From the Guardian Weekly May 28-June 3, 2004:
They’re conspicuous, incongruous and more than a little camp. They’re a badge of bourgeois status and a routine feature of the school run. For John Kerry, they have even become a campaign issue in the US election campaign. I am, of course, talking about the sports utility vehicle. These quasi-military cruisers not only litter our roads with their unsightly bulk and ludicrous pretensions, they also appear to be driven by insecure idiots - and that’s according to the market research of the companies that make them.
One piece of internal research, conducted by Chrysler in the US, pithily concluded that SUVs tend to be bought by people who are “insecure, vain, self-centred and nervous about their marriages and who lack confidence in their driving skills”. Fred Schaafsma, a chief engineer for GM, concurs, summarising the owner’s primary anxiety as being: “I wonder how people view me?”.
They may be heavy and rigid, but these monsters of the highway are not particularly safe. One of the more obvious concerns is an SUV’s high centre of gravity and its consequent instability. (SUVs are more than three times likely to roll over in a crash than a normal car.) Another concern is the poor visibility, ironically the direct result of manufacturers’ attempts to gratify their customers’ need to feel “concooned”, “high up” and “safe”.
Another reported cause of customers switching from more traditional vehicles was that “passers-by coult easily see inside their vehicles”. Chrysler promptly made the back window of the PT Cruiser smaller, thus allaying their customers’ fear of inwardly peering pedestrians - and reducing visibility. [Ray’s note: did anyone else notice that the window on the PT looks as though it should follow the shut lines of the hatch?]
SUV owners have become the objects of protest in the US, but perhaps the best way to reach the collective psyche is not to resort to shock tactics or vandalism, but simply appeal to their vanity.
Campaigners could, for instance, simply point out the fact that Ford’s SUV designers took their cues from seeing “fashionably dressed women wearing hiking boots while walking through expensive malls”. If geopolitical arguments and common road sense have no discernible impact on the SUV owner, perhaps pointing out the fashion gaffe will.