Thursday, August 17, 2006
SUV's Should Be Transparent
- They get lousy mileage and deplete our dwindling oil supply.
- They pollute horribly.
- They contribute to global warming, both directly (emissions) and indirectly (gas mileage).
- They're tall and opaque, causing severe visibility problems for everyone else on the road.
- They're often driven by overentitled yuppie assholes.
- Minivans are better for carrying passengers and cargo, and they're safer.
- They don't help the safety of their drivers, and they endanger everyone else.
Other than the yuppie assholes part, I couldn't agree more. (I'm actually worried that as more used SUV's come on the market, we'll see them driven by 17 year olds. I'd prefer the yuppies.) In fact, I'll pile on some more.
- They cause severe visibility hazards in parking lots. I drive a compact car. When I come out of a store to find my car flanked by SUV's, I know that backing out of the parking space will be an adventure. Short of a periscope, there's no safe way to do it. I say, make the damn things transparent, or don't make them at all.
- They instill false confidence. Do you know how much 4WD helps with braking on snow or ice? None. Zero. Zip. 4WD helps with acceleration in mud. It does absolutely nothing to help you stop. That's why you see so many SUV's in ditches by the side of the road every time it snows. I have passed many a stranded Grand Cherokee in my little sedan over the years.
- As Keith Bradsher noted in his excellent High and Mighty, SUV's are generally the worst-built, least-reliable vehicles on the road. (This year's Consumer Reports auto issue reveals that this is still true.) They are the bastard children of regulatory loopholes and anthropologists gone bad.
- By becoming the Manly Alternative to minivans and station wagons, they've stigmatized minivans and station wagons. Now if you have more than two kids or you carry lots of stuff, you have to choose between an SUV and feeling like Pretty Polly Sunshine in her flowered dress.
One of the highlights of recent months occurred when I stopped for gas. When I pulled in, there was a Ford Excursion fueling up at the pump in front of mine. As I drove away, it was still fueling up. At three dollars a gallon, that has to hurt. Am I proud of chuckling “you dumb bastard” as I drove off? A little.
SUV's are textbook examples of what Thorstein Veblen called “honorific waste.” Their profligacy is precisely their appeal. Driving an Escalade sends the message that you're so ridiculously successful and important that you can afford to drive what amounts to a financial tapeworm. Frugality is for losers. Your vanity is far more important than, say, other people's ability to see. Let others worry about global warming and world peace and their fellow man; you're King of the Road, above such petty concerns. They're pop Nietzscheanism, which is almost the epitome of Bad Ideas.
I've never been much of a fan of pickup trucks, either, since I'm old enough to remember when they were the vanity vehicles of choice. But at least pickup trucks are easier to see around when you're pulling out of a parking space, and they're inarguably useful for certain applications (like hauling stuff).
If you live in a mostly-paved part of the country, I can't think of a single application (other than phallic symbol) for which SUV's are better suited than anything else.
Hummers are the expandio ad absurdum of SUV's. They're almost comical. I honestly worry about the psychological states of their drivers. If you aren't barreling over sand dunes with a howitzer, you have no business driving one of these. I call them Compensators. They scream to the world, “I have issues!” And they suck gas like it's going out of style, which, in a way, it is.
A very wise person once shared something with me. She said that houses appreciate, and cars depreciate. Therefore, it's okay to stretch when buying a house, but you don't want to spend too much on a car. (Exceptions exist at the extremes, but I'm talking about the middle class. This was also before the latest housing bubble, which is finally deflating.) The older I get, the more convinced I am that this is a good rule. When I see forty-thousand-dollar SUV's in apartment complex parking lots, I can't help but wonder.
Ford makes a hybrid SUV, which, to me, is like a lowfat twinkie. It's a gesture that says “if you really cared, you wouldn't buy this in the first place.” Honda makes a hybrid Civic. Ford is losing money and market share precipitously. Honda is gaining ground. It's almost as if 'cause' is somehow connected to 'effect.' I know that Detroit has never been great about connecting the dots, but sheesh.
Thanks, Orange, for the chance to second a fine rant.
I think there's an analogy here with evolution in the mesozoic. Dinosaurs got into a feedback loop of increasing size and armour, and mammals rarely grew much bigger than a cat, because it paid to remain inconspicuous to the dinosaurs. But when the planet was hit by an asteroid/the housing bubble burst, the dinosaurs were unable to adapt/the SUV owners ran out of liquidity, and the mammals/Priuses inherited the earth.
