Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, August 03, 2009

The SUV Controversy - What's in a vehicle category?

So in the previous thread we've had a rather vigorous argument break out about whether or not SUVs are fairly or unfairly criticized as being bad vehicles that wreck the environment. I don't mean to usurp the thread but I thought it would be useful to have a lot of links to the EPA ratings of the top selling vehicles in this class and my computer skills are not up to pasting these links into a comment (sorry). I couldn't get the EPA website to give me perma-links for each car so you'll have to settle for this search page link. The numbers below are for the best available gasoline versions of each vehicle (so no hybrid, ethanol or mixed fuel conversion packages are compared).

The top ten selling SUVs in the United States for 2008 were (vehicles with an EPA "smart way" designation are indicated with *):

10) The Saturn Vue. Composite mpg: 22, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 6. *
9) Lexus RX 350. Composite mpg: 20, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 6. *
8) Jeep Wrangler. Composite mpg: 18, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 5.
7) Chevy Tahoe. Composite mpg: 16, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 4.
6) Chevy HHR. Composite mpg: 22, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 7.*
5) Honda Pilot. Composite mpg: 19, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 5.
4) Toyota Highlander. Composite mpg: 20, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 5.
3) Toyota RAV 4. Composite mpg: 22, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 7.*
2) Ford Escape. Composite mpg: 22, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 7.*
(if you get the 4WD package though the numbers drop to 21, 7 and 5)
1) Honda CRV. Composite mpg: 23, Air pollution score: 7, Green house gas score: 6.*

What does this tell us...

First, I have to admit that these numbers are better than I thought they would be. So LTG has some traction on the "SUVs are unfairly maligned" argument. However, if you compare these numbers with the top 10 selling sedans, you'll see that AS A GROUP, the SUVs do not perform as well. Sure, the best in the SUV class overlap with the range of performance in the sedan class but the sedans (even if you leave out the hybrid models) are generally better performers on these dimensions. All of the top 10 selling sedans qualify as "smart way" vehicles according to the EPA but only 6 out of 10 top selling SUVs do. So I have a point about SUVs as a group having objective characteristics that justify disliking them (not just annoyance at their drivers out of "prejudice"). So we both are being reasonable and neither of us is being prejudiced or unfair about this.

Second, the most notorious SUVs, the Escalades, Navigators, Silverados, Hummers, Yukons, Aspens, Explorers and almost anything made by Jeep are not among the top 10 sellers (the Jeep Wagoner is a top seller). These are the really big monsters on the road that stand out like sore thumbs. They are the stereotypical SUVs and among the worst smog producers on the road. While, model for model, they aren't in the top ten, together they add up to a huge number of vehicles - which is why SUVs as a class get such a bad rap I suspect. These are the SUVs that are essentially converted truck chassis. The trucks on which these designs were based were originally supposed to be work or even military vehicles (and I'm not annoyed when they are used as such). These are the ones mocked by the Simpsons with the fake ad "Canyonero!" (On a side note. What right wing maniac is in charge of naming the cars at Jeep? Liberty, Commander, Compass, Patriot etc? Give me a break.)

Third, the top selling SUVs that are the worst performers, like the Tahoe or Wrangler, are really really bad (far worse than the worst performing top selling sedan, the Chevy Impala: 22, 9.5, 6*).

Finally, US car makers aren't the only offenders. Honda and Toyota make top selling, gas guzzling smog monsters. Saturn makes a fairly green little SUV. And the Ford Escape isn't bad so long as you avoid the 4WD option.


Raised By Republicans said...

A further thought about how the most notorious SUVs aren't in the top ten for sales.... Car execs have been saying for years that given the choice, Americans won't buy smaller, more fuel efficient models. Leaving aside the CFC program which is essentially paying Americans to make that choice, look at the top ten selling SUVs. Most of them are among the smallest and most fuel efficient (and least emitting) vehicles in the class. Auto-makers should have been shifting away from the really big models to compete with that. So why didn't they?

I suspect it is because American auto-makers have a business model that emphasizes a diverse and long product list. They want to have a model available for every conceivable taste in car. And the really beastly SUVs are cheap to build relative to the price they can command.

