torqueflites are typically (and correctly) regarded as junk, as are the Dakota/Durango 4WD independent front suspensions. A Grand Cherokee with a 5.2 would fix the latter.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Excellent article and very well written. A point-of-view that virtually nobody will agree with speaking to them individually, because everyone regards what they choose as the norm, and relates their opinions to those of their friends and acquaintances as seen through their own logical lenses. It’s hard to dissociate yourself from the experience you have, as a mere one person, from the mass trend.

    But in aggregate, that’s what seems to have happened.

    Except for one thing. Women now in their late 50s through late 60s certainly began to insist on high driving positions starting about 15 years ago. CUVS or SUVs, they didn’t care, they made hubby get one. Changed every single of my married couple acquaintances. Early 90s Jetta to late 90s Forester to mid oughts Element to new CX-5, a typical progression.

    Of course, this is only my experience and may be totally invalid in the aggregate.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      @wmba
      I had the same observation. In my suburban town within a relatively short time the minivan simply disappeared from the pick up line at the local grade school. People who moved in to town driving a minivan shortly traded it for something like a Suburban.

      The image of a 5’2″ young mother with bleached blonde hair and wearing high heels (often with a boob job) struggling to climb into a Ford Excursion amuses me still. Why did it happen? I really don’t know.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        There’s just something about petite, sexy women driving a large SUV, or a similiarly large truck, for that matter.

        I get the same way when said petite hot women handle firearms.

        Im not Siskel or Ebert, but I give them, in both instances, two thumbs up :)

  • avatar

    “Why did it happen? I really don’t know.”
    I have found it to be the simple fact that women feel safer in a large truck. Of course, the things that make them feel safer; the command seating, the higher ride height, the imposing size and weight, all combine with the BOF construction to make the vehicle less safe. Go figure.

  • avatar
    SSJeep

    Aaaaaah yes, the BOF SUV, of which I have owned three (four if you count the Avalanche) and have seen them steadily improve over the years, but even at that I wouldnt buy another.

    The first was a mid-90s Yukon. It wasnt half bad, it had a leather interior and electronic 4WD. But other than the engine and trans, everything else was utter crap. Went through two alternators by 60k miles. The heated seats died at 30k, dealer said “dont put your knee into the seat and you wont break the heater!”…. I had never put my knee into the seat. The best part was making a panic stop in the Yukon. Panic stops would almost always result in the front rotors warping if done at highway speed and overall braking was atrocious. I was averaging 12-13mpg on that one. Leather seats looked like they had 200k miles on them at 50k.

    The Y2K Trailblazer was interesting – it wasnt the newer well known Trailblazer, it was an upscale trim level on the normal Blazer. Upscale in this case meant same leather seats as above, different colored plastic, and similar controls… I actually liked the 4.3L V6 in the Blazer and I kind of wish it was still around but updated for modern times.

    Unfortunately, the new BOF SUVs are entirely too expensive (dealer lot had Tahoes for 60k sticker and said they werent discounting them). The Infiniti QX80 is a whale of a BOF and belongs in an oil baron’s garage. The Ford Expedition wasnt much cheaper and certainly wasnt better. Fuel consumption is an issue on all of them. Parking in a metropolitan area is next to impossible with a BOF SUV.

    I loathe the current generations of CUV/Crossovers even more. They all look the same – literally, from the least expensive to the high end they look like rolling blobs with little in the name of exterior style. They dont save much gas when compared to the new BOF SUVs, and the Unibody construction leads to higher repair costs. The only differentiatior to me is the new Grand Cherokee which admittedly has some of its own issues.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    The big SUV’s going to boneyards is the law of supply and demand.

    There is over supply of used BOF SUV’s, but there is demand for parts to keep pickups running for business purposes. So, the pick and pulls go to auction and buy 99k mile big SUV’s to get valuable drive train parts.

    And, a working class family would rather get a used minivan, like a Nissan Quest, and not a 12 mpg Expedition.

    So, it is not “Shameful” at all to recycle car parts, and scrap the shells. It’s been going on since the Model T’s started to wear out.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I enjoy reading the comments regarding off roading and what attributes people find in the same or similar vehicles.

