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[GreenYes] SUV editorial on NPR
Transcript from NPR morning edition on 1/10/03.

Commentary: Complaining over SUVs 

January 10, 2003 

BOB EDWARDS, host: Lots of shiny, new sport utility vehicles are on display at the Detroit auto show. Carmakers love them for their profitability. But SUVs are still getting a bad rap from environmentalist groups, and a new ad campaign compares owning one to supporting terrorism. Commentator Charles Eisendrath wonders why sports utility vehicles don't get any respect.


Just when I thought 2003 might be the year when someone finally had something nice to say about SUVs, everybody's trashing the most popular thing on the road. To the silent maybe majority of us who drive them, this is pretty amazing. They go anywhere; they haul anything. Just ask anyone who didn't have one during the holiday blizzards. SUVs make you feel safe, and they don't humiliate you by looking like rolling laundry bags the way minivans do.

People hate us for loving these wonderful things. The Car Talk Guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, are passing out bumper stickers that say: Live Larger, Drive Smaller. If you drive an SUV in California, which has terrible air and likes to blame it on outsiders, some environmentalist is likely to slap `I'm Changing The Climate' on your rear end. We're even besieged in Michigan, where the SUV was born, and where critics are notably quiet during our frequent weather events. Preachers around here are asking their flocks: What Would Jesus Drive? The answer is definitely not a Ford Excursion, GMC Suburban or a Dodge Durango. In their minds, Satan probably does his thing at the wheel of a Hummer.

Then there's Keith Bradsher, The New York Times reporter who made a national kerfuffle out of our choice in wheels. His recent book meticulously explains, and then indignantly bashes, what he concedes to be the most innovative new phenomenon in recent automotive history. He cites auto industry research that says SUV buyers are self-centered, egotistical and vain--and numerous. There are an estimated 40 million of us. We multiply like gerbils.

Phew, what gets me about all this off-the-road rage is how off the wall it is. Take the term SUV. Does anyone seriously think that my road-hogging, gas-guzzling Chevrolet Suburban with three years and 74,000 well-loved miles on it, shares anything with my wife's svelte little Lexus XL300? That thing averaged 28 miles a gallon on our drive to Washington and Baltimore. Yes, we SUV people have mileage and emissions problems, but so do boaters, and no one yells at them, even though motorboat efficiency is best measured in yardage, not mileage. No one ever asks what kind of water vehicle Jesus might captain.

Lucky for us, critics with low exhaust emissions also have low common sense emissions. SUVs are so high that you can't see around them? I've got news for you: You can't see around anything the same height as you are, either. So do what you do in a theater seat: change position. It might break a tailgating habit, too.

The most hilarious gripe faults us for having four-wheel drive, which reduces fuel efficiency, when many of us hardly ever use it. Don't you love this? Guess what else isn't used very often? It's called a life preserver.

EDWARDS: The comments of Charles Eisendrath, who directs the Journalism Fellows program and the Livingston Awards at the University of Michigan.


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