We went to the shopping mall today. Apparently, I need an SUV, since it’s quite clear that everyone else in Newton has one. As we drove through the parking garage, we started counting as we drove past parked vehicles. SUV, SUV, car, SUV, car, car, SUV, SUV, minivan, SUV. There were more non-cars than cars. Yes, more than half. What I want to know is why?
So, being an intrepid reporter I asked a friend, who shall remain nameless, why they needed an SUV. Answer, they were going to have their second child soon. Now let me be the first to admit that things are different these days: kids sit in car seats until they are 8 (or 12 if you ask certain people). Car seats are big and bulky. Large plastic items, fold-up cribs, portable high-chairs, all of these things need to go along during many trips. Sports equipment, and god knows what else. And if you have three kids, well, clearly that puts you over the edge. You simply must have an SUV.
(Unless you are not rich. If you looked carefully in the mall, many of the cars were … of a certain age … I am guessing owned by the employees of the mall and stores.)
So look, I don’t blame anyone for having an SUV or a minivan. They really are convenient and functional. And there are certainly plenty of cars out there that get bad mileage and have lousy emissions. Plus, it was only a year or two ago that it really became clear that we are beginning to see the beginning of a rather serious energy issue. So if you bought a vehicle a few years ago, you may be paying a steeper price for gas than you planned. It doesn’t really make sense to buy a new more efficient vehicle (not that the options are exactly broad).
So what can you do if you have a less efficient vehicle? Consider carpooling, using it less, or maybe squeezing everyone in on short trips. This is the same thing we’re doing with the Prius.
I think the real issue is that we have learned (willingly), and been taught (effectively) what it is that we “need”. I cannot blame this all on GM (some of those SUVs in the mall were massive Toyota trucks), nor can I blame the oil companies, nor the Presidents of the US. It’s us. We’re a consumer society. We love to buy, consume, use. We just love it. I love it. There is simply nothing sexy whatsoever about conservation, using less, etc.
So I don’t know where this is going except to say, we don’t need SUVs. We’re buying SUVs because we like them. It’s certainly not the case that too many of SUV owners are going off-road or anything. And I promise that the ability to navigate in snow is not that much better (and it seems perhaps worse) than of regular cars — this is based on the number of vehicles I have seen skidded off snowy roads, thinking somehow having 4-wheel drive allows you to defy the laws of physics. I see very small people, driving high in their massive Yukon XLs, with nary a child in sight even though the vehicle could hold a football team. This is not a matter of need, it is a matter of want.
So what can we do to help people stop wanting SUVs? We should engage the same marketing and ad agencies that made us want SUVs in the first place, I guess. And it doesn’t hurt that gas is $3.05 a gallon.