The SUV saga....

I’ll just come right out and say it… I dislike these huge lumbering beasts. I’m not talking about the little Honda CeRViX or Jeep Wrangler (actually had one of these). I’m talking about the Ford Executioner and GMC Suburban Assault Vehicle. Why? Well, I’m what some would call an automobile enthusiast. I love to drive competent, well engineered sport sedans (of the Teutonic persuasion please…). Often you will find me driving rather quickly (but not in school zones) and I pay my speeding fines without complaining (much). I’ve got an accident free record dating back to when I first got my license, 20 years ago.

Many of my fellow enthusiasts have a full hate on for these SUV monster. They collectively observe (accross the US) that a great majority of the time these huge gas sucking beast are occupied by a single driver who is more often than not on the phone and is either puttering along in the left lane or leaning on their rear bumper. No actual census has been done to confirm their claims but looking around, I often observe the validity of their claims.

There have been plenty of studies showing that these trucks do not handle as well as an average sedan/coupe. Nor do they stop as well. On the whole, the large SUV is a danger to almost every car on the road because in an accident the sheer mass and elevated bumper height becomes a huge problem for all but similarly sized vehicles.

I’m not as vehemently opposed to these vehicles as some of my fellow enthusiasts but I have been the victim of a large tailgating truck on several occasions and when possible I prefer to give them room to pass instead of trying to match wits with the witless driver there-of. On the other hand, one does not always have room to move aside and it’s a very stressful ride with this behemoth on your tail.

My main objection to the SUV (of any size) is the limited visibility it affords me of traffic around and ahead of me. Following one in heavy traffic the SUV effectively blinds one from any clues about the traffic situation ahead. Following a sedan in a sedan, I can usually see 3-4 cars ahead and evaluate the changes of traffic motion much better.

I know that most people who drive in NA are not enthusiasts and many people buy an SUV because of the percieved notion of safety and utility the manufacturers have been pushing on the buyers. The truth of the matter is, a great majority of SUV’s on the road never go off road - a duty for which they are primarily designed. So why do people insist on buying these great big monsters when most of the time, an estate/wagon would do the job just as well? I’m not including trades people who use the trucks to haul equipment and supplies. I’m specifically wondering about the “soccer mom/dad” class of drivers who would be hard pressed to justify their vehicle choice beyond the highly questionable utility aspect of it.

The point I’m getting around to is, have the manufacturers been irresponsible for putting these large, fuel inefficient, arguably dangerous vehicles on the roads in such large numbers?

The manufacturers? No. They provide what the market will bear.

Have consumers been irresponsible for buying SUV’s like they were going to be Raptured tomorrow? IMO, absolutely yes.


I don’t think the manufacturers have been irresponsible, so much as the consumers have been irresponsible for responding to some irrational desire for big ugly vehicles. Partly, I think it was just a downside to the low price of fuel in the 1990s. With prices rising, those of us who drive moderately sized vehicles (the ones you can actually see over) are snickering shamelessly.

One thing I don’t understand - and I’m no fan of SUVs myself - is why so many people hate SUVs but seem to accept pickup trucks. Why? Do pickups handle better? Are they easier to see around (actually they are, I think, as long as they don’t have tops over their beds)? Better gas mileage?

I don’t know. I’ve never driven a pickup and only driven the smallest least truck-ish SUVs. Maybe pickups really are more sensible than SUVs, or maybe they have a tacit “grandfather exception” to our disdain of oversized vehicles. Sure, some people need pickups for their work, but I almost always see pickups with their beds empty, serving as nothing more than airbrakes.

I’m not sure I fully agree with that statement. I’m fairly certain that the majority of SUV drivers have not been sitting in their sedans just waiting until the automobile industry built the luxury SUV class for them. The SUV is a fad much like the current 70’s revival… though marginally more tastefull and long lasting.

I don’t think this was a case of “give the people what they want”. It’s more a case of creating a market and flooding it… Much like Pokemon and Beany Babies. People seem to do just fine without these things one minute, and they just can’t seem to live without them the next.

As for the pick-me-up. Though they used to be the work-horse of twin axle vehicles, they too have become trendy to the point where quite often I see them hauling around nothing but air and a smartly dressed yuppie (do we still call 'em that?) behind the wheel.

I want to believe that pick-ups still take more of an active roll in performing duties for which they are designed than the SUV. But that may just be wishful thinking now.

I think I’d have to agree with Quicksilver, in that it’s the chicken, not the egg, that came first. The chickens in Detroit laid this egg, and people are flocking (!) to it. The car manufacturers work 5 or 6 years ahead of time–even as we speak, they’re working on the designs for cars in the years 2005 and 2006. How could they have possibly known, back in the early 1980’s, that people were going to want SUVs? When was the first SUV introduced, anyway? Count 6 years back from that. That’s when it would have come into being on the drawing board.