I couldn't agree more with the sentiment, though I would suggest that they are the market's response to inherently flawed regulatory policies. Bad regulations led to bad information about consumer preferences, which led to very bad decisions in Detroit, a place not know for clear thinking anyway.
The word "loophole" implies a mistake or oversight was made by regulators, but that is never the case, all loopholes are deliberate.
As a former owner of a series of station wagons, I miss having that choice.
BTW, I've heard that one reason for SUV's enduring popularity among women who've tried them is that they much prefer driving higher on the road, which improves their vision. At everyone else's expensse, as you point out.
Once it became clear that light trucks were being marketed to consumers, then the car companies started weighing in with heavy lobbying to keep the loophole, and to keep import restrictions (which is why the Japanese took so long to enter the SUV market in any meaningful way). But the initial opening was a mistake.
I don't disagree that regulators can be corrupted; I just think they can also goof.
The 'arms race' analogy is spot-on. I remember once talking to a student after class, and mentioning my dislike of SUV's on the grounds that I can't see around them. He responded that I needed to get an even bigger one so I could see. I was actually frightened by his reasoning.
I drive a Prius. You can't imagine the glee when I get lucky enough to be gassing up next to an Escalade. And both of us know that I won't be back to the pump anytime in the next two weeks. My Prius scores big big Yuppie upscale urban cool points too. I can't lose.
I can. Namely, pulling a boat or other heavy trailer, when you are likely to have several people in the car.
A minivan has the passenger capacity, but not the oomph to pull (or mass and brakes to stop, even more importantly) a decent-sized boat. A pickup has the power, but not the passenger capacity. What you want is a minivan on a truck chassis: i.e., an SUV.
Currently, we have two fairly virtuous vehicles (a Honda Accord and a Hyundai Elantra). In general, I sure do appreciate the ease of parking, agility and good gas mileage. However, there are times when we miss our old Dodge Durango.
I do agree about the visibility problem if you're in a "short" car, though.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
I salute you, sir: I thought I could always agree with someone arguing against SUVs. You have managed to hit on an argument for which I have no sympathy.
1. Standardize bumper heights so SUV bumpers don't come in through car windows.
2. Require SUVs to achieve the same crash ratings that cars must.
3. Require car dealers to get a signature from buyers, "I have read the following statistics that show that SUVs are less safe in every way..."
I'd LOVE for SUVs to be transparant. And so many of them aren't only tall, but have dark windows to make the problem worse.
AWD doesn't help with braking, but does give you a bit more stability driving in snow and such. Happily, AWD is available on lots of saner cars these days.
we used to own an '88 corolla, which I loved, partially because it was small and I felt like I could see all its edges. but wow, driving around SUV's was super-scary. (now we have a Kia Spectra.)
also, I was really hoping that the future was going to be full of sleek little scifi cars, and I'm just as disappointed about that as the lack of jetpacks and moon colonies. maybe even more so!
The extended period in which diligent parents are supposed to keep their kids in some form of car seats necessitates the existence of minivans for those of us with more than 2 kids, and we do have one (a Honda), but that will go too as soon as the kids can sit directly on the seat.
I had a prof once who walked up to a woman in a parking lot of a relatively posh town center. He asked her why she was driving a Hummer in a town center. Her answer? "Ummm, I paid for it."
That should tell you the kind of person who drives a Hummer. Off-roading? Ha!
I've known loopholes and I've known anthros gone bad, but I didn't know they could cross-fertilize. Maybe you are referring to the political ecologist, Herman Neutic?
SUVs are dangerous on gravel roads, too. Like driving on ball-bearings.
Any chance you could go back to a full feed, please? Makes it easier for me to read, espcially from dial-up.
My father once told me that the only good advice he ever got from HIS father was just before he got mattied (in 1942): "Never pay more than $5000 for something that doesn't have a basement under it."
I have four kids -- and many extra kids as well -- and I've always gotten by with a small station wagon that has a third seat in the back.
It kills me when people with two little kids will say how they need a SUV ....
So, from my viewpoint, even if one later regrets that decision, it can't be called a "mistake," or even a "loophole" given the circumstances when it was made. Regulators can't know everything.
That the market responded as it did, coming up with SUVs to fill a need that couldn't be profitably met under the CAFE standards, is simply the law of untended consequences, which accompanies most regulatory and legislative changes.
