For quite a while, SUVs break one sales record after another. A type of vehicle that does not seem to fit in our time at all. Compact, fuel-efficient cars are out of fashion.
But why are SUVs so damn popular? Why in heaven’s name people all over the world are buying ever larger cars with ever stronger (and thirstier) engines, when many roads are already congested and parking is scarce? And how does that fit in with the insight that we need to massively reduce our CO2 emissions to save our climate?
It would be easy to run SUV bashing for a complete blog article. But confrontation and demarcation does not help to solve the problem. Therefore, I try the almost impossible: Approaching the thinking and feeling of the common SUV driver.
A question of character
Let’s try to get closer to the SUV boom by the name: SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. A name as clunky as the product itself. What these huge metal crates should have to do with sports, does not really open to me. Maybe it has to do with the off-road capability? Oh no, a majority of SUVs has no four-wheel drive – and no trailer hitch. So, what remains is the increased seating position as a practical advantage over a conventional station wagon. But there must be more?
Let’s keep it clear: The name does not help us to get any further. Maybe it’s this American Way of Life thing again? Admittedly, in recent years, the USA have lost their role model function on various political fields. But nevertheless, the American lifestyle is still en vogue for many people around the world.
At first glance, the matter seems clear: While understatement is popular elsewhere, SUVs are – above all – swank and fake. Immediately, small dicks and other inferiority complexes come to my mind. It seems crazy to use a huge, pseudo-off-road fuel guzzler to cruise to the next natural foods store.
Safety and Social Status
But wait, I did not mean to bash. So what benefits do SUVs really have compared to other car types? Probably the feeling of safety on the one hand: isolated from the surrounding traffic – a bit like in a tank. This undoubtedly has advantages in the event of an accident: If you collide with an SUV, you should not sit in a small car if possible, but – at best – in an SUV as well. So, at least, you crash at eye level. Or maybe it’s more a feeling of safety in the figurative sense: “The world is getting rougher and more insecure, but in my SUV nobody can harm me.” Hm, sounds plausible.
And still: Your own car as a status symbol. As an expression of a certain attitude to life. Look what I can afford. Look what I am. My SUV is bigger, heavier, more expensive than my neighbor’s and my colleague’s. I was probably too naive to believe that such macho comparisons rest on the junkyard of last millennium clichés.
On the contrary: SUVs are also very popular with women. Especially mothers obviously appreciate the feeling of safety and protection. In general, SUVs work across generations, as you can observe on the road every day: While seniors probably like the comfortable boarding and the increased seating position, younger people appreciate the supposedly “sporty” look and strong motors.
SUV Driving is the New Smoking
At first glance, the comparison with the tobacco industry lags quite a bit, but the parallels are astonishing: Like smoking, SUV driving is also marketed as a symbol of coolness and freedom. Ads show us SUVs in the vastness of a desert, in the mountains, on the banks of a raging river. They make us addicted to bigger and bigger cars that are superior to those of our neighbors. Fraudulent corporations deny or understate the fatal consequences of nicotine … er SUV driving. It’s like passive smoking: With an SUV, you not only kill your own health uh climate, but that of your fellow man at the same time. No matter if they go by bike or bus all the time. So, first of all, SUV driving is highly ignorant, self-centered, and simply antisocial.
But fortunately, the clever car industry already is already working on a solution for this dilemma: the motorized counterpart to the e-cigarette – the e-SUV. Already during production, these vehicles use so much energy that they will never be able to compensate for this in their entire lifetime. And why does the European car industry – in contrast to Asian manufacturers – prefer the electric drive to hydrogen power? More in a later blog post.
From the 3-Liter Car to the 3-Liter Car
In the late 1990s, there was a completely opposite trend: small, streamlined cars, sufficiently agile for city traffic, culminating in the so-called 3-liter car. Today’s flagships of the “premium manufacturers” are miles away from this benchmark. Okay, there are 3-liter cars today as well – namely those with 3 liters of displacement.
I own a small 75hp car, built in 2001. Most of the time, it stands in front of the house. But when I use it once in a while, I feel ashamed. Not because the car is old and – uh – yellow. No, but because it increases my CO2 footprint. This makes me think: Knowing the fatal consequences, how can you buy an SUV with good conscience? A car that weighs and consumes about three times more than necessary? Okay, maybe if you are a childless Best Ager with devil-may-care attitude. But as a mother or father? How can you explain it to your kids? “Dear children, we are so sorry that we knowingly destroy your future. But at least, you get to football training safely and comfortably!”
It sounds like a paradox: I believe that many SUV drivers consider themselves environmentally conscious people. They shop in the natural foods store and eat little meat. But they are still not willing to do without classic status symbols and change their consumer behavior for the benefit of their children. Or they just do not (want to) realize what they are doing. It is so tragic – a ridiculous metal crate lets us switch off any reason and conscience. Free ride for free people- with full throttle against the wall.
SUVs perfectly reflect the spirit of our time: they are an art product, fake, with no real functional added value, but with maximum show effect. Pseudo off-road vehicles for city traffic and highways. Once again, the car industry marketing perfectly knows how to address our emotions. And so we buy products that make us feel superior and protected, always well adapted to the mainstream.
But can we really afford this any longer? Shouldn’t we rather decide rationally when it comes to the future of our children?
I’m sorry, but my experiment has failed. Somehow, I can understand what people expect from buying an SUV. But these arguments do not convince me in any way. We all have a responsibility to future generations, for our own children und grandchildren. And we should face that responsibility instead of falling for ridiculous promises.
Of course, SUVs are not the only threat to our climate – fossil-powered car traffic as a whole is bad, flying is even worse, coal combustion and industrial livestock farming, too. But to see that educated people, facing these huge challenges, still decide to buy another f*#@ing SUV, leaves me stunned.
For German readers: The German version of this post.