SUV Lovers: Welcome Back!
I first noticed the trend in about eighth grade: Moms trading their lumbering station wagons for one of those newfangled minivans. It was a slight move upwards on the handling and visibility front and a huge step forward in the space-is-the- final-frontier front. Equally important, the minivan maintained the traditional segregation between Mom and Dad-mobiles. But Dad’s world was changing too, and not for the better.
Almost overnight, the car guy thing morphed from muscle car / urban sophisticate to Marlboro man. Broncos and Blazers and big ass Suburbans weren’t a new idea, of course. You could see vehicles sort of like them plying the grasslands of Africa every Sunday on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But suddenly, every high-school badass in Michigan was giving up his Buick Regal for a GMC Jimmy, exchanging the lure of the open road for the equally fantastic lure of the off-road.
At the time, I couldn’t fathom it. Looking back some 20-odd years later, I still don’t. Even the modest work-a-day pickup truck became a gotta-have for both blue-collar guys and white-collar weekend wannabes. It was… grotesque. But, hey, I’m all about freedom of choice. If you’re a pretentious poser who wants to clutter your driveway with an oversized 4X4 that’ll never see anything but asphalt, that’s your call. I won’t stand on the sidewalk and cheer as you drive by, but I won’t preach to you about rollover statistics and fuel-efficiency either. At least not much.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed a welcome trend. As little as three years ago, I’d have trouble finding a parking space at work. I simply couldn’t see past the rows of trucks and SUV’s to find an open spot. And when I did find one, the bloated haunches of some Durango or Yukon XL spilled over the lines of adjacent spaces, rendering the spot unusable. Likewise, I had trouble enjoying what little scenery accompanied my daily commute. My view was blocked by the aggressive, trail-rated grocery mules clogging up the traffic lanes and monopolizing my rear-view mirror.
The vehicles they are a changing. As I peer out my office window today, the automotive population below is strikingly different. There are still a couple Trailblazers, a Durango, an F-150 and a Buick Rendezvous. But the majority of spaces are occupied by real cars: coupes and sedans and pony cars. Impalas, 300’s, Passats and Mustangs. Practically overnight, we have gone from a society that ‘needed’ the hulking, overwrought, extra-capacity vehicles that matched our hulking, overwrought, capacity-hogging lifestyles, to a society that seems to get along fine with average-size cars.
Anyone who looked at the situation objectively could have seen it coming (though they might not have wanted to admit it). I mean, it’s nice to have a big vehicle with the power to pull a boat, the space for a few sheets of ply-wood or a third row for that fourth kid. But I’d been paying attention all those years, and I saw what most of these SUV/truck/van people were hauling each day: nothing. I would walk through parking lots and see endless rows of pick-ups with nothing in the bed but sandbags for added traction in the winter. What a waste.
At some point, thankfully, the 20-year SUV trend literally ran out of gas. Obviously, money had a lot to do with it. The post-Katrina gas price spike impaled itself in the heart of Middle America, causing a vicious vehicular circle of desperation and depreciation. The implicit freedom of owning an SUV quickly became the explicit slavery of not being able to sell it, and the financial tyranny of feeding its tank. No money down doesn’t look as good when you become a de facto mortgagee to Exxon.
I like to think that the SUV’s declining popularity is more than that. I like to think the craze was a temporary aberration, a collective failure of common sense and personal responsibility. In that sense, I also want to believe that Americans saw the war in Iraq and felt the need to make some kind of sacrifice on the home front. But I suspect there are other, less moral forces at play.
Clearly, bling killed the SUV on the cultural level. When playas re-equipped their behemoths for “stunting and flossing,” they revealed the Emperor’s new clothes. What’s a Navigator with 22” wheels and low profile tires have to do with the romantic allure of fording streams and climbing hills? The same thing as a Navigator with 18” wheels and all-season tires. Nothing. Once you see the absurdity, there’s no going back.
Whatever the cause, I’m delighted to see cars replace SUV’s. I like living in a world where I’m not swimming in a sea of wretched excess. From those of us who never got caught up in SUV craze, welcome back.
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- Corey Lewis It was long overdue for a replacement or something, but additionally the Compass and Renegade are both so similar there doesn't seem to be a need for such overlap.
- CoastieLenn Stellantis gonna stellant. Isn't the Compass similarly sized? How is there a hole in the lineup? Seems to me that they had one two many entrants in the compact crossover segment- being the Cherokee and the Compass. The Renegade takes the sub-compact segment, the Grand Cherokee takes the midsize segment (even though it doesn't have third row seating), and the Wagoneer takes the full sized segment. I really want a nice Cherokee Trailhawk V6, but I can never see myself actually buying one because of the litany of documented issues with basically everything in the Dodge/Jeep/Ram inventory. Their current electrical gremlin trajectory rivals that of VW/Audi, but nearly as expensive to repair.
- MaintenanceCosts Washington Highway 410 over Cayuse and Chinook Passes, in the shadow of Mount Rainier.Grand St. Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy, close to the Mont Blanc massif.Colorado 82 over Independence Pass. Highest I've ever been in a car.Skyline Drive in Virginia.California Highway 1 from Monterey to Santa Barbara.A million little unnumbered roads in the German Black Forest, more satisfying at 100 km/h than the Autobahn is at 250.
- Kendahl US 60 between Show Low and Globe, Arizona. It's especially fun in the switchbacks on both sides of the Salt River canyon.
- Arthur Dailey What give with this site? I know that I posted a comment. The site says that there are 12 comments. But when I click on the 'see more' button it resets to say that there are 11 comments and I can't see mine. I am not that egotistical as to believe that my comments are important. But that makes me wonder if others are also having their comments 'erased'.
I was reminded ofanother reason to hate SUVs and senselessly oversized pickups today - the b*st*rds that buy them often don't know how to park them. I encountered two of them taking up two parking spaces each today at the mall. Nino - power is traded across the country all the time, now, whenever it can be sold at a profit or purchased cheaper than it would cost to generate. Nuclear power is usually more of a baseload power source (runs all the time) and is less likely to be traded during peak times when prices are highest. Peak power is usually supplied by more expensive sources which can be brough on-line in a hurry and shut off quickly Nukes don't lend themselves to that sort of thing, since their incremental cost to operate is usually low.
I agree with the observations of this editorial but I find it interesting that you never see similar editorials about sports cars. When you have certain design parameters, other factors will have to suffer. Designing a vehicle to tow, carry from zero pounds to 2 tons as cargo, go off road etc. will of course compromise gas mileage, handling on road, propensity to roll over. Designing a sports car to accelerate quickly, go around corners fast will hurt gas mileage, ability to carry stuff and drive in the snow. My point is that sport car drivers probably only ever goose the throttle or take an on ramp fast thus utilizing about as much of their car's optimized ability as a common SUV driver may use of theirs. But, you never see an automotive journalist panning sports cars because they are what they "dig". I imagine people that dig trucks get a good feeling just driving around in their trucks whether they need them or not. Most sports cars never see a track but even the most pathetic pick-up owner probably occasionally gets a piece of plywood or helps a friend move. Ok, I know there hasn't been a sports car revolution like there was an SUV revolution but if we were all practical we would be driving camrys. The fact that we used to get by with less, well we used to only have horses and got by.