    The reality is most who buy these types of vehicles in the US and Australia use them to take the kids to school in and they are a sign of middle class success.

    Now, in the US and Australia a pickup in the driveway with the wife driving a CUV is a sign of middle class success.

    In Australia those 2WD SUVs and CUVs you have in the US are a relatively new phenomena. We used to only had 4×4 hi/lo range SUVs.

    Even when the XJ Cherokee was introduced here the base model was the 4 litre 4×4 Sports. It seems Jeep have been able to manufacture unit constructed 4×4 wagons quite well.

    On thing I’ve found so far. A full chassis 4×4 will normally outperform a unit constructed vehicle with a sub frame. But there are some exceptions, ie, Grand Cherokee/XJ Cherokee.

    This link contains a test of 4x4s traversing through Central Australia. This can be done by driving 1 000s of miles cross desert with no roads. We are fortunate in Australia to be able to test vehicles in these expeditionary conditions over vast distances.

    The vehicle that does dominate in the end is made by a manufacturer that I don’t have much regards for. But, credit must be given when due.

    I like Rover products.

    http://www.drive.com.au/new-car-comparison/outback-comparison-review-range-rover-v-mercedes-v-toyota-v-nissan-20130816-2s03i.html

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @J Emerson–Very well written and thought provoking article. The large body on frame SUV represents an era of excess which repeats itself in cycles. Where I live the Lincoln Navigator was a very common vehicle 10 years ago and now you hardly see them. Most SUV owners either leased them, took the excess money they mortgaged from over inflated values of their homes, or just created a business to buy these things (very generous tax write offs existed for businesses to write these truck based vehicles off). There will be a similar fate for the crew cab short bed full sized pickups with the luxury packages that are basically the same as these SUVs except instead of an enclosed rear they have a balcony instead.

  • avatar

    First, I think the argument that Millennials “learned” some kind of lesson from the BOF era is laughable. How many Millenials even have families to move around at this point? Especially Millennials born in 1990 (when the Explorer debuted) Maybe they’re not buying BOF suvs because they REALLY have no purpose for one… I’m guessing Millenials won’t be driving Fiat 500’s or Mini Coopers once they start having kids. No, they won’t be buying BOFs, but Millenials have much more options as almost all modern cars have ballooned to epic proportion in terms of size, legroom and cargo space. (see Carmy, Legacy, Accord)

    Second, I think the rise and fall of BOF is a result of several other factors besides Millenials being so much “better” than everyone else.

    Nanny State:
    – The government pushing child car safety seats led to more people using them and car seats that had a bigger footprint. The switch to rear facing seats also made car seats take up more space. Space that wasn’t really available in most 90’s sedans or wagons, especially if you had multiple kids in one car. Think 90’s Accords and Camry’s…. Additionally, as “mini” vans grew bigger and more powerful in the 90s they got worse mileage as the years went on and gas was cheap. Why not just get an SUV? Don’t get me started on “helicopter” parents contribution to the nannyfication of cars.

    – Passenger airbags. This effectively made it so no children could ride in front seats. I think this is really what killed the coupe. When kids could ride in front seats, mom could take a kid to school during weekdays and they could deal with the backseat during weekends with the whole family. This law put an end to that.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    SUVs are simply too expensive to continue on, the prices being asked for a vehicle that is so far removed from its namesake has no where to go but down. Seeing as how its no longer possible to buy a rugged SUV there’s no reason to expect sales to go anywhere. The SUV boom took off on rugged vehicles from the 80s and 90s with solid front axles and leaf springs in the rear, to say it was basically a truck with an enclosed bed would be an understatement. This is what the SUV boom took off from, unfortunately manufacturers aren’t especially bright, moving everything upscale was a complete oversight, it hurts the value of the model name and inevitably fails to increase sales. Then we have yuppies that believe 12-14 mpg is poor for a 2-3 ton brick with a torquey V8, gas mileage shouldn’t be a concern, if you can afford the vehicle 5k a year should be pocket change, no if ands or buts. Once we get past the MPG yuppies we have the people that somehow can’t manage a Tahoe or suburban down small streets or parallel park them, maybe they should consider a moped?
    Getting past the people that are all talk and can’t put their money to the solutions to their complaints, then there’s the rest of us, those who want/need the Utility in SUV who are completely devoid of any such vehicle.
    While I’m sure there were/are some imbeciles that are shortsighted/financially brain dead to buy a SUV when it is financially irresponsible to do so, to say gas prices killed the SUV is to only look at part of the situation, a fad came and SUVs rode that wave, unfortunately the real jewels are gone while the yuppymobiles stayed. Just as how minivans or CUVs or whatever they call those ugly potato looking things are doing now, so as did the SUV and personal luxury coupe will they crash and burn, only difference is they won’t have a following because manufacturers know the consumers are actually willing to buy throwaway cars in this day and age.

