Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sayonara SUVs

I for one welcome the demise of the SUV era. Always hated those behemoths. Even putting the ecologically unsound gas consumption aside, you can't see around them on the road and backing out of a parking space when you're boxed in by them is an exercise in blind faith. Besides I always thought they were the ugliest vehicles on the road. And they're not even safe. It took quite a few tries to engineer them so they wouldn't roll over on a sharp turn. Good riddance.

But one point seems to be missing in the discussion, that being how they became so popular in the first place. Few seem to remember that the SUV boom exploded in 2003, when as part of the Bush economic stimulus package, they created a tax incentive too good to refuse. It offered "a $100,000 tax credit for business owners who purchase any vehicle weighing 6,000 pounds or more when fully loaded." That was up from a $75,000 credit the year before.

The credit, orginally designed in the mid-80s to allow famers and small businesses who needed trucks to haul their products to avoid a luxury tax on heavy equipment, soon become the prime incentive for every sort of self-employed businessman, from doctors and lawyers to realtors and health care consultants to move up to the traveling tank class, especially as the size of the credit incrementally increased from the original $17,500.

At the same time, "legislation that offers a much smaller tax break — a $2,000 tax deduction — to those who purchase fuel-efficient hybrid cars" was on track to be phased out. Considering the difference in the tax benefits, it would seem a moot point. Only those few who care more about the saving the environment than saving money would be using it. Meanwhile, the SUV became a status symbol of the wealthy that ordinary people sought to acquire, justifying the purchase with soothing bromides about needing the extra room, which by the way was non-existent. I could pack more into my little Suburu wagon than I could into two SUVs.

While falling for scheme was short-sighted, one can't entirely blame the Big 3 for responding to the demand, which was essentially created by that "big government" boogieman that all those SUV drivers are always blaming when it comes to social programs that serve the poor but never seem to notice when it benefits them.

[More posts daily at The Newshoggers and The Detroit News.]

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Blogger markg8 said...

It start long before 2003. When congress mandated safety features on cars like airbags and steel side beam doors and tried to raise CAFE standards in the 1980s and 1990s the Big Three discovered they could sidestep those measures by building and marketing SUVs and calling them light trucks. Without the mandates these vehicles were cheaper to build and provided a higher profit margin than anything like a station wagon that might be considered a car.

The battle to bring SUVs and pick ups under CAFE standards was a battle all car makers fought against and won. But for Detroit it was literally a matter of life and death.

They needed to build high profit vehicles or they wouldn't be able to cover their legacy costs. GM alone supports over 400,000 US retirees. Toyota which has operated plants in this country for only a couple of decades? About 700.

When wingnuts make the case that the BIg Three need to cut their labor costs what that means I guess is they think we should throw those retirees out into the street. But to me they are making the case for national healthcare. If the biggest US businesses can't compete, even at home against foreign competitors then we have to nationalize healthcare like every other industrial nation on earth. The Big Three kept millions of their retirees out of the Medicare system for decades thanks to those UAW contracts. It's cost them dearly. You'd think the wingnuts would be grateful. If we let them fail it will cost us all even more.

6:50:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Good point Mark.

10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

The best discussion of the SUV plague I've seen. These things are killers in my opinion. The bumpers on the bigger ones are high enough so that if I'm rear-ended, I'll be decapitated and yes, with all the electronic nonsense, they're still massively unstable. Center of Gravity is center of Gravity and the lower the better.

It's true that fashion no longer begins with the consumer. We want what the manufacturers tell us is cool, but the lust for trucks is also fueled by the national sense of helplessness. It's a cheap way for the little guy to feel big.

I've been waiting for them to go away, but I think they will continue to be a desired symbol all the more now that they're harder to afford and perhaps harder to come by.

9:43:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I hope you're wrong about that Fogg. I would love to see them disappear from the roads.

11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Me too! they've been taking the joy out of life for me for years.

4:45:00 PM  

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