Rebecca Letz  /  Sipa Press file
2005 was an expensive year for filling up SUVs.
By Roland Jones Business news editor
updated 1/5/2006 6:33:40 PM ET 2006-01-05T23:33:40

With gasoline prices still above $2 a gallon, in some ways it’s comforting to know that when it comes to running a car, even the rich are feeling the pinch.

Take Porsche, for example. When the German sports car maker reported its December North America vehicle sales Wednesday it said demand for sporty cars like the 911 Carrera coupe and the Boxster roadster failed once again to offset falling deliveries of its Cayenne sport utility vehicle, which slid 19 percent as Boxster sales nearly quadrupled.

The SUV sales decline was even more pronounced at U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford, which reported sales that were down 10.2 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively, in the month of December, with sales of GM’s largest SUVs, such as the Suburban, down 36 percent and Ford’s flagship Explorer SUV seeing a decline of 24 percent in the month.

Both GM and Ford have relied on sales of gas-thirsty mid- and full-sized SUVs as profit engines since the late 1990s, and while American consumers once loved these hulking vehicles for their size and power, that love affair quickly soured as gas prices hovered at near-record highs throughout 2005. At the same time, Asian brands have thrived as consumer preferences have shifted away from SUVs and toward smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles and hybrids.

Today, SUVs are a symbol of America’s gas-hungry car culture. And judging from the e-mails we’ve received on the topic, many readers share this view, while others said they couldn’t live without their SUVs. Below is a selection of those reader e-mails. (Some reader comments have been edited for length and clarity.)

I’m 49 years old and I remember the 1970s oil embargo well, so after what we went through then I still can’t believe this country went on to develop TITANIC size vehicles. My first new car was 1976 Toyota Corolla. I’ve never changed my attitude about conserving fuel and I use as little of it as possible. I don’t want to be dependent on unfriendly foreign countries for my fuel. These SUVs are all about excess and power, and worse than that they kill. When I look at these idiots trying to navigate a parking lot driving a Cadillac Escalade while talking on handheld cell phone, I’m ashamed to be an American. It’s appalling. I watch in fear while these idiots are oblivious to anyone else. It’s so selfish to drive a big SUV.
—Patricia O’Brien, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

My husband drives a 2000 Chevy Tahoe which he purchased in 1999. The 2006 Chevy Tahoes are getting the SAME gas mileage six years later, despite new technology and innovation possibilities. GM felt no pressure to change what was to them a cash cow, so guess what? We won’t buy another one. We prefer the bigger vehicle option for traveling, which we do often (monthly), but when you are looking at $2.50 and higher for a gallon of gasoline, nobody NEEDS it. And like many vehicles — especially ones made in the United States — you don’t even get the gas mileage they put on the sales sticker. They could have made more fuel-efficient SUVs a long time ago, but why pay to change the mold when people are paying through the nose for status? Now SUVs are collecting dust on car lots and plants are closing down.
—Diane, Raleigh, N.C.

It’s high time that Americans finally realized that the era of the gas-hogging, polluting SUV is finally coming to an end. Shame on the American automakers for ever marketing the oversized junk, and hooray for Toyota and Honda for bringing us fuel-efficient hybrids! Anything we can do to lessen our foreign oil imports is a win for the USA.
—Bob Mangioni San Francisco, Calif.

I am a single guy and I just purchased a 2003 Hyundai Elantra. Why would I want to pay $50 to fill up an SUV? I’d rather keep my money in the bank and wave at the SUVs as I pass by gasoline stations.
—Mike, Philadelphia, Pa.

SUVs are nice, but they’ve gone too far with size. They are too heavy and get lousy gas mileage, and their center of gravity is too high so they roll over easily. A minivan is much more practical and cheaper to own.
—Maurice Clemens, Fort Worth, Texas

My town is awash in huge trucks driven by small women who say they need an SUV to transport their children, but usually carry only one or two kids. So this must be either an ego issue or an illusion of safety for them, because these biggies are no fun to drive, impossible to park, and expensive to fill up.
—Dick Truitt Rowayton, Ct.

