Friday, February 20, 2004

Morons and their SUV's

From a great article on the folly of SUV's by Malcolm Gladwell:

". . . internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills."

and (my emphasis):

"The truth, underneath all the rationalizations, seemed to be that S.U.V. buyers thought of big, heavy vehicles as safe: they found comfort in being surrounded by so much rubber and steel. To the engineers, of course, that didn't make any sense, either: if consumers really wanted something that was big and heavy and comforting, they ought to buy minivans, since minivans, with their unit-body construction, do much better in accidents than S.U.V.s. (In a thirty-five-m.p.h. crash test, for instance, the driver of a Cadillac Escalade - the G.M. counterpart to the Lincoln Navigator - has a sixteen-per-cent chance of a life-threatening head injury, a twenty-per-cent chance of a life-threatening chest injury, and a thirty-five-per-cent chance of a leg injury. The same numbers in a Ford Windstar minivan - a vehicle engineered from the ground up, as opposed to simply being bolted onto a pickup-truck frame - are, respectively, two per cent, four per cent, and one per cent.) But this desire for safety wasn't a rational calculation. It was a feeling."

and, quoting cultural anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapailleand, a man hired by American automobile companies to market to the sub-human, 'reptilian' part of the brain:

"There should be air bags everywhere. Then there's this notion that you need to be up high. That's a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has."

and, on the remarkable safety record of the Volkswagen Jetta:

"Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. S.U.V.s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn't the solution; it's the problem."

SUV's are dumb rides because they:

  • don't use unit-body construction, which is the most advanced technological solution to protecting the passengers in a crash;

  • are much more likely to kill or seriously injure the occupants of the vehicle hit by the SUV because of the mass of metal and the height of the SUV's bumper;

  • are top-heavy and prone to roll over;

  • lack the nimbleness in handling and the quickness of braking of a smaller, lighter vehicle, and thus are much less able to get out of trouble;

  • are more likely to get into trouble because the size and height of the SUV creates the illusion of invulnerability and encourages a lack of attention and more aggressive driving.

The corpse of every moron who dies driving an SUV should receive the Darwin Award at the funeral with a suitable notation marked on the tombstone so anyone who sees it can have a good laugh. But the safely issue is just the tip of the moron iceberg. Every SUV owner has paid a huge amount of money on wasted sheet metal bolted to the chassis of a pick-up truck with no engineering thought applied to the design whatsoever. Each one will waste huge amounts of money moving this stupid mass of sheet metal around, paying for completely wasted fuel. Burning this fuel needlessly harms the environment and depletes a rapidly disappearing resource. At least they have their cupholders . . .