TCS Daily


Too Broad a Brush

By Brock Yates - January 16, 2003 12:00 AM

One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry about Arianna Huffington's two television spots equating driving an SUV to international terrorism. Ms. Huffington, the noted political philosopher, high-minded intellectual and Washington and L.A. party gadfly has created a group called the Detroit Project that intends to aid Americans in ending their addiction to these dreaded planetary predators. She also generated widespread guffaws over what is clearly one of the most naïve, dim-bulb TV campaigns since Ralph Nader's last presidential campaign.

The theme of the 30 second spots is simple; sport utilities consume inordinate amounts of fuel and therefore pour money into the coffers of all manner of Middle Eastern lunatics bent on destroying Western Civilization.

But we beg the question: what in the Hell is she talking about? What exactly is a sport utility vehicle? Surely the Army-inspired Hummer H1 is an SUV, what with its complete four-wheel-drive system and prodigious off-road capabilities. So too for hulking Chevrolet Suburbans, Range Rovers, etc. that are designed to work in the boonies as well as the suburbs.

But is she also referring to vehicles like the Lexus RX300, Honda CR-V or the new Nissan Murano, all of which are car-based "crossover" machines with only marginal off-road design functions? Or to the new Honda Element, a squared-up little multi-purpose recreational vehicle that like many of the newer, smaller so-called SUV's, will get over 25 miles to the gallon on the highway?

What we have here is a truly idiotic attempt to broad-brush an indictment of all passenger vehicles that happen to look like SUV's, i.e. tall, boxy, five door designs that may or may not have four-wheel drive (often optional), may or may not be capable of serious off-roading and are radically lighter, more nimble and more fuel-efficient than the few Jumbos that have become a paradigm for waste and conspicuous consumption.

Truth be know, the biggies in the class like the Cadillac Escalade, the new GM Hummer H2, the Mercedes-Benz G-wagon, etc. dominate a relatively small segment of the so-called SUV market - which now hovers over 30 percent. Moreover, these $60,000 plus machines, along with the Range Rover and BMW X5 4.6, are favored by the rockers, rappers, movie stars and other A-listers that illuminate the same glittery parties as Ms. Huffington.

They will also be the same crowd who are rushing into Porsche dealerships to be among the first customers for the upcoming Cayenne, the world's only 450 hp, 150 mph SUV.

So here we have Ms. Huffington joining up with the fundamentalist nuts who recently argued that Jesus Christ would not drive an SUV (although others have observed that as a carpenter, such a machine might serve him nicely in his trade or while navigating the Wilderness). She also allies herself with groups of eco-terrorists who have taken to burning new SUV's on dealer lots, presumably to prevent them from further rapine acts.

The entire issue descends into the absurd. Yes, the most egregious examples of the SUV ilk are too large, too heavy, too gluttonous to be called responsible. Yes, they are purchased for the most part as status symbols.

But SUV's are also viewed by consumer (and women in particular) as safe, functional devices for transporting people and all manner of stuff in normal, daily travel. Five million American car-buyers are not dupes who have been deluded by crafty corporate ad campaigns. They understand that the flexibility and safety of SUV's make sense (And forget the nonsense about rollovers and the latent danger quotient in SUV's. Since they became popular a decade ago, highway deaths have gone down an ever-increasing rate.)

A suggestion for Ms. Huffington and her elitists: Shut up and return immediately to the cocktail circuit where you belong.
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