But with downsizing in these companies the diversity of the product lines is going away - about 30 years after it should have. The auto-manufacturers will be forced to focus on their most profitable models. CFC is great because it will help convince Detroit that Americans will buy fuel efficient cars if given the chance.

Anonymous said...

compass is right wing?

Raised By Republicans said...

They're all militaristic or nationalistic themes. Admittedly Compass is the least such of the list. But I think you'll grant me that naming a car "Liberty" or "Commander" is a bit over the top.

USwest said...

American Auto makers are arrogant enough to think that they can create markets where none existed. And it worked for a while. A friend of mine works in retail and he prefers to cater to high end clients. He says that he can spend 20 minutes with a lower end client who will spend $30. He can spend the same 20 minutes with a high end client who will spend $130. In some ways, more expensive vehicles fit the same story.

Also, the manufacturers had financing arms that would allow less affluent clients buy $45K worth of vehicle. You'd see these things parked in front of dumpy houses. Can't afford a nice house, but I can have a tripped out car. So it wasn't just the wealthy that RBR describes who bought these. In fact, in CA the wealthy tended to buy smaller cars.

And finally, GM had a reputation for building big, heavy cars. They simply put their big engines into larger chaises, thus saving on design and engineering. I once rented a Sebring. It was horrid, like driving a tank or maybe my dad's 1960 Ford Starliner. There was no agility in the handling at all. And when you hit the gas peddle, it sounded like a muscle car from the 1970s. One big seller for several years was the Dodge Neon, a compact. With the exception of one model year, they didn't have a reputation for reliability.

The American automakers, with the exception of Ford (thanks largely to the success of its European units), were never very good at building small cars and therefore, made up the story that Americans don't want small cars. They believed their own propaganda. American automakers ignored the lessons of history. There have been three boom-bust cycles in the American auto industry. And on each bust, small, compacts like the Datsun or Volkswagen have entered the American market to mass appeal. What was the definition of insanity? Something about repeating the same thing?

Dr. Strangelove said...

While "Compass" obviously was a mistaken addition to RbR's list, he is right about the others. And why not? If Americans are more likely to buy "Liberty" and "Patriot" Jeeps than "Tiger" or "Concerto" Jeeps (picking fake names at random) then why not pick the more appealing name? Apparently folks like RbR and myself are not the target market for these SUVs.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Gosh, yes--I remember now I once rented a Sebring too. I think I repressed the experience.

Raised By Republicans said...

"...smells like a steak and seats 45! Canyonero!"

Dr. Strangelove said...

When they come out with the "Choose Life!" Jeep, then I'll start complaning :-)

Anonymous said...

Another party to the SUV idiotocracy, (okay, I make up words like Bush too), is the social engineering aspect. The people of this country have been made very angry by it's government for over 40 years, it is no mistake that one way to tap into that anger is by offering an angry mob something that gives them power, or at least it makes them feel powerful. The auto industry just tapped into the psyche of the country. I think it is foolish to call the industry stupid, they knew what they were doing, and they knew their time was limited...make as much money as you can as fast as you can, and take your 100 million plus and go to the beach. The Economist said 8 years ago that the US auto industry would be gone...this is not a think that events like selling all of these SUVs at huge profit margins for years and suddenly you are bankrupt...the money went design.

And RBR is correct about the names of the SUVs...I guess they think only 'real Americans' are polluters and gas hogs...a swampy old world. WW

The Law Talking Guy said...

The SUV names dnn't really have this theme, I think. What is the right-wing theme for: Escalade, Navigator, Escape(?), Edge, Forester, CR-V (?), Yukon, Outlander, XTerra, Sportage, Pathfinder, TrailBlazer, Cayenne(?)

They're just trying to do what made SUVs so clever: market a masculine-sounding vehicle to middle-aged suburban women. You know, your man may be a tired loser, but at least you've got your powerful, muscular Explorer or Navigator you can rely on.

Or you can geek out to this:

The Law Talking Guy said...

I concur about GM, btw. I said laconically when looking at possible new SUVS that I wasn't too proud to drive Ford, but I was too proud to drive a GM.

The Law Talking Guy said...

"And when you hit the gas peddle..."

Now that's a freudian slip. =)

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