|The road to Hell is paved with SUVs|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
The upsetting thing about Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire getting pulled over midway between Seattle and Portland recently wasn't that they were smoking marijuana. It was that they were riding in a Humvee, the 6,400-pound, 11-mile-per-gallon symbol of a bloated, wasteful and self-centered lifestyle.
But there's no reason to single out athletes. Most of their fans are driving SUVs, as well. It doesn't matter whether the buyers are politically conservative or liberal -- undoubtedly SUVs filled the parking lots outside the Wellstone memorial service -- every year there are more SUVs on the road and every year the models get larger. I shudder at the thought of future SUVs, given that the current models are already so large that Evel Knievel couldn't clear them with his Sky Cycle.
The irritating thing about SUVs -- I mean, other than their exemption from the emission and mileage standards all other cars must meet, the staggering amounts of gas they guzzle, the obscene levels of greenhouse gasses they emit, the stalled traffic they worsen and the appalling accidents, rollovers and deaths they cause -- is the term itself. Sports Utility Vehicle.
Through relentless and creative advertising, the auto companies have convinced car buyers that driving an SUV makes you an adventurous sportsman, the sort of independent person who would, purely on a whim, leave work, hop in his Nissan Pathfinder, drive to the base of Mount Everest and begin climbing.
Naturally, the climb would be done while still driving the SUV and talking on the cell phone.
Or did I just see that in a SUV commercial during the Ohio State-Michigan game? I can't remember; there are so many SUV commercials, they all run together now.
The reality is that no one ever drives their vehicles in conditions remotely resembling the ones shown in the commercials. For one thing, it's illegal in most places to drive off the established roads. And where it isn't illegal, it's generally impractical. There simply isn't much upside for you, your car or the environment to drive off the highway even when you can.
Even the auto companies' own research shows that as few as one percent of SUV owners may ever drive their vehicle off-road. As J.C. Collins, Ford's top marketing manager for SUVs, put it, "The only time those SUVS are going to be off-road is when they miss the driveway at 3 a.m.''
I borrow that quote from an important and gripping new book, "High and Mighty,'' by award-winning New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher. If you like and trust SUVs, you won't after reading this book. And if you hate SUVs, you'll really, really hate them after reading it.
This is a sports site, so I'll allow Bradsher and others (including the Evangelical Environmental Network, which prints bumper stickers asking the provocative question, "What would Jesus drive?'') to rail against SUV mileage, safety and pollution problems. Instead, I'll focus on why SUVs have very little to do with sports and everything to do with wasteful luxury:
Of course, when you get right down to it, a real Sports Utility Vehicle doesn't have all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive or even four wheels. A true Sports Utility Vehicle has two wheels, requires actual physical, athletic effort to operate and doesn't pollute the planet in the slightest bit. It's called a bicycle. And we would all be better off if we rode them to run our errands a little more often.
They even build larger models for two, in case Rasheed and Stoudamire want to start a trend. Although they might have trouble hiding their stash.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.