Saturday, May 17, 2008

The New Face of Fuel Sucking Pigs

I don't watch much TV so this has probably been going on for some time but it is new to me. We were in our basement watching TV while the wife was borrowing my sewing machine to make some capris while I was doing some family budget work. Our son was climbing up the support post that is randomly placed in our living room. It was the sort of thing I would have done at his age.

Anyway, back to the TV. A commercial came on with two guys sitting in a fast food joint or something talking about this guy's SUV and how good it is, including good fuel consumption. A little tag in the corner of the screen advertised an amazing 20 miles per gallon (freeway)! What a let down! My wife's 12 year old pickup gets 18 mpg and a lot of that is city driving.

With rising gas prices the auto industry is now trying to sell their SUVs as economical when they are nothing of the sort. I think they are counting on people having driven their older SUV's for so long that they think that stepping up from 14 mpg to 20 mpg is a huge improvement. They hope that people have forgotten that in the eighties people drove little cars that got upper 30s easily and some into the 40s.

The FSP (Fuel Sucking Pig), as the hypermilers at like to call SUVs, are a terrible design for many reasons. I'll touch on just a few.

The SUV is overwhelmingly used to carry a single passenger, or a handful, seldom more than three or four people at a time, from point A to point B. That vehicle must carry itself in addition to it's passenger(s). The same people could be transported more economically in a small to mid-size car with room for up to 5 passengers.

The huge mass of the vehicle provides little to the ride other than reduced fuel economy and a false sense of security. Although good on passive crash safety, SUV's are too heavy to react to sudden events quickly and are less likely to avoid an accident altogether. Combine that with much higher rollover tendencies and you really have a lot less safety than you thought. In the middle ages, the knights and other nobles thought that more armor meant better protection. It reached such extremes that a knight needed a hoist to get on his horse. Peasant soldiers learned that to defeat such heavily armored foes, all they had to do was kill his horse (easier to do) and then attack him as he lay helpless on the ground. So much for more armor. An SUV is that overarmored overweight knight.

Am I against all big vehicles then? No. Just SUVs. For everything the SUV tries to do I can find a vehicle that does it better. Haul the family, the vacation gear, and the camper? Get an extended or crew cab truck. Haul lots of people? Get a van, mini-van, or micro-van. Haul a few people? Get a car. Get a single person from point A to point B? A small car, motorcycle, or scooter. Tow something or a carry a heavy load? The truck again.

As hybrid car sales continue to climb and SUV sales continue to decline, I think it is about time that Detroit starts reconsidering what it is trying to make and sell. The higher the gas prices get the smarter the average consumer will get. The manufacturers can either hop aboard or miss the train altogether.

...Hmm the train... Gotta take the family out to try the new Frontrunner commuter rail system that just started operation. It'll be fun.

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