    But seriously with the gas prices and maneuverability everyone keeps mentioning, a European car will cost more in repairs each year then the cost of gas for a suburban. And maybe its because I’ve always driven large trucks but I can whip my H2 as easily as I can a Mazda 3.

    Large BOF SUVs are no more excessive then buying a car with an up sized engine or choosing leather over cloth, hate towards an inanimate object is silly and a good way to judge someones intelligence(or lack there of).

  • avatar
    koshchei

    Excellent article! Wonderfully written and excellent analysis.

    Sadly, today’s thinking is drowned out out by 4-year-dynasty political propaganda, rather than long-term non-partisan economic and social strategies intended to get us on our feet again.

    Ultimately, it’s much easier to put lipstick on a truck and sell the illusion of affluence than to create the real thing — particularly when career politicians are more interested in scoring points in the polls than delivering on campaign promises, and risk-adverse corporations are able to buy state indulgences (via enormous political contributions) in exchange for sheltering their obsolete business practices from legitimate competition.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “The CUV is one of Gen Y’s alternatives to the excesses of the BOF Era.”

    I completely disagree, these things are sold to older people for (1) seating position, (2) ease of entry, and (3) faux toughness. They are *not* an alternative inspired or spawned by the Me Me Me Generation. The “Y” generation by and large is not driving a newish car if they are driving at all, and if they are driving newish its typically on 84 month payment schedules or expensive “I gotta have it” leases. I purchased 2002 Saturn SL2 from a 24yo girl who just had to have a Subaru Crosstrek to plug her toys into (the kind of toys I can’t be sure). She was given this car with, get ready, 23,500 miles. Yes, this happened but that’s just not good enough for some of the crowd in Me Me Me (she really wanted a 3 series sedan from what she told me, but with AWD it was pushing the financial limit). I bought it with 30 for 3K which was more than the dealer offered on trade. Can you believe this s*it? Free 4cyl 25mpg car with *no miles* but thank you sir I’ll have some more debt on I think 72mo schedule from what her mum was telling me. “I really want BMW but I guess Subaru is ok for my first job out of school making 22K”.

    EDIT: To further illustrate my point, here are the mostly “Gen Y” women I have been involved with in the past year:

    Age: 23 Drives: 09 Fusion (paid off) | Wants: newish JGC
    Age: 24 Drives: 12 Cruze (lease) | Wants: newish JGC
    Age: 23 Drives: 07 HHR (paid off) | Wants: new F150
    Age: 25 Drives: 07 Impala (gift) | Wants: newish Tahoe or ideally Escalade
    Age: 31 Drives: 03 Blazer (gift) | Wants: new Camaro, will settle for newish GM pickup or newish Wrangler

    “We just don’t want the millstone of vehicles that are too cumbersome, too inflexible, and too inefficient to be an effective hedge against the future.”