I don’t know enough about automotive design to be able to track the evolution of the SUV, but I feel certain that it’s just the product of a shrewd guess by some designers somewhere.

I think Detroit produced something that, hey, just happened to be a hit the first time out, and they’re laughing all the way to the bank, just like the guy who so kindly brought Pokemon over from Japan. He just happened to hit a hot button, too, everybody wants his product, so he’s a success. It could have just as easily gone the other way–look at the Edsel, and Furbys, which were NOT the toy of choice for Christmas 1999.

Yeah, you’ve made good points. The auto industry does plan ahead, and use marketing to try and create demand. It’s just that I have rock-bottom expectations of what large corporations are going to try to do to make sales; my expectations of consumer wisdom are slightly higher.

New Coke didn’t sell; it was a sugary solution to a non-problem. Milli Vanilli was eventually regurgitated by the music-listening public.
There are other examples, and tons of counter-examples, but my point is, corporations are blind idiot gods, selling us a huge variety of stuff to the sounds of an unseen piper. It’s the consumer’s job, as an individual, to sift out the chaff and buy the good stuff. That way, the firms that sell crap will get regurgitated, and the ones that sell good stuff will get elevated. Certainly, that’s more prescription than description, but I can dream, can’t I?

I think it has more to do with the fact that a lot of people want the utility of having a large vehicle with a tailgate and lots of storage space, but don’t want the stigma of driving a station wagon. Until recent years, the minivan had that stigma as well. But now Minivans are pretty cool, and they are wildly popular.

As a person who owns a house and has a toddler, let me say that a vehicle of this type makes life a lot easier. Getting the kid into the back carseat in a small sedan can be an exercise in contortion, and my wife has hurt her back several times doing it.

We had a minivan on lease and turned it in about six months ago, and I can’t believe how much I miss it. Grocery shopping, buying stuff for the house, carrying computers to work, travelling on the highway with a lot of stuff… the minivan was ideal. Also, people like the driving experience of sitting up high in a big seat and having great visibility (I’ll agree that it comes at the expense of the visibility of the small vehicle drivers). We have a '95 Mustang as well, and I found myself choosing the Minivan over it for pure driving comfort.

So why choose an SUV over a minivan? Well, in the Northern States and Canada (where I live), that 4wd can come in handy after a blizzard, and we get blizzards all winter long. Also, a lot of people fool themselves into thinking that if they owned an SUV they WOULD offroad it. They have visions of become campers and fishermen. It’s a lifestyle product. However, they rarely follow through with it.

Finally there’s the ‘Macho’ appeal. A lot of young men with new families recognize the need for some sort of utility vehicle, but just won’t be caught dead in a minivan or a station wagon. But an SUV is tough, agressive, etc. Thus allowing them to keep the illusion of their youth while ferrying the kids around like every other domestic Dad.

So… I don’t think the car manufacturers created this need. It was always there. When the first ‘cool’ minivans came out, they sold like hotcakes. The dealers couldn’t keep them in stock. And this without any major ad campaigns.

This is wrong, SUV’s have been around since the 70’s. Chevy made the Suburban & Blazer, Ford made the Bronco & Jeep made the wagoneer.

American’s like big cars, when Detroit downsized it’s cars in the 80’s, people looked for an alternative, SUVs where there.
When the car companies realized people were buying these vehicles for basic transportation and not as work trucks, they added car amenities such as leather seats, stereos etc. the sales took off.

I know at least one family that decided to buy a new car, and limped along for two years, not finding what they wanted. When the Ford Expedition came out, they decided it was the one just from a newspaper article, and they bought it the next day.


Yes, but I believe that most people who drove them actually used them as utility/offroad vehicles.

That does not explain the high popularity of these trucks among the very young people. Drivers who were barely of driving age in the 80’s and had no need for a family hauler back then.

I don’t think the car companies did anything that clever. I have to agree with the opinion that this was simply a fluke find on their part. Don’t forget, marketing types are extremely clever and the public at large is often easily lead.

But my concern is not how they managed to market these vehicles so succefully, it’s whether they acted responsibly with respect to the safety issues surrounding these types of vehicles.

Also, I am not questioning their utility or the need many people have with regards to their off-road ability. I’m sure that some people can justify their need for them… but not in the quantities of SUV’s I see on the road. Don’t even get me started on the HUM-V! I’d love to here the justification for that bad boy…

Hey, I kind of always liked the idea of the civilanized HMMWV. Partly for the irony … isn’t AM General the same company (nee AMC) that made the Gremlin? Partly because, if I ever needed to mount an eight-round fully rotating Stinger missile launcher, I’d want to be able to pick up the vehicle with a minimum of hassle.

