When did we start calling them SUVs?

When did the term “SUV” enter into our vocabulary? IIRC, once upon a time, before the VCR, we had GMC Suburbans and Ford Broncos, etc… Funny, we used to call them Overland Vehicles. Why do we now call them Sport Utility Wagons? By the way, I just drove my SUV off-road…I drove on the shoulder! :wink:

  • Jinx

I can find a cite from a Chicago paper in 1991. By 1993, I can find newsper usage that wouldn indicate the reader knew what was being talked about.

That would be Sports Utility Vehicle, a Sports Utility Wagon would be a SUW.

samclem’s response seems to be about right. I was going to say 6 or 7 years ago, but certainly it could be a little more than that.

I hated the term then, and I still do.

I bought my 4WD Geo Tracker in 1990 and I’m pretty sure it was classified as a “Sport Utility Vehicle”, Not a car, not a truck.

I brought up this very question over a year ago.

Trucks came in three varieties: Pick-ups, Vans, and Something-in -Between. These jeep-like vehicles could not be called Jeeps without raising the ire of Willys-Overland/Kaiser/AMC/Chrysler.
So the term SUV for Sport/Utility vehicle was coined in the early to mid 80s.

Enola You’re correct that the vehicles were made in the early 1980’s. And I can find a cite from 1985 that refers to them as sports utility vehicle. What a search of the same database shows is that the term SUV only appears in print by 1991.

Of course, the term was probably coined somewhere inbetween. And a search of a better database could take it back closer to 1985.

Incidentally, he first appearence of the term “Sport Utility Vehicle” or “SUV” in the Google Usenet archive is dated May 26th, 1989 and can be found here.

I seem to remember them shortening “sport utility vehicle” to “sport-ute” in the automotive press, before finally settling on “SUV”. That was probably sometime in the mid-1990s. A new designation becoming popular is “crossover”, used to describe things like the Pontiac Vibe and Honda Element, that are basically tall station wagons.

-Andrew L

Man, why can’t we just call 'em “cars”?

Originally, I think it had to do with certain safety regulations that applied to cars that didn’t apply to pickup trucks.

For no reason in particular, can I just mention that in Australia they are called Four Wheel Drives, or more usually 4wd’s.

Kind of funny considering so many SUVs are two wheel drive.

Not here. We’d call call a two wheel drive a wagon or a ute.

So, this has confused me a little. I was always under the impression that an SUV was what we’d call a 4WD. We also have things called a ute, obviously short for utility, these are generally 2 seat cars with a flat back and are often 2WD.

In Australia, am I

Anyone else remember the Chevy Luv that first appeared in the early seventies? It was a cute play on “Light utility vehicle”

Because the US government officially calls them something else. They’ve got less restrictive rules concerning emissions and safety, because they’re technically supposed to be used by rough-and-tumble people throwing lumber and tools in the back as they drive off-road from workplace to workplace.

Of course, that just means the govt has its head up its ass seeing as that people actually drive to the mall and the office, but there’s nothing new there.

There might be a debate here, but I think the first “SUV” was the 1949 Willys Wagon with 4WD. Actually, the first ones were 2WD, but Willys added the 4WD and it was a very popular vehicle for people who needed the capability. Over the years these wagons from Willys/Kaiser/AMC/Chrysler/DaimlerChrysler, Cheverolet, International, Ford, et al were offered in both 2WD and 4WD versions. I think most people opted for 4WD, and they used them at construction sites, camping, “four wheeling” (as it was called then) and so forth.

When Jeep introduced the new Cherokee in 1984 we had a 4WD truck that was larger and more comfortable than the popular CJ-5 and CJ-7, and that was smaller than the Wagoneer. (Actually, there was an upscale Wagoneer that was just a Cherokee with a luxury package and cosmetic bits.)

Eventually people saw the utility of the Cherokees, Blazers and Broncos and more of them appeared on the road. They were “sexier” than the station wagons that were losing popularity at the time, and many people liked the 4WD for snowy days. (Of course, Jeep touted the 4WD capability all along in their advertising. There was one I remember that showed Mom and the Kids driving their Wagoneer through the snow, with some sexist-sounding text like “She’ll be safe in the snow” or something like that.)

At the same time mini-vans were becoming increasingly popular. They were roomier than station wagons. But there was a certain “macho” appeal to SUVs. Guys would rather their rides be “tough” than be seen as something mom would use to take the kids to soccer practice. So more SUVs started appearing. And then there was the Suzuki Samurai, which was “cuter” than the CJ-7 and a lot less expensive.

But as utility wagons migrated from the worksite or rugged outdoors, people found that they wanted the image of being a tough off-roader/camper/sportsman but didn’t want to pay for the expense of 4WD. As I mentioned there were always 2WD versions on the road, but 2WDs became more popular when “city folk” started choosing them over station wagons or mini-vans. Why pay for 4WD if you’re never going to use it?

So what we had was 4WD SUVs for people who needed the capability (or wanted the capability, or wanted people to think they needed it) and 2WDs for people who wanted to save a thousand bucks or so (and possibly an MPG or two). Since there was little obvious difference between 2WDs and 4WDs, it maked sense to call them all SUVs.

Nowadays we have Mercedes and Lincoln "SUV"s that would be in real trouble on a muddy track – assuming their owners would deign to drive on one. I’d assume that Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lincoln have 4WD versions, but I’ve never seen one. In my opinion they’re just to big to be useful on a trail. (Actually I’ve been in some tight places in my Cherokee, which is shorter than many sedans. Once I was going down a trail only to find a meter-high drop off at the end, and no way to get down. I had to back out the way I came.)

So that’s why there are many 2WD SUVs on the road. People don’t need 4WD or they don’t want to pay for it, automakers know they can sell more units if they offer a 2WD version, and luxury car makers know that their customers aren’t going to take their expensive vehicles into the bush.


I had wanted to say this earlier but ended up having to run out the door. Not completely relavent but worth noting that it seems a perfectly fine acronym already existed before SUV

“The Goonies” of 1985 had Chunk refer to them as ORV’s. Which of course led me to great confusion when people started calling them SUV’s several years later. Apparantly since their main function was no longer for going Off Road with them.