The Uglification Of Our Highways

Sept. 7, 2000
Like it or not, SUVs seem to be here to stay

The next time you're driving on the highway, take a good look around you. And while cruising through neighborhood streets, check out what's parked in driveways. Chances are, the vehicle-du-jour will be an SUV of some sort. And perhaps you will even be driving one during this assignment. Like it or not, SUVs seem to be here to stay. Consequently, automakers are churning out variations of these vehicles each year to stay one step ahead of the fierce competition. Of course, at face value, this all makes perfect sense. Any successful business would build on an existing product if that's what the customer wanted. Remember mini-vans? And, considering the abundance of SUVs on the road today, that idea appears consistent with what the public craves.

But, in an attempt to be different, I think automakers are going overboard. Some of what will be appearing in car showrooms in the near future defy any sense of the conventional SUV. Bulging, oddshaped panels perch on the body and look uncannily similar to the space ships found on rerun episodes of "Lost in Space." Sport-utes and pickup trucks have mated, producing offspring best described as inbred.

So these vehicles have identity issues. Some have the powertrain, chassis, and suspension that matches their tough-looking exteriors. But others, while looking tough on the outside, are soft on the inside thanks to being built on a car platform. They look to me like a little boy trying, rather clumsily, to walk around in his father's size-12 shoes.

Also, in bending to the demands of consumers who insist (though they are driving a truck) that it have a "carlike" feel, the very essence of a truck has been siphoned away. An SUV is a truck, people! As such, it should be built on a truck platform. And while some tweaking to the suspension may soften the ride a bit to satisfy consumers who want it all, it shouldn't take away the very soul of the vehicle.

The feeding frenzy of SUV-hungry consumers have forced auto-makers to create these monstrosities. And, in the quest to make a buck, who can blame them? We need to take a good look in our vanity-lit mirrors (now standard equipment on a truck) to see who's really behind all this. And, while there will always be small, defiant groups (tree-huggers for those in the not-politically correct thinking mode) to whom SUVs are the root of all automotive evil, their voices are too tiny to be heard. No, it is Mr. and Mrs. Average Consumer who feed this fire. The record sales of SUVs back up this claim, forcing automakers to create yet another variation of what was once a truck.

So when another pseudo-SUV is born which causes the press and public to vehemently protest because of its odd shape, configuration or, heaven forbid, color, we need to place the blame where it belongs — with ourselves. Because if the American public didn't buy them, automakers would certainly not build them. The eventual uglification of our highways will be due to our own sometimes odd but insatiable appetites.

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