Seriously though, Hummers do seem like the ultimate in weirdness. Too wide for a lot of parking spaces; probably pretty cruddy gas mileage.

When were jeeps first sold to civilians? I’m just curious, because they’d probably be the first SUV, more or less, though they undoubtedly preceded the current fad by decades.

An anti-anti-SUV piece that appeared in The Wall Street Journal two years ago:

A thread on more or less came to the conclusion that the Chevy Suburban was the archetype. 1936, I think.


I’ve seen really old vehicles that look vaguely like modern SUVs – i.e., they look like a pick-up truck with a camper conversion roof on the back, except (A) the “conversion roof” is built out of steel and manufactured as part of the body, and (B) there was no wall or window separating the driver’s cab from the rear area.

I think they were called “utility vehicles”, without the “sport” prefix used on the modern ones.

The automakers are certainly partly to blame for the current SUV situation.

The automakers saw that they were selling record numbers of SUVs - but did nothing to address the obvious saftey concerns (like lowering SUV bumpers or reducing the mass of SUVs) until there was a fair bit of public outcry. In fact, I’ve seen some auto company spokespeople claim that the safety problem isn’t that SUVs are too big and heavy, it’s that all those little Japanese cars are too small and light. That’s bunk, and it’s not indicative of a very concerned attitude.

The automakers, if my memory serves, have a vested interest in selling more SUVs; SUVs are counted by the government as light trucks, and thus are not subject to as many regulations as passenger cars are. Specifically (if memory serves) they don’t count when tallying a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE), they don’t have much in the way of safety requirements, and they don’t have to meet the same emmisions standards as passenger cars.

So if the automakers can convert big-car fans to SUV fans, the fans can keep driving gas-guzzlers, the government will look the other way, and the auto maker’s CAFE numbers go up, without actually fixing any of the problems the CAFE rules were intended to fix, and indeed, causing some new ones.

Here’s a big-time conspiracy theory, not that I generally go in for them. Setting: 1985. Detroit sees that fuel effeciency is at an all time high and rising. Detroit sees that oil production is peaking and really will slow down some time soon. Detriot sees that cars are lasting longer and longer today, 10-15 years most of the time - that could dampen sales. Detroit sees an opportunity to create a sales boom: make sure that all of the cars sold for the next 35 years are gas-guzzling hogs. When oil prices finally start to go up for real, because oil really is running out, the sucker public will come to us to buy new, smaller cars in droves.

The direct descendants of the modern SUV are the Ford Bronco and Chevy Blazer, which were probably the first ‘offroad vehicles’ that sold a lot of units to city dwellers. The Jeep Cherokee was around then as well. The first generation Bronco and Blazer showed up I think around 1972 or so.

The reason these vehicles didn’t really take off then is simple: They sucked. They were mechanical nightmares, have the driving manners of a truck with knobby tires, few amenities, and were noisy and uncomfortable.

Here’s some more descendants:

Westchester Suburban 1933??
Chevy Suburban Carryall 1936
Dodge Power Wagon 1945? (even earlier–1934–not clear
when first ‘SUV’ model)
Ford and Willys Overland Jeeps 1941
Land-Rover 1948, inspired by Jeep[2]
Jeep CJ 1949?
Toyota Landcruiser (named in 1954) 1951
International Travel-All 1956?
International Scout 1961


The first SUV was the Chevy Suburban, called the Carry-all, in 1936. The Jeep Wagoneer
came out in 1963. The Ford Bronco in 1966, the Chevy Blazer 1972. These were the first.
In 1984 Jeep came out with the Cherokee, Ford had the Bronco II, I don’t know which year
but I believe 1983. Chevy had the (baby) Blazer in '86??, The first SUV were more utility
than sport. They were sold to farmers, contractors, oil companies and the like. I didn’t include
Jap vehicles because they don’t know how to develop anything. They just copy what someone
else has done. I have a 97 Wrangler, and the wife a 94 Grand Cherokee. She was hurt in a
low speed accident with a heavy truck while driving a piece of Jap Junk, so she’s very happy
with her Jeep. When I heard on the news that the auto makers are going to start making the
SUV more “collision safe” for small cars, I told her we would see about getting her a new one
before they do this. My next vehicle will be a Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Turbo Diesel. And my
Jeep goes offroad, it has the chassis scars to prove it. (wife won’t let me take hers)

I pity the fool that brings a knife to a gun fight.

I know there were lots of others that pre-date the Bronco and Blazer. But they were the first ones that you saw a lot in the hands of suburban commuters and other people with no real need for the off-road capabilities. You can throw the Jeep Wagoneer into this category too - I had forgotten about that one. But I don’t think it sold nearly as many units.

I would guess that most buyers of the Toyota Land Cruiser and Range Rovers were people with a significant need for an off-road vehicle.