Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Of SUVs and Hot Road Treads

I am not in the camp that believes that all SUVs are inherently evil and that all hybrids are inherently good. Arrogant judgments based on a vehicle’s average mileage are fatuous, because the basis of judgment is very broad. Such judgments are based on a number of assumptions which may or may not be true, and they ignore other factors that may be more significant than average mileage.

For example, families making vehicle purchasing decisions need to consider per person miles per gallon. An SUV with six people in it often gets better mileage per person than does a hybrid with one or two people in it. Supporters of public transportation make this same kind of argument all of the time. Why should it not extend to private transportation?

Depending on the trip being made, a single person driving a personal vehicle may provide the best per person mileage for that trip. Time is also a valuable commodity that must go into personal transportation decisions. Most people make transportation decisions based on overall transportation needs, rather than needs for a specific trip.

Few people are well enough off to buy a fleet of vehicles that will provide them with enough options to always drive the optimal vehicle for any given transportation need. So people get a vehicle that attempts to strike a balance, with the effect that a single person occasionally ends up driving a seven-passenger SUV. Does that make the person’s choice evil?

While I appreciate beauty, I am kind of a utilitarian person. An innate sense makes me believe that something generally needs to serve a functional purpose to have worth. I find, however, that there are all kinds of exceptions to this basic rule. But when something violates this basic rule to the point of exceeding the boundaries of common sense, I often need someone or something to help me overcome the perceived dissonance. Unless and until that happens, I necessarily conclude that the element in question embodies absurdity.

Today’s question comes as I have noted a proliferation of four-wheel-drive SUVs (built on truck chassis) running around town that have fancy street rims and high performance street (or even racing) tires. In my mind, a 4WD SUV with fancy street tires violates the principles of common sense. If you need me to explain why this is so, you should quit reading this and go back to reading your latest edition of People Magazine.

Is there anyone out there that can explain the phenomenon of 4WD truck-base vehicles with street rims and tires (especially in northern Utah, which has an environment that seems particularly unfriendly to such vehicle gear)? To me, this seems to contradict reason.


Cameron said...

Hurray! I wholeheartedly agree. I was at a work Christmas party a few years back and a lady at our table started talking about the evils of big vehicles. She said that when she was younger she rode a bike, and when she had her child she just put the kid on the bike with her. I wanted to ask what she would have done with two kids, or even (gasp!) three kids. But I was too young and quiet to speak up. I wish I would have. Even better was when she started to rationalize her now owning a full size truck because they needed it to go camping.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite subjects, as you know... :)

your thuoghts about per person mileage are interesting... but you ahve to remember that these are not the factors that spur these purchasing decisions by and large. It's about the "look at me" factor. In reality, the back seats of these vehicles are in pristine condition. Go figure.

You almost NEVER see these trucks/suvs with more than one occupant. Is it worth having, for the sake of that one day a week when all the kids need to be ferried to the church? or wherever else. Don't mean to imply that these are all LDS folks, because that's not correct, but it's just the example I chose.

It's too easy to get them financed, and gas prices aren't painful enough to discourage the WOW factor. Simple as that.

Anecdotally, a person who works here in the same building I do has been driving a hummer for a week, WITHOUT THE FINANCING HAVING BEEN WORKED OUT AND CLOSED!

They're desperate to unload thse vehicles now. And people are willing.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Perhaps that's what you see in your travels, but it's not what I see in the areas I frequent. Usually there are multiple passengers, unless a mom is on her way home from dropping the kids off at school.

But I still haven't found anyone that can explain to me why people drive around in northern Utah in 4WD truck-base SUVs with racing tires.

I first saw one of these in my town about two years ago, but lately I have seen many more. It's a very small percentage of those that run around town, but I still don't understand why I see any at all.

Anonymous said...

All of my city friends criticize me for my SUV. But I shopped to find the best mileage vehicle at the time (BMW X5) and I get 22 m.p.h. I need it for work and I don't drive much except for that (I work out of my house). I own a hand powered mower instead of gas which is more polluting than a car. Nothing is inherently evil. It's all how you use it.