    The irony being the SUV love it or hate it is a vehicle which could be used for purposes other than people hauling, and in an environmental twist, be passed on thus in theory negating the need to build more of them from a production standpoint and save resources (a car uses 31,362 Btus per pound to mfg per: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/08/cash-for-clunkers-the-environmental-cost-of-a-new-car/). They are tough enough where they could go through many owners and be rebuilt or repaired using pickup parts (as you yourself documented as junked SUVs keep pickups going). I’ve seen some Frankensteined vehicles, but other than the occasional GM H/W, DN101, and Civic/Accord, they have mostly been pickups or SUVs, the latter of which have towing, hauling, and off road uses beyond moving passengers. Prius, Volt, Golf, Hyundai 3 door whatever betamobile, these models have no other purpose than what they are designed for: basic people hauling. As much as I think hybrids have merit, small hybrids will never be used for more than relatively inefficient people hauling – Efficient for one to two people, not so much additional passengers. Try a ten hour road trip in a gen 2 Prius with four people + bags and tell me a minivan is not the more efficient choice (esp when I got 30mpg one way on a recent trip). Been there, done that with Prius, never again. Heck hatchbacks alone are inefficient in not being able to hide my stuff in a trunk. Can the Highlander hybrid do anything other than act as a pseudo minivan? I’m being serious, can it go off road like its cousin 4Runner? Can it tow like a Tacoma? I really don’t know but I imagine it cannot due the overall hybrid design nature. Small cars and exotic drive-trains have a place, but don’t inhale to much of your own fart thinking somehow that little 2WD ride is giving you any flexible hedge against the future. Hubris much?

    “The Millennials will go on to buy plenty of cars, but not by the pound.”

    I love the folks who make this remark, as if owning a comfortable vehicle or one with true versatility is a thoughtcrime. I say to those folks, unless you’re into MG or [true] BMW like driving dynamics there is no reason to own an artificially small car, period. I would love nothing more than a hybrid V8 mid 70s Cadillac Coupe de Ville, you know the ridiculously large one that came with a carb’d 500 and frequently appears with a “diamond on the back”. But yes I want it as a hybrid, even if it was just that fake hybrid with the specialized transmission GM was selling for awhile which Ronnie wrote an excellent article on the subject. Even a 500 with a fuel injection system added and a specialized transmission should be about to crank out 14 in town. I’ll be happy to hog the lane next to you as you sit in your NotSmart size ride, happy in the knowledge that I cruise big because I can. I truly hope that the under 30s wake up as they age, I see glimmers of hope in some of the women I date but then I hear things like this: “SUVs bad” notion when as recently as *eight* years ago every tenth word in a sentence was “SUV”.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    I feel bad for the SUV, it’s story should be turned into a VH1 special since in many ways its rise from obscure specialty vehicle to symbol of American excess parallels that of rock bands that have risen to the height of popularity and subsequently crashed into disgraced obscurity.

    Those of us who still have a need for the simple, rugged, do-everything vehicles that SUVs once were are left scratching our heads and wondering how it all went wrong. Why can’t we go back to the old days when SUVs were honest vehicles for those who have a need to transport people and cargo on and off-road? The sanitized, safe for the radio, Coldplay versions of once proud, capable vehicles that are foisted on us today will never be able to fill that void.

  • avatar
    radimus

    I was happily driving Chevy Caprices during the SUV craze and was non too happy with GM when they killed off that line so they could use the factory to crank out more Tahoes. Some years later, after finding that my towing and hauling needs had outclassed what minivans were capable of, I came upon a deal on a 97 Yukon with just under 80k miles and went for it. This was when gas prices started trending upwards before the crash and we basically got it for trade-in money. My family always had trucks and SUV’s when I was growing up. These were real trucks and SUV’s like a 1972 K20 Chevy pickup, a 1974 IH Scout II, and a 1980 Chevy Suburban. Each of which we drove into the ground or nearly did so. With that I knew what I was getting into with the Yukon, but I was dumbfounded by how so many people would purposefully buy these just as daily drivers. This Yukon was from back when GM was still using torsion bars up front and leaf springs in back, and the difference in the experience of driving one of these and your average car of the day was quite stark.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes, a lot of CUVs are sold to older people like my wife and me. We bought a new CRV last year because of easy of entry and to use as a retirement vehicle. We wanted something similar to a station wagon which basically does not exist. We do like the fact that it sits up a little higher and that the rear seat folds down increasing its utility We did not buy a Honda CRV for status.

  • avatar
    LuciferV8

    “Climate change *propaganda* became harder and harder to *ignore*.”

    There, I fixed it for you.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    “The 1957 Chevrolet looked a lot like the 1957 Cadillac”

    Harley Earl is spinning in his grave right now.


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