I'm particularly troubled when tax incentives are labeled "loopholes" or tax consequences are referred to in the press as unexpected or unintended. As a close observer of the process, I can tell you that the folks making the tax laws know exactly what they are doing and why.
What I wonder is, what happened in the alternate universe where we had neither CAFE standards nor protectionism in the light truck category? Did the station wagon thrive there? Because in that universe the station wagon sales wouldn't have dragged down the scorecard for the CAFE mandates, and competition would have prevented the unjustified profits in light trucks, so SUVs would not have been invented. Shouldn't we have used higher gas taxes instead of CAFE standards to create market-based incentives for higher mileage cars?
Every time you can chat with a SUV driver ask them how many Marines have died in Iraq for them to burn that much gas.
I hate 'em. Hate em!
I hasten to add that many lib icons seem to favor SUVs.
It was recently reported (on Drudge) that Barack Obama blasted gas-guzzling SUVs at a town hall meeting, and later left the meeting in a GMC Envoy (an SUV).
Al Gore showed up for the 2005 Sierra Club Summit in San Francisco and left in a Cadillac Escalade.
And when he travels, I highly doubt that Al travels in a caravan of Priuses.
I wonder how many liberal senators and congressional representatives *don't* travel around in SUVs. Liberal celebrities, too. Those are two short lists, I'm sure.
If it makes all of you feel superior to tool around in your non-SUVs, hey, that's swell. I would have guessed that you all had more important things to concern yourself with, but maybe I overestimated you.
More important things that the safety of myself and my family and the overall well-being of the planet? What would those things be?
I don't give a rat's ass what Al Gore drives.
I looked for a reference on this, and all I got was Freeper mental trash.
"I have to admit that I never knew that my preferences with respect to vehicles made so many of my lib fellow citizens gnash their teeth and burn with so much animosity."
Yes, well, selfishness that puts our selves and families in danger will do that. Something that conservatives often work very hard not to understand, which is probably why you didn't notice until now.
Curb weight of Honda Element: 3536 lbs.
Mileage of Cadillac Escalade: 12/16
Mileage of Honda Element: 24/21
We aren't talking about you, man.
Would it make a difference who was driving the Lexus? For example, how about if Rush Limbaugh was driving? Would it be a bad SUV then? How about if Al Franken drove it? Would that make it a good SUV?
Al Gore is said to drive a Lexus RX400h, which has a curb weight of 4540 lbs, and which-- according to Consumer Reports-- averaged just 23 mpg in their tests, in spite of the vehicle's being rated to get 31/27 mpg. Would that be an example of a good SUV? What about if Sean Hannity was driving?
You know what I like best about my Sequoia? All that room in the back. I can fit all of my entire arsenal of assault rifles in there when I head out to the range. Or, when I go hunting, I can get all my gear plus a couple of those big 128 quart Marine Coolers back there to hold the coolerized game. You just can't fit that stuff in a Civic or a Prius. And if I'm driving around with the kids in the back and feel like having a cigar, I can roll down that back window and the kids don't get more than a couple molecules of second-hand smoke.
Re: the Hummer, I've seen two of them driving around in Westchester County, NY. There is absolutely no place in this county where one needs something like the Hummer to get around. In fact, many of our roads are so narrow that the damned Hummer driver can't stay in their own lane. Try getting around one of those things during rush hour.
In many, but not all, ways, the argument that SUVs are a society/nature destroying choice that is being wrongly defended by those who make it as being a matter of personal preference and privacy looks an awful lot like the arguments the religious right makes about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Evidently, both sides are fine making such arguments when they don't like others choices and then claim it's being "politicized" when they do.
To put a finer point on it, Intolerance is fine, so long as *I* am the one being intolerant. Because obviously *I* am intolerant over the right things, unlike those "other guys" that I have to try to stop!
That's why I love libertarians; only they would equate the choice of what car to drive with the choice of who to love and say that those interested in regulating one are equivalent to those interested in regulating the other.
Isn't it all about "choice"? Isn't the ability to make your own choices based on your own social and moral compass a virtue of the left? Isn't that the heart of the "pro choice" argument?
Why pass judgement on what people choose to drive? So, you don't "like" their choice. It's still their choice.
