Monday, December 21, 2009


I was recently on a road trip to Chicago and something that struck me is the number of SUVs on the highway, and the way they’re all starting to look the same. Essentially they all look as if manufacturers started with the perfect SUV and then started trying to make it look like something out of a kids Christmas Hot Wheels kit. The Perfect SUV, of course, was the Jeep Cherokee which was manufactured up until 2001 in pretty much its original form. But then things sort of went off track. First manufacturers made them look like they had actually taken a full sized “blow up” Cherokee and just over inflated it giving it a much rounder appearance. Then they gave them a more car like hood and front end, like true SUV people WANT to drive something that looks like a car. Next someone in the design division decided that SUV people shouldn’t have the advantage of all that superior visibility (why should they want to see what’s going on around them) so they pinched the top and back down and made the windows smaller. To make up for the loss in interior space they just made them wider increasing the weight and power requirements.

This brings up another issue that amazes me somewhat, and that’s “size creep”. We all need to realize, that it takes years of design and development work to bring a new vehicle to market and then to change them to fit market demands. It just strikes me as interesting that nearly ALL of the compact SUVs that have come to market seem to be growing. The models are introduced and then, after the Jeep example, a “Grand” version is marketed which is invariably larger. Size does seem to matter sometimes. First it was the Explorer, then the Expedition, and the EXCURSION which of course came standard with a built in cell phone with the numbers of numerous “on the road’ gasoline tanker services already programmed into the speed dial. Who knew that gasoline would go to four bucks a gallon? And along the way, as they were getting bigger, they were getting nicer, more comfortable and complicated. Heated leather seats, individual DVD players for passengers, moon roofs so that you could SEE the great outdoors without actually exposing yourself to it.

So what people are driving now in models from Acura to Kia are not Sport Utility Vehicles anymore. Gone is the sport (who’s gonna take their Acura out in the woods?). Gone is the Utility (Who’s gonna throw a sheet of ¾ inch AD plywood on top of their Mercedes?) What we’re left with is just a vehicle. A BTSW (big tall station wagon)...... with lousy visibility and poor fuel economy at that. May as well call it what it is.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

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