Why the SUV is bringing the car to an end. As we know it…
The SUV is a controversial concept. Reason is against it, car reviewers are against it, purists are against it, the environment is against it, and car parks are against it.
Yet, we not only have it, but it seems a couple of prominent companies in the motoring world are throwing their hands and just giving up to the guest star of so many lives. The car.
These two companies are Ford and GM. There will not be a next generation Ford Fusion, or Taurus, or Mondeo, or Fiesta. They may keep the Focus, but it’s uncertain. The only “car” that remains is the Mustang. Everything else is going to be SUVs. But why?
Well, for the longest time, and I mean once we figured out independent suspension and a chassis that was not derived from construction beams, the car has been something we sit down and in on. There’s a perfectly normal English sentence! And it seemed that everyone was happy. The farmer and the hunter would get a 4×4 for their escapades in the rough, and the road-going folk would just trundle around in a perfectly fine, and perfectly stable moving sofa.
Unfortunately, in 2001, Nissan came out with the Murano. A SUV that had nothing to do with off-road. It was a 4×4 for the road. Sure, it would wade a pothole and climb a speedbump, but that was about it. And it was luxurious. And it was stylish. And people liked it.
Arguably it was at this precise moment, when everything changed. Something a bit more upmarket, for the slightly more successful, with a commanding view of traffic from that elevated perch. It was the high-heel boot for the masses. Not the rugged one, personified by the Land Cruiser, and the Patrol, and the Land Rover, and the Jeep. Not the diamond encrusted one, in the hands of the Range Rover and the Merc G-Wagon. No, it was a more generic thing, but nice.
And it broke the dam. The rest is history. BMW did the X5, and Mercedes did the ML, and Audi did the Q8, and Porsche did the Cayenne, and Cadillac did the Escalade, and… Well, you know…
And I hate it.
I hate it because it serves no purpose. And it’s wobbly on the road, and it’s heavy, and it corners like a mastodon, and it brakes by tomorrow, and the maintenance is expensive, and… so many things. But what I hate the most is the blindness of the buyer. It’s ridiculous.
Hence, let’s break down WHY! people buy it.
1 – “I like to view traffic over the roof of the other cars on the road”
What an argument! Perhaps you fail to understand that you are only taller as long as mostly everyone else is shorter. Ford is just giving you the answer. Nobody will be taller any longer.
Perhaps your need to look over betrays feelings of inferiority. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence in your driving. Perhaps you should have used the money you put into a taller car, and the extra expenditure on fuel, into a few therapy sessions. The world would be better…
2 – “I need the space”
Do you? Do you really? See, statistics show that over 90% of the travels in a private car are done with just the driver. Add a passenger, and that reaches 97%.
Well, now the SUV is about 60% of car sales. That means that there is a whole lot of you underutilizing this epitome of spaciousness… However, if space is really your concern, what happened to the estate car? Volvo makes wonders with it, as does Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Cadillac… All with more capacity than anything short of a pick-up derived vehicle.
Family vacation? Rent a van. Rent an Expedition. Rent a Patrol. It will cost you less than what you are spending on the extra fuel the rest of the year.
3 – “It gives me the freedom to have a BBQ, get the groceries, go to the garden centre whenever I want“
Right. Should I believe you? Because I don’t. You seem to imply that an SUV is required for this activity. Even though most BBQ’s are done at someone’s house, even though statistically, an SUV spends close to 99% of its life in tarmac.
Groceries? Yes, unless you are in charge of a restaurant, you are better off with a estate car. They have more capacity. And that’s a fact.
Garden Centre? Oh dear, I double-dare you to put soil, fertilizer, pots and tools on those “suave” leather ineriors…
Once more. Rent the vehicle for the purpose.
Why do you care?
Well, here’s the thing. The SUV is many things, but exciting it’s not. As Gen-X was growing up, we dreamt of the Ferrari F40 and the Porsche 959, of the Lamborghini Countach, of Lotus, of Aston Martin, and the Jaguar XJ220. And we knew that the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Renault Clio F1, the Mitsubishi EVO or the Subaru Impreza STI was a real possibility if we saved and worked hard. And these cars were good, were cheap, were good at cornering and were fast-ish.
Today they are not. They are expensive. And they are so because they don’t make as many. And they don’t make as many because Gen-X parents gave birth to Millenials and couched them in big, wobbly, cumbersome, boring SUV’s, and the millenial view of a car is just that, a boring box that takes you somewhere.
Now, we are condemned to hunky and lumbering road beasts, that are horrible in aerodynamics, worse at fuel efficiency, carry 150Kg of four-wheel drive nonsense wherever they go, fill up the parking space.
No wonder they now have hundreds of sensors and alerts. You are driving a road yacht you can barely command, and if you took the lane departing alert, the speeding alert, the rear parking sensors and cameras or the blindspot blinker you would die in a car crash while sleeping.
So, nothing positive about them?
Yes, there are a couple of good things about SUV’s that should be pointed out. And they are quite important.
1 – Speeding fines
Our governments are so thirsty about money that fines are now through the roof. Speed limits are not ridiculously, but stupidly low. Right now, it takes the same amount of distance to stop from 150KPH than it took from 90KPH forty years ago, which incidentally is when the oil crisis set the speed limit at 120. Well…
The SUV takes so long to change speed that you tend to cruise-control it. Hence, saving you a fortune in potential fines, especially if driving is not your “thing”.
2 – Spot the lemming
The one thing the car has always been is an extension of the driver’s personality. That’s why the EVO driver was a baddie, and the Hyundai was cost conscious, and the Toyota was reliable, and the Mercedes was stately, and the Jaguar was a scammer, and the Audi was a technologist.
The SUV is the great leveler. They are all the same. And the one thing that you will know about the driver of one is that he/she is a conformist. Someone that does what he’s told. It used to be that the Merc was the rich guy, and the BMW was the rich guy that liked driving. Not anymore. It’s just however much you can afford. No personality, no difference. Only wallet size.
3 – Traffic
Since they are so big, so difficult to park and so boring, people will use mass transit and taxis more. Who wants to be bogged down trying to park the money-into-fumes machine? I mean, you left the family at the door and have been roaming around the street for 20 minutes trying to find a space that’s not there. And it’s not there because the car-park space that used to hold 50 cars, now can only do 35. Next time you will Uber your way in and out. So… less cars on the road, higher transit efficiency.
Add to that the fact that all SUVs are nigh the same, so you can hardly show off your… taste to friends and acquaintances. If anything, it works against you, and you have to overpower car-dullness with witty conversation, and who has time for that!
We see cycles in everything. The economy, beauty canons, music, comedy, movies. Trends come, trends go, trends come-back. However, this move into SUV is extinction. By the time people realize they are no longer “taller”, self-driving cars will have become the norm. And the SUV owner will scrap his and move about via the nearest transportation pod. The car is on its way out. And other than hobbyists, it will be as uncommon as the equine activities. Pity.
Dream of the F40, we did. But we were hoping for the Golf GTI. I grant you that, in 2019, there is nobody wishing upon a star to get an Q3 TFSI. It’s more likely they may enroll into driving school as a sort of an afterthought. And drive… whatever thing they can afford. The SUV has taken the drive out of driving.
The Nissan Murano has a lot to answer for.