You know some people actually buy SUVs because they need their capabilities (like they live where I do, in a rural area where 4WD, towing capacity, or the ability to put large objects in the car might be important). Others buy them because they just like them. Just like you buy stuff you "just like," I'm sure.
Should we take a look through your house and see what things you've bought you "really" need and which ones you just "like?" And if so, who should be trusted with the power to make such decisions, and based on what criteria? And once we grant them that power, why should we believe they'll only make decisions about the kinds of things we've asked them to?
I am continually surprised by the left's willingness to grant power to some people to make decisions about what other people should and should not do with their money and their lives, and then their shock, shock when they discover that the power gets abused. (As for the right - they do it all the time, so it doesn't surprise me. ;) ) As Anon says, I always thought the left was about expanding people's choices, not contracting them, not to mention having a deep skepticism about all forms of institutionalized power, including the state.
But I guess that all disappears when you imagine the correct people in power, or when your cause, and your zealousness for it, takes on the same formal structure as that of the religiously zealous who you so rightly fear.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that its inevitable result is a near-abandonment of the concept of regulation.
Why should we regulate basic fire codes when some people will choose to live in firetraps in order to save rent? Never mind that one person's house fire can spread to other areas; the important thing is preserving choice.
Why should we regulate the labelling of food when some people are willing to pay less to eat without knowing what they're eating? Never mind nutrition facts or the needs of those with food allergies; the important thing is preserving choice.
Why should we regulate the safety of cars when some people will drive deathtraps in order to save a few bucks? Never mind the fact that the rest of us can be hit by those cars when they fail spectacularly; the important thing is preserving choice.
Choice includes not only picking within the field of available choices but also expanding the field. The widespread use of SUVs decrease the field of available choices by contributing to global warming, the dependence of the US on foreign oil, difficulty driving for smaller cars, and lack of safety of smaller cars.
At some point, your right to wave your fist around has to end somewhere near my face. Libertarians don't buy this except in the most obvious and extreme cases. Conservatives believe that practically the entire world is their face. It's liberals who get that there are tradeoffs and one of the fundamental purposes of a polity is to refine property rights so as to maintain a reasonable level of economic efficiency.
If you build a car that explodes because of clear negligence on your part, of course you should be held responsible for the damage you cause to the driver and anyone else. (Just as polluters should pay for the damage they cause when they violate other people's property rights - and note how property rights thus regulate behavior by discouraging it in the future.)
The question is whether regulation through the state is *in fact* the most effective way of preventing such problems. Stricter tort laws with higher damages might be more effective (and efficient) at discouraging such negligence than is regulation through the executive branch.
And it's not liberals who only get trade-offs. In your vision, it's implied that those who do the regulating are presumed to act in the public interest and have sufficient knowledge to know what that interest is and what forwards it. Libertarians, or at least ones influence by Hayek as I am, recognize the pretence of knowledge and naivete that this view embodies.
What if political actors, despite what we think their purpose SHOULD be, simply are unable to master the complexities of knowledge needed to know the public interest and how to forward it? (Isn't it the left after all that asserts that knowledge is contextual and often inarticulate, and who bemoans the technocrats?) And what if we grant political actors the power to do the right thing but they end up being tools of special interests - not because they are evil, but because once you give the state the power to control and dispense resources, it is *inevitable* that the economically powerful will attempt to bend that process to their own ends? After decades of internal "nation-building" by the left, who is surprised that with the right in power, they decide to "build" them elsewhere, and with much bloodier consequences?
The left complains all the time about the huge influence the corporate sector has on politics (and it's a complaint I share), yet they continue to want to expand the size of government, making all the more likely that the corporate world will want to influence the outcome.
Yes, in a perfect world, perhaps regulators could do as you say. But we don't live in that perfect world. In the real world of trade-offs, we have to recognize that giving people the power to do what we think they *should* do cannot afford to ignore real political-economic analysis of what they CAN do and what they are likely to do when the "can" falls short of the "should."
Transparency and accountability cannot solve a structural problem. It is in the very nature of the state that it will be captured by those with the most power and influence. The structural problem is that state actors are being asked to do something they simply are not able to.
Well, yes, of course that's true. So we could compare economic outcomes between states which have looser regulation and more torts and states which have stricter regulation and fewer torts to get some idea of where the sweet spot is. Further, this is logically incoherent; if the inevitable result of the existence of a state is the domination of the wealthy and powerful, then tort laws themselves will reflect the will of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. The very assumption of the possibility of strong torts is antithetical to the theory of power espoused below. That is, one assumes a liberal government to prove the necessity of a libertarian one.
