SUV Crazy

by Anil Antony | 5/30/01 5:00am

Is it just me, or are there ridiculously large numbers of SUV commercials on TV nowadays? I know that some people view the sports-utility vehicle as the best thing since coal burning power plants, but total immersion is hardly the answer. Consider the following. This past weekend, I was, in my typical anti-social manner, enjoying a Sunday NBA basketball game. At one point the game became so interesting (now I know why they don't show the Bucks and the Hornets on network TV more often) that I gave up on watching the action, choosing instead to undertake odd tasks I generally like to take care of least once a month, like washing clothes and dishes. But whenever they took a commercial break, I made sure that I was back in my seat, to sample the latest from Budweiser, Nike and Adidas, only to be inundated by Toyota, Isuzu, Ford, Chevy, General Motors and Dodge.

Faced with so many auto commercials, I decided to conduct a little experiment. And yes, before you science gurus jump on my back, I know that it wasn't a proper experiment because I didn't have a real control or a hypothesis or an antithesis, or whatever those things are called. In one hour of TV time (roughly 47 minutes advertisement time and 13 minutes of real TV), there were no less than 22 SUV ads. The remainders were four Nike, two Adidas and seven beer ads. I mean, seriously, how can SUVs have replaced beer as our national advertisement obsession? I can't think of anything that goes more hand in hand with basketball (with the exception of six basketball shoe ads) than beer. Shocking. I hate to see the perennial favorites losing their chokehold on sports advertising.

Actually, the fact is that I really dislike SUVs. They're gas-guzzlers, they're dangerous (to those who don't have them) and they're a symbol of what I think is wrong with America -- excess. At Dartmouth, in particular, the waste culture is particularly prevalent. I've seen people frequently drive the 200 yards from their dorm/frat to Food Court in the middle of the summer. I could understand in the winter when it's often cold enough to accidentally reconfigure your anatomy, but the summer?

To be fair, I'm not sure that Daimler-Chrysler and BMW have hit the nail on the head, either. Daimler has just produced a car paradoxically named "Smart." Paradoxical because you would have to be more than mildly demented to drive this thing anywhere more risky than a sidewalk. This car is small, really small. Guys, think "swimming in cold water" small. Get the idea? It's like a VW Beetle shrunk. At 98 inches long, it will get you 57 miles per gallon, but not much else. BMW's attempt is slightly more chic. It's a new version of the Austin Powers car. Cool? Yes, very. Safe? Not a chance. Then again, at least you won't see this car killing people like SUVs do.

But, I digress. Back to the ads I'm unbelievably entertained by SUV commercials. My favorite is the kind where the SUV is portrayed as a "man's vehicle." I certainly hope that my manhood is not predicated upon owning an SUV, because if it is, I'm afraid I'm in rather dire straits.

The ad will start with footage, grainy and manly, showing a guy with dirt blackened face engaging in strenuous manual labor. The sun will be high overhead, of course, and the man will be wearing plaid or denim. This guy always seems to be wearing the heaviest clothing possible, despite it seeming at least 120 degrees outside, judging from the sweat pouring off his forehead. And then the "narrator" will speak in a slurred Midwestern accent:

"Have you ever enjoyed a bath, or hugged a child? Do you enjoy reading books or seeing animals cavorting? Have you ever cut your fingernails or washed your clothes? More importantly, have you ever eaten (voice dripping with disdain) a salad? Well this guy hasn't. He's a real man, working his fingers to the bone every day of his life. Children see him and cry, animals flee for safety, women make dinner. In fact, when he sees small animals (and even children, at times), he pulls out his shotgun and blows the little suckers away. A real man like this doesn't need a minivan, a coupe or a station wagon. He needs something that can crush people, dominate the landscape and decimate small villages. Introducing the new Alpine Juggernaut, for the simpler things in life."

Now, this might sound like exaggeration, but believe me, it's not. The new SUVs are frighteningly oversized. Take, for example, the Mercedes-Benz Unimog. It's not large -- it's a monstrosity. Sure, it's not currently a passenger vehicle, but then again, neither was the Hummer, and we've all seen how it's popularity skyrocketed once it was demonstrated that the Hummer could drive right over other "cars" trapped in rush hour traffic.

What bothers me the most about SUVs is how inefficient they are. While Toyota and Honda are already producing hybrid cars that achieve over 65 miles per gallon at times, Ford and GM are left far behind.

Consider this: the Ford Excursion is the newest of the American behemoths at almost seven feet tall and 20 feet long. At optimum cruising speed, the best gas mileage you can achieve is a robust 15 miles per gallon. In cities it will get you a miserable, pathetic 10 miles per gallon. Gas mileage like this will flatten your wallet like road kill. Moving from the ridiculous to the absurd, Ford is actually attempting to be construed as environmentally friendly, boasting that the Excursion will produce 43 percent fewer emissions than allowed by law. This means just one thing -- there's at least one law that needs updating.

And in a recent, daring move, the big two proposed to make energy efficient SUVs. What? What the hell is that? One that gets 20 miles per gallon instead of 15 miles per gallon? They haven't even produced an energy efficient car. Talk about wanting to sprint before you can crawl.

The impacts of global warming -- desertification, flooding, disease, property destruction for millions of people, sea level rise, agricultural failure, drought, severe weather -- are enormous, when viewed in comparison with American egos. SUVs are disastrously fuel inefficient. This "bigger is better" mentality is ruining the planet at the risk of those who are most vulnerable -- those in the poor and developing nations. And we're the only nation that has this misguided mindset. It's time to stop playing the "whose penis is longer" game. Everyone can drive a big truck, it's those who realize why not to that really make a difference.

But hey, I'll concede one thing, they sure know how to make quality commercials.