QOTD: Concerned About Consumption?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd concerned about consumption

An article from a reputable news website made the rounds yesterday, one which, as expected, raised an eyebrow of yours truly, to say nothing of other members of the TTAC crew.

It’s not without a strong argument, packaged though it is in the language of a sanctimonious scold eager to tick all the boxes required to draw viewers. The Great Circa 2014 Digital Media Template dies hard, at least in Twitterland. The piece itself is a little more tame. But beneath the broad brush strokes lies a question.

The article, I should mention, appeared in Vice, a publication which employed a Canadian editor recently sent to prison for turning his underpaid staff into drug mules. Coke’s a hell of a drug, man.

But I digress. The article, which doesn’t take as much delight — or somber glee, if such a thing exists — in calling more than half of the vehicle-driving population “assholes” as the social media sales pitch does, is all about our “culture of conspicuous overconsumption.”

In order to label the bulk of motorists as selfish pricks, the writer targets the original Hummer H1 and the reborn, yet-to-be-built GMC Hummer EV — a massive electric pickup possessing scads of power and, no doubt, a majorly hefty battery pack. Both vehicles are a symptom of our society’s affliction, the writer posits.

And he’s right. The H1 and even the emissions-free Hummer EV are indeed great wasters of resources. Of steel and aluminum, of energy through manufacturing processes, of fuel — be it diesel, gasoline, or the vast quantity of electrons needed to fill a battery pack capable of moving a hulking EV a distance palatable to U.S. consumers. The materials in that battery pack are finite. They must be mined, and three battery packs powering three smaller vehicles would be a better use of those resources, both from a conservation and a climate change standpoint.

Why the ire at the article, though? It’s not so much the article itself, as it is the reaction from commenters who neglected to read the word “big” in the headline, or just didn’t care. To some, drivers of almost-empty Suburbans and Hummers are just as guilty as those who drive any vehicle powered by fossil fuels. Look around the next time you’re behind the wheel, they say — you’ll likely see plenty of empty seats. At this moment, there’s too much capacity. You’re using more than you absolutely need.

When you ride alone, you ride with… well, you know.

Of course, SUVs are not all Hummer H1s. Most utility vehicles on the road these days are car-based crossovers with the same footprint as their parent sedan and, often, the same powertrain. A Mazda CX-3 and a Hyundai Venue are not SUVs by any stretch of the imagination, and topping 30 mpg on the combined cycle is no longer a jaw-dropping feat in this market. Yet many hear the term “SUV” and jump to conclusions about your vehicle, and with it your lifestyle and mindset.

“The electrification of the Hummer is not a signal of climate progress. It is a declaration that it’s still OK to be an asshole,” the author writes.

The thinking being that the mindset that created such demand for the original Hummers — wanting to be on top (of other cars, if necessary), antisocial, insulated from the world, superior — is still at play with the reborn Hummer EV, and that’s what’s holding back necessary change. It’s what’s keeping things big.

Disagree if you like. I’ll admit to getting my back up upon glancing at the Twitter Cole’s Notes, but I find it hard to argue that the desire to feel secure is a key driver of the light truck surge. Choice affords us the opportunity to drive what we want, income allowing, and the public has decided it likes a higher seating position and additional cargo space.

Are all of these drivers wrong, or just some? Should we all be in teardrop-shaped postwar bubble cars outfitted with electric motors and pedal generators, like some online eco-authoritarians want? Does it ever cross your mind that the capacity and capability of your vehicle, for the most part, exceeds the tasks it’s asked to perform?

[Images: General Motors]

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Feb 04, 2020

    When I came to US I was afraid to buy any big (read midsize) car with V6 because gas mileage was unusually low, much lower to what I used to in my country (like 7.0L/100km as an average). Also in US everything was disposable, people behaved as if they have access to unlimited resources. To come to term with all that I came up with a theory that America is a special country and normal rules do not apply to it. Call it the manifest destiny for US to lead the rest of the world to the future and to do that US is allowed to spend as much resources as it needs to facilitate progress for rest of mankind.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Feb 05, 2020

    Did I by accident go to streetsblog or one of the transportation alternatives nonsense sites ? They get SO worked up at SUV....it's fun to read sometimes. Best sized car depends on your world. Euros have tiny streets, shorter distances and expensive fuel. If you live in the Midwest, you have a graph paper road system with no curves and cheap gas. Living in a city/suburban area, and running a travelling salesman route for a long, long time, I found an SUV/full sized car a bit much for parking and travel in tight places. Going the other way to a Golf sized car...was a bit too small, for those long slogs on interstates. At the end, I found what euros consider a "large car", or we call a 3 series, C class sized car, was "just right". A touch more than an FWD box, but not so much as an SUV. There are always folks who will buy to annoy others...coal rolling anyone ? I see Bro-Dozers all the time that cost more than my sporty German car.... Oh, and I fully intend to get on every airplane I can, while I can. I'm not letting a few kids in Brooklyn tell me what I can and cannot do. They've already destroyed traffic flow in NYC with bike nonsense, signal changes, and parking removal...

  • Kcflyer on one hand it at least wont have dirty intake valves like Honda's entire lineup of direct injection ice vehicles. on the other hand a CRV offers more room, more range, faster fueling and lower price, hmm
  • Tassos BTW I thought this silly thing was always called the "Wienermobile".
  • Tassos I have a first cousin with same first and last name as my own, 17 years my junior even tho he is the son of my father's older brother, who has a summer home in the same country I do, and has bought a local A3 5-door hatch kinds thing, quite old by now.Last year he told me the thing broke down and he had to do major major repairs, replace the whole engine and other stuff, and had to rent a car for two weeks in a touristy location, and amazingly he paid more for the rental ( Euro1,500, or $1,650-$1,700) than for all the repairs, which of course were not done at the dealer (I doubt there was a dealer there anyway)
  • Tassos VW's EV program losses have already been horrific, and with (guess, Caveman!) the Berlin-Brandenburg Gigafactory growing by leaps and bounds, the future was already quite grim for VW and the VW Group.THis shutdown will not be so temporary.The German Government may have to reach in its deep pockets, no matter how much it hates to spend $, and bail it out."too big to fail"?
  • Billccm I had a 1980 TC3 Horizon and that car was as reliable as the sun. Underappreciated for sure.