I’ve been a Gearhead most of my life. I love automobiles (well, a lot of them) and watching racing. Like anyone who enjoys automobiles, I hate the traffic in this modern age. The allure of the automobile can often only be appreciated out on the open roads, away from the suburbs and cities (unless you drive at night). So, when I read this headline from Cariharger that the SUV is leaving cars in the dust, it was no surprise to me.
Honestly, I think all you need is two eyes and a decent I.Q. to observe that SUVs are everywhere, all the time! No surprise as well that pick up trucks and mini-vans are the other hot tickets these days. I’ve noticed this trend on a personal level going back to the late 1990s when Chevrolet Blazers and Ford Bronco II’s were all the rave. I can also remember knowing of a few people who underestimated the top heaviness of these vehicles and rolled them. So, let me explain my theory on why I feel like the SUV, especially the compact SUV, has become the hottest vehicle today.
I feel like we as a society have come full circle when it comes to people carriers since losing horses to get us around, which is mentioned in the article. If you think about the old horse carriage, it was made for utility. Where the driver sat, where the passengers and cargo went was all designed for the express purpose of getting you from point A to B. Obviously, had the engine not been invented, these vehicles would have evolved into more comfortable rides (perhaps the Amish can weigh in on this). That all changed with the invention of the car. Its worth reading up on the invention of the automobile if you haven’t already. So, essentially, people began to ride in the carriage without having to worry about the horses and thus began the fascination and evolution of the car and car culture.
Fast forward to the 1920s and Mr. Henry Ford creates a way not only to manufacture the automobile more efficiently, but also cheaply enough that the average person could obtain their own horseless carriage. The world was never the same. If you go look up a picture of Ford’s famous Model T, and imagine the engine compartment missing, it almost looks like a carriage that could be hauled by horses.
Then came the 1930s through the 1960s, in what I believe was the heyday and golden age of car culture. During this time the car became lower and far more stylish thanks to the designers at both big and small automobile companies. This was a time of show cars, hot rods and race cars. Some cars even had wings like jets and front ends resembling rockets. They often had more bright and pastel colors than an Easter dress. There was also this race among manufactures and hot roders to make cars faster, “cooler” and perform to the highest degree.
Then came the dark ages of the car industry, the 1970 through the 1990s. Brought on by an oil crisis and government crackdown on emissions, the car, for lack of a better word, became “boring”. Sure, there were plenty of fun, awesome and cool cars during this time. But, it wouldn’t be until the ’90s that technology started catching up and give us fun, cool, fast and even reliable cars.
Now, where the SUV and mini-vans came in to play, I believe, was simply out of necessity. As the 1980s and ’90s went along, baby boomer moms and dads and your average Joe started looking for essentials like passenger capacity, gas mileage and, wait for it, utility. That is why the Toyota Camry and Ford Tarus type vehicles, with their basic utility, dominated the market. This leads us to the mini van and the SUV. These two types of vehicles are the quintessential boring vehicle and that’s what I believe your average person who could care less about how much “style” their car has is looking for. Sure, SUV and mini-van owners want their vehicles to look nice and drive well, but more importantly they want great utility . For those reasons, you just can’t beat a mini van or SUV. If you take away the engine compartment, what do you see? I see a vehicle that could have just as easily been pulled by horses at the turn of the century.
Ask any real car guy what a true driver’s car should be like and they will tell you any number of things. But, I bet they’ll say things like it will need manual transmission, and a V8 or turbo charged engine with enough horse power to go a quarter mile in less than ten seconds. They’ll want a car that can grip road corners and stick to the road like glue. They might also like it to have rear or all wheel drive and look like it could eat most other cars for a snack. None of those things have to do with utility.
At the end of the day, I think the majority of car buyers simply want their car to have comfort and utility and I can’t blame them. I love pickup trucks personally and the utility they bring. Like a comfortable polo or t-shirt with jeans and sneakers, the SUV is that favorite accessory in life that people just want to turn the key and it goes. As for us car guys, we’ll stay over here in the corner and admire the latest Charger or Ferrari coming off the line.