I live in Northern Michigan and the need for a large 4WD for five months out of the year is obvious. In addition, I’m 6’2’’ tall and I don’t fit in a shoebox-sized car. I drive an Avalanche that fits my needs perfectly and averages over 17 miles per gallon. I consistently get 20 miles per gallon on the highway. I have no complaints, but I hate the thought of having to buy a pickup for my next vehicle.
—Larry Dunbar, Elk Rapids, Mich.

I just purchased my first SUV. I spent many years as a parent with two kids trying to cram our lives into a midsize car, and it was not pleasant. I was unable to squeeze bikes and large purchases into my car and safely drive the family home; and deciding who had to stay behind on a trip to the store, or a vacation because of an extended family of aunts, cousins, or stepchildren was not pleasant. I believe the SUV is a necessity for many American households. Bigger families need bigger cars and the fact is most families consist of more than 4 or 5 individuals. The SUV has become essential to getting everyone together and through the daily trips to the store, school, camp, church, park, and anywhere else life takes the family.
—Glenda Sanders, Memphis, Tenn.

If the automakers are able to increase the fuel economy of SUVs and keep the interior roominess and performance, they will be the vehicles of the future. The fuel economy is not much different from a mini van and look how long that’s been around.
—Ronald Butler, Valdosta, Ga.

The good news: There’s going to be a lot of used SUVs for sale soon, and it’s about time.
The bad news: It took an energy shortage, global warming, keeping up with the Joneses, rollover accidents (that took the lives of too many people) and too much testosterone in American culture to bring the behemoths down.
—Joan P. Kirkpatrick, Jacksonville, Ore.

These gas-guzzling, air polluting monsters have got to go. I have never owned one and never will. They’re an ego trip for many of the wealthy interested in tax-deductions and impressing themselves, but they have little practical use. The owners apparently care little about conservation of natural resources. Let GM and Ford go bankrupt.
—Richard Baker, Mt. Tremper, N.Y.

I really enjoy my Explorer. It’s spacious and rides well, and I can’t see me cramped up in a small SUV, or a sedan, especially with kids.
—Dale Setford, Delmar, N.Y.

I’m a 60-year-old female office worker and I love my Chevy Tahoe. I sit high, drive through the snow without any problems and take people to work who can’t get there when the weather is bad. I like its size, load capacity, and leg room for my passengers in the back seat (three can sit there comfortably on a long trip). The gas mileage is not of great concern given all the other features. After all, NO vehicle is perfect, but my Tahoe comes close and I’d buy another one in a minute.
—Julia Gallivan Dayton, Ohio

People tend to forget that SUVs can be very practical vehicles. I own a Toyota Highlander that gets 19 miles per gallon in the city. The problem with these vehicles is you get one person driving a huge SUV and it’s wasteful. If people would just drive what they need, you’d see a lot fewer SUVs on the road.
—John Perez, Miami, Fla.

I think that truck-based SUVs will be relegated to the segment of the market for which they were originally intended — for those who use then for business purposes. Car-bases SUVs, with their better handling and better ride, will dominate the all-wheel drive category. We recently purchased a new, all-wheel-drive Chrysler Pacifica as a replacement for an older Jeep Grand Cherokee. My wife loves it!
—Colin E. McConnell, Heyworth, Il.

Big SUVs are a tribute to the stupidity of the American public. Poorly engineered, stiff chassis, rollover prone, crude suspension systems and incompatibility with other vehicles ... need I go on?
GM and Ford lived it up while Americans bought into the safety myth and supposed status of these vehicles.
Capitalizing on what they build best, 1960s technology V-8 powered pickup trucks, GM and Ford did sleepwalked through the 1990s and never did learn how to make a decent or reliable sedan. High fuel prices have put an end to the delusion that bigger is better. But instead of declaring “we’re just building what the public wants,” Toyota took a chance and developed hybrid technology. But corporate greed has led GM and Ford down a one-way road to disaster and their story should be taught in every business school — innovate and refine your products or die.
—Kelly Culpepper, Charlotte, N.C.

Reuters contributed to this article.


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