"What if political actors, despite what we think their purpose SHOULD be, simply are unable to master the complexities of knowledge needed to know the public interest and how to forward it?"
Then we should create systems which are capable of narrowing the field down to a small enough number of experiments to get us some useful information.
"yet they continue to want to expand the size of government, making all the more likely that the corporate world will want to influence the outcome."
This is putting the cart before the horse. The corporate world will want to influence governance -- formal or informal, state or nonstate -- whatever structure is imposed. The reason that liberals decry corporate influence on the government is that the state is the only entity capable as acting as a counterweight to the inherent influence of tremendous wealth which the corporate world represents. To put it another way, we tried laissez-faire, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was the result.
"It is in the very nature of the state that it will be captured by those with the most power and influence."
And this is the crux of our disagreement, I feel. If one views the state as inherently a mafia, then yes, it is not reasonable to expect it to act usefully, so it should be curtailed. If one views the state as possibly the expression of the will of a polity, then there we are. This is, I think, one of the basic points of departure between libertarians and liberals. It is also, I feel, logically incoherent, as detailed above.
And this is the crux of our disagreement, I feel. If one views the state as inherently a mafia, then yes, it is not reasonable to expect it to act usefully, so it should be curtailed. If one views the state as possibly the expression of the will of a polity, then there we are.
You have missed my point entirely. I do not view the state as a mafia. I view the state as composed of fallible human beings, just like markets are, but operating in an institutional arrangement that makes it near impossible for them to get the knowledge they need to have to do the task assigned to them, or produce incentives for them to do what they are being asked to do. The state is not "evil" nor are those who staff it.
My whole point was NOT to moralize about the state ("mafia" vs "will of the polity"), but to raise some analytical questions of political economy as to whether *in fact* it's possible for the state to do what the polity wills. You have not addressed those questions at all, continuing to just assert that the state will do what you want it to, when you want it to.
I can imagine all sorts of ways the state might improve our well-being, that doesn't mean it is *capable* of doing what I might imagine. Determining what is possible from what is desirable is what social science is all about.
The truck we (Jeep Grand cherokee) drive, gets about the same gas milage (if not a bit better) than my last car, which was an old large sedan, your typical hand me down, grandfather oldsmobile... I suspect that standard sized SUVs, tend to get milage on the level with many similarly vintaged larger sized cars. Give or take. This is just conjecture. For example the 95' Jeep with 130 grand on the odometer gets 16-20 mpg depending. The 89' olds' with 120, got 16-18...
The car has been invaluable for towing uhaul trailers, which we've needed to do about 5 times in the last 3 years. Some car's could handle it, many couldn't. We've also done other moves which haven't required the Uhaul, and the extra room is pretty useful.
4wd is useful for getting out of mud, and snow embankments, indeed not for stopping. But then nothing other than common sense is good for that, and there's not much to be done.
I think the ideal solution to this problem is to build cars that are a little bit higher off the ground (think PT Cruiser ish) and force people to pass drivers tests on manual transmission cars. But no one asked me.
As a vehical class, I think the SUV is a fine idea, suited to a number of important tasks (pasanger and material moving), and the extra height isn't total unwelcome.
THe problem, as usual, isn't with the car as much as it is with stupid people...
My wife and I have totally given up flying in the last three years and enjoy our trips more, save fuel compared to commercial airlines, and contribute less pollution. If you are still flying then you are the one contributing more to pollution and to our dwindling fossil fuels than me in my SUV.
We make six 2600 mile round trips a year between the East Coast (Philadelphia) and the Midwest (Tulsa) pulling an 8,000 pound trailer. We drive it straight through in 22 hours with our two kids in our Lincoln Navigator which is the best long distance road car I have ever had.
We use half as much fossil fuel per passenger-mile in our SUV (70 passenger miles per gallon) as you do flying commercially (33 passenger miles per gallon) and our gasoline costs are less the plane tickets would cost for the same trip with less hassles 'cos I just don't like taking my shoes off.
Your airliner exhaust is also more dangerous compared to pollution from land transportation, since jet exhaust is directly spewed into the stratosphere, where NOx is especially active in ozone layer destruction.
Think about that the next time you fly your family cross country on a commercial airline and look down your nose at me and my family in an SUV.
An Okie from Muskogee