CUV's: A Tale of Two Parking Lots
Frisco is a bedroom community just north of Dallas. The Texas town is home to the Frisco Roughriders Double-A baseball team and an IKEA. If there isn’t an IKEA near you, wait ten minutes and check again. Meanwhile, in case you haven’t heard of this Swedish furnishings company, their massive stores combine excellent prices with trendy and efficient design. Need to furnish a 295 square foot living space on the cheap? IKEA is your answer. Need to survey the vehicular habits of the aspiring middle class? Their parking lot awaits.
As you might imagine, IKEA’s parking lot is filled with practical Japanese and stylish European transports. Yes, a few insensitive souls have the audacity to pick up their newly acquired furniture in an SUV or pick-up. But for the most part the Frisco IKEA parking lot is as politically correct as a Sierra Club picnic. This year’s Black Friday crowd was especially partial to Jetta TDI’s.
IKEA’s customers are the sort of trendy, informed suburban/urbanites who see SUV’s as rollover hazards and a danger to other vehicles. They believe that the bigger the vehicle, the more it embroils us in Iraq and the warmer the globe. While they appreciate the need to tow, tote and traverse the Texas outback, driving a great honking truck is not their thing. No way, no how.
Let’s motor on over to the northern fringe of Cow Town (otherwise known as Fort Worth, Texas). Here, where urban sprawl gives way to prairie grass land, you’ll find the “World’s Foremost Outfitter.” Cabela's is a gargantuan retail outlet catering to hunters, campers and anglers, selling everything from shotguns to camo socks. It’s part showroom, part aquarium and part Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
You're less like to encounter European performance sedans in Cabela's parking lot than vegans at the Spring Creek Barbeque. Nine of ten automobiles parked thereabouts are pickups or SUV’s: Ford F150’s, Dodge Durangos, Chevy Suburbans, Jeep Wranglers, Toyota Tundras, etc. Cabela is temporary home to trucks that know the feel of dirt deep in their treads and mud over their axles; vehicles that pull horse trailers, bass boats, ATV’s and haul hay. There are acres of them.
The psyche of the average Cabela’s patron hasn’t changed since [the first] President Roosevelt took the oath of office. They love the outdoors. Although trucks have replaced equine companions of yore, their owners' passion for animals and conservation is deep and hands-on (killing critters is part of the program). City folk who hate their big rigs confuse them. Life without a truck or SUV? Well that’s just plain ridiculous. What good are cars that can’t pull a stump or haul a cord of wood? They ain’t practical.
Worlds collide in the massive suburbs that separate IKEA and Cabela's. Neighborhoods have one foot in the rugged outdoorsy Cabela’s lifestyle, and the other resting comfortably on a chic IKEA Tylösand ottoman. A Ford Fusion sits just a driveway away from a Dodge Ram MegaCab. No wonder The Big Two Point Five are busy producing “soft-roaders” like the Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX, Saturn Outlook and Vue, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. It's their Panglossian attempt to build the best of all possible vehicles for the “average” consumer.
Buyers on the IKEA side of the equation aren’t giving crossovers (CUV’s) a free ride. They are not impressed by the genre’s incremental improvement in gas mileage and the imperceptible decrease in dimension. As far as they're concerned, a CUV is a more defensible choice than an SUV in the same sense that a “regular” Whopper is healthier than its triple stacked iteration. They continue to deride automakers for “forcing” (seducing?) consumers into large, inefficient vehicles that are bad for the environment and, frankly, their own chances of accident survival.
On the Cabela’s side of the equation, CUV’s aren’t real trucks. End of story.
It's true; CUV’s are neither fish nor fowl. They are both inefficient AND outback aversive. So who wants something that looks and quaffs like an SUV but can't do what a proper SUV or pickup can do? The same people who own SUV’s but never tow, haul or mud-plug. They're working class people who fell in love with the SUV’s elevated seating position and the feeling of safety that comes from piloting a vehicle with a whole lot of sheet metal. They're not ready to come off their high horse– just yet.
Or are they? The last two years have shown a dramatic relationship between soaring gasoline prices and withering SUV sales. Faster than changing environmental policy or fickle suburban fashion trends, pain at the pump is driving SUV refugees straight into the arms of manufacturers who've mastered the art of building small, fuel-efficient vehicles. American consumers are moving all the way from trucks to cars. Half-measure CUV’s won't save Motown from this inexorable migration.
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