Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Because Americans have the right to drive SUV's

FACT OR FICTION: SUVs are sexy and safe?

WTF is so sexy about a big box on wheels? Victoria Secret models are sexy, a Ferrari has sleek sexy styling but the styling of all SUVs is based on a box, just like a mini van! The only thing an SUV is suppose to have is 4x4 capability which is useless in urban settings and for the most part SUVs on the market lack a true low gearing ratio, solid axle and ladder frame, sliders, etc. necessary for true outback vehicles. The H2 has a number of features necessary for taking it into the bush, but it was built because marketers figured the tonka toy styling appealed to wanabe explorer soccer moms (or dads) who if really taken out into the bush would not last more than a day or two at most.

All too often I've seen SUVs on the interstate blast past me at 80+ MPH. If people want a fast, safe luxury ride there is nothing like a 700 series BMW blasting down the freeway at 100+ MPH (which is not even taxing the design), or for a more unpretentious ride try a Mercedes Benz station wagon. SUVs are not optimized for high speed cruising since they have barn door aerodynamics which results in poor fuel economy, a higher than average center of gravity which results in poor handling and on average blind spots behind an SUV is much larger than that of a car (which means there would result in a greater probability for an accident in an SUV).

As far as being safe, DOE researchers who performed a “risk analysis” using crash data from the Institute for Highway Safety, found that most passenger cars are safer than the average SUV or pickup truck when the risk posed to other drivers is taken into account, a figure the research call “combined risk.” Even the the safest SUV on the road the mammoth Chevy Suburban, is bested by much smaller Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. The safest vehicles of them all? Minivan and import luxury cars. The worst: full-size Chevy, Ford and Dodge pickup trucks.

So much for convention wisdom about big cars being safer than small cars. It should be noted that there is a wide disparity among small cars like the front-of-the-pack Jetta and Civic and the relatively risky Ford Escort and Dodge Neon, the bottom line is good vehicle design is more important that sheer mass in terms of occupant safety. The full report can be found at:

As an american I think we have the right to drive what ever, however I also think it is our responsibility to buy and utilize the most efficient vehicle available. From what I have observed in a great majority of cases the general class of vehicles called SUVs are poorly designed, over priced and under utilized. If an SUV is suppose to be able to be used in the bush, then why build a unibody (I’ve been in south america, central asia, etc., where a typical SUV with a unibody sold in the states would fall apart). In the bush, a person does not want leather seats, an automatic transmission, a gas engine or unibody construction (guess what, a majority of SUVs sold in the USA have these features). The simple truth is a majority of SUVs in the USA are used in urban settings. Because SUVs have barn door aero dynamics, less responsive handling and larger parking footprints, they seem like the wrong type of vehicle for daily urban use.

Lots of people drive SUVs in urban areas, but it seems most are in denial that SUVs are boxy inefficient vehicles, which are expensive to operate and insure and are potential accidents waiting to happen. As for reasons why manufacturers produce and market so many SUVs is, first since SUVs are classified as light trucks they escape most of the federal fuel and pollution standards that apply to passenger vehicles, second SUVs are exempted from testing for crash-worthiness and roll-over resistance, and third the profit margin on SUVs is much higher than typical autos.

"Are the best performers the biggest and heaviest vehicles on the road? Not at all. Among the safest cars are the midsize imports, like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. Or consider the extraordinary performance of some subcompacts, like the Volkswagen Jetta. Drivers of the tiny Jetta die at a rate of just forty-seven per million, which is in the same range as drivers of the five-thousand-pound Chevrolet Suburban and almost half that of popular S.U.V. models like the Ford Explorer or the GMC Jimmy. In a head-on crash, an Explorer or a Suburban would crush a Jetta or a Camry. But, clearly, the drivers of Camrys and Jettas are finding a way to avoid head-on crashes with Explorers and Suburbans. The benefits of being nimble--of being in an automobile that's capable of staying out of trouble--are in many cases greater than the benefits of being big."

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