Can we get by without big SUVs?
FiveCentNickel posted a commentary on GM’s announcement of a new hybrid system in their large SUVs, and questioned the value of such a system. I agree with his assessment that the extra $10,000 cost of such a system for a mere 40% gain (i.e. 19-20mpg city vs 13-14mpg) is not a value-add compared to what other manufacturers are offering, but I wanted to contribute some additional commentary.
Everyone questions the need for super SUVs like the Tahoe, Suburban, Escalade (and other variants), Expedition, Excursion (which is gone, but replaced by the Expedition EL), Durango/Aspen, and Hummer H2. Oh, and don’t forget the Toyota Sequoia/Lexus LX and Nissan Armada/Infiniti QX.
But with all this complaining about big SUVs, let’s look a little deeper into the need vs. want issue. I can attest that the large majority of big SUVs I see are driven by business women, apparent soccer moms, or wannabe thugs. This is in a city/suburb where 99% of these trucks will never see a dirt road that’s not a driveway, including my own Ridgeline. But can we really expect people who don’t NEED SUVs to stop buying them?
There’s a catch-22 in all of this. If soccer moms stopped buying these rigs and just rented when they needed them, most would never rent one. You would just have ranchers, off-roaders, the federal and state governments and police left to buy them, so the market has been cut significantly.
If automakers lose the economy of scale in manufacturing these beasts then the profit margin shrinks. Therefore, there is less incentive to sell SUVs, or they’ll increase the prices. Then most soccer moms won’t buy them because they’re too expensive, and the cycle continues. But what you have left is a demographic who needs the truck (albeit, only the basic model, not the luxury) for daily duties, but it has become unaffordable.
The question is whether ANYONE truly NEEDS a large SUV. Can ranchers just get by with a minivan, crossover, wagon, or truck? (most likely the truck). Do the feds really need to drive around in black Tahoes, or could they just get a minivan? (GASP!) How would you like to see Bush and Cheney hauled through D.C. in a Dodge Caravan?
Honestly, I don’t think we need big SUVs. Really, how often do you haul 8 people, all their luggage and a trailer or camper? Once a year for every 5,000 families? 10,000 families? I’ll bet about 5 of you have ever truly needed this much hauling capability in your adult life, and I’m sure it wasn’t every year. Could a smaller SUV or crossover have done the job? How about a minivan? Some of the new minivans actually compete in hauling capacity with the mid-size SUVs!
Overall, I think that marketers have done a great job in making us think we need a big SUV. Personally, I like a lot of arm and leg room. I’m sure my passengers wouldn’t want to be cramped or uncomfortable. But I don’t NEED an SUV. And I’ll bet that you don’t either. Heck, I don’t even need a truck, but that’s for another time.
What are your thoughts?