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[greenyes] Hummer Move Over

NEW YORK TIMES - 7/31/03

Big and Fancy, More Pickups Displace Cars
Chevrolet via Associated Press
The 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS. Sales of the largest pickups have been
soaring for several years.


Jason Lawson had a big pickup, but like a growing number of Americans he
recently traded up to an even bigger one.

"It's an S.U.V. with an open back," Mr. Lawson, 33, said of his metallic
gray Ford F-250 Crew Cab. The pickup weighs about three tons, empty, and has
enough room in the cab for him, his wife, their two children in car seats
and even the family's chocolate lab.

"You can use it for work, go home, put the family in it and take off," said
Mr. Lawson, who lives in a Chicago suburb and owns a flooring company.

Sales of the largest pickups have been soaring for several years. But in
coming months the competition for customers will grow sharply. Japanese
automakers are rushing into the market, now one of the most profitable and
always dominated by America's Big Three. Ford is introducing a lavishly
redesigned version of its best-selling large pickup. Even Hyundai, the
Korean company known for low-cost cars, may enter the large-pickup market.

The trend toward bigger-than-ever pickups has broad implications for the
safety of American drivers, the environment, oil consumption and the
financial health of the auto industry.
Big pickups, which can cost $40,000 and up, are the most dangerous vehicles
on the road for people riding in other vehicles - much more dangerous than
large sport utility vehicles, according to federal crash statistics. The
average pickup uses more gasoline than the average S.U.V. and therefore
produces more gases that contribute to global warming. Pickups, along with
sport utilities, are also the industry's most profitable vehicles, and they
get more profitable as they get larger and more luxurious.

Once utilitarian vehicles used exclusively for work, pickup trucks are
getting bigger, roomier, more powerful and showier in almost every way.
Passenger cabs with two rows of seats, once a minority, are the norm.

The biggest pickups, which were just 8.6 percent of the nation's new
vehicles in 1990, now account for 13.2 percent - about one in every eight
vehicles sold.

The allure of the pickup market for the auto industry is clear. The industry
sold two to two and a half times as many full-size pickups as it did
full-size S.U.V.'s last year.


Like their American rivals, Japanese companies are focusing on the many
people who only get their hands dirty during the occasional visit to the
gardening center - those who want a pickup with two rows of seats (leather,
heated seats) as well as power windows and doors and wood-grained interiors.
The biggest pickups are particularly popular in the Southwest and Rocky
Mountain states.


To environmental and safety advocates, the extension of the auto arms race
from sport utilities to pickup trucks is a worrisome development.

When the average large pickup truck collides with a second vehicle, people
in the second vehicle die at a rate of 293 for every 100,000 crashes,
according to federal crash statistics. By comparison, large sport utility
vehicles kill people in the second vehicle at a rate of 205 per 100,000
crashes; minivans kill at a rate of 104 deaths; and large cars at a rate of
85 deaths.

"This is terrible for people on the highway," said Joan Claybrook, the
former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the
president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. "The growth of these
larger vehicles, in terms of market share, means the chances you're going to
be hit by a big pickup truck goes up, and they are the most dangerous
vehicles that can hit your car."

Because they roll over more easily than cars, pickup trucks also have
fatality rates for their own occupants that are slightly higher than those
of passenger cars, but below those of sport utility vehicles, according to
the most recent data from the traffic safety agency.

"If you get super heavy and super large," said Brian O'Neill, president of
the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "you won't gain many benefits
for yourself and you'll inflict more damage on others."

Big pickups tend to be safer for their own occupants than small pickups, but
when used as family vehicles they are less safe than minivans and station

Why are big pickups more dangerous to other drivers than big sport

No one really knows; a comprehensive analysis has not been conducted, Mr.
O'Neill said. "Part of that is design and part is where and how they're
operated," he guessed.

The higher ground clearance of pickups means that in a crash they can run
over the bumper or floor of a car, making them deadlier to passengers in the
other vehicle. Big pickups and sport utilities are both built on frame rails
that run under the vehicle almost like giant fork tines. The stiff rails can
puncture cars or small S.U.V.'s, which are constructed more like steel egg
cartons. But pickups can also be carrying heavy loads in their beds, Mr.
O'Neill said, and thus they are often heavier in collisions than are the
S.U.V.'s that are based on the same frame.
Also, many pickups are driven in rural areas, where crash speeds tend to be

Automakers, under pressure from the traffic safety agency, did agree this
year to start working together to make S.U.V.'s and pickups less dangerous
to other vehicles; consumer groups say the automakers have a poor history of

Pickup drivers as a group tend to be less careful than people behind the
wheels of cars, according to insurance industry data. They tend to drink
more and use their seat belts less often, figures show.

Pickups also weigh more than sport utilities. The average unloaded pickup
now weighs about 4,700 pounds, up from about 3,500 pounds in the mid-1980's,
according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's almost 200 pounds
more than the average S.U.V. Many versions of the best-selling pickups weigh
in at more than three tons, unloaded, putting them in Hummer territory.

Fuel efficiency of the average pickup has also declined from as high as 19.2
miles a gallon in the 1987 model year to 16.8 miles a gallon today. The
average S.U.V. gets 17.8 miles a gallon now and the average car 24.8. And
even those averages do not count the very biggest vehicles - those weighing
more than 8,500 pounds fully loaded - which are exempt under federal law.
Like the Hummer and other giant sport utilities, the biggest pickups average
little more than 10 miles a gallon.

And more gas burned means more gases spit out the exhaust pipe. Over its
projected life span, the average pickup truck under 8,500 pounds emits 97.9
tons of global warming gases, according to the Union of Concerned
Scientists, an environmental group. The average for S.U.V.'s is 93.4 tons
and for cars 66.5 tons.

At the beginning of the 1990's, people bought full-size and compact pickups
at about the same pace, and each kind of truck had roughly 8 percent of the
total market for passenger vehicles. Today, full-size pickups have grown to
13 to 14 percent of total passenger vehicle sales, while sales of compact
pickups have shrunk to less than 5 percent of the market. Large sport
utilities account for 5.8 percent of all sales.

Full-size pickups themselves are also getting larger. Those with regular
cabs, which are the basic work trucks with seating for two, now represent
less than 17 percent of full-size truck sales. Extended-cab pickups - and
roomier crew cabs, with seating for five - accounted for most of the market.

A decade ago, regular cabs effectively were the market, commanding roughly
80 percent of full-size sales, according to AutoPacific, a market research

"The whole cab mix, industrywide, has flip-flopped," said Doug Scott, Ford's
marketing director.
Mark Hogan, G.M. group vice president for advanced vehicle development,
said, "It tells us clearly people aren't using pickups the way they had in
the past."

Ford has been changing its marketing accordingly. In a recent TV ad, a
suburbanite ordering coffee at a truck stop is asked by a trucker if he has
his "rig loaded down."

"We're loaded down all right," the suburbanite replies, before returning to
his F-150, where he hands his wife a cup of coffee while his three daughters
argue in the spacious back seat.
Attracting the suburbanite trucker, of course, means coupling the pickup's
tough outside with a gentler inside. The new Lariat version of the Ford
F-150, which has a base price of more than $35,000, has leather seats,
chrome and brushed steel flourishes, and color schemes with names like
"medium pebble." The gear shift is between the seats, like a car's.

Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell    (608) 438-9062
email: anderson@no.address

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