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.

There's something special about driving around in your own zip code.
Not that their vehicle choice was surprising in any way. The Hummer and the 5,600-pound, 12-mile-per-gallon Cadillac Escalade are the rides of choice among today's athletes, who don't know Desert Storm from Hannah Storm. If they aren't driving Hummer and Escalades, then they're driving some other bloated SUVs. The real reason athletes have such palatial cribs? It's because they need the extra room to park their rigs.

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.

Mt. Everest
Don't worry -- we'll just throw it in four-wheel drive.
You can't watch a game on TV anymore without seeing a dozen SUV commercials, which always show the vehicles climbing up mountainsides so steep that Picabo Street wouldn't attempt to ski down them. Or cruising over terrain so rocky and forbidding that Neil Armstrong should be planting a flag on it. It's as if we all have mammoth glaciers separating our homes from the video store. "Gosh, honey, isn't it wonderful that Ford built the Lincoln Navigator so we could rent 'Hart's War' tonight?''

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:

  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle doesn't have 10 cupholders so that every passenger can sip two Starbuck's double-talls; it has deep purple stains that won't come out of the upholstery from when your Little Leaguer spilt a triple-scoop grape snowcone after celebrating a game-winning home run.
  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle isn't so heavily armored that you could rent it at the Bagdad Hertz lot without needing insurance; it has gas mileage good enough that $10 will get you to and from the Motel 6 just beyond the NFL blackout boundary.
  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle isn't so long that you could lay Too Tall Jones and Yao Ming head-to-head in it and still have room for David Stern; it's compact enough to squeeze into the smallest parking spot on the street, allowing you to park for free at the game instead of coughing up $50 for two stalls in the team lot.
  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle doesn't have a six-disc CD player with a Bose speaker system and a DVD player in the backset; it has a simple AM radio set to the local all-sports station, as well as the flagship station of every team within 200 miles.
  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle doesn't weigh so much that Vassily Alexeev couldn't budge it, even if he was taking steroids, human growth hormones and gamma rays; it's light enough for you and your buddies to push it the final mile to the station after the engine overheats on a road trip to spring training.
  • Yao Ming
    Yao could probably also squeeze in some teammates and Moochie's hair into today's SUVs.
  • A real Sports Utility Vehicle isn't so bulky, tall and prone to rollovers that it has all the handling of a Zamboni machine; it is small, nimble and responsive enough to dart around stadium traffic so you never have to leave early in the seventh inning to beat the crowd home.
  • And most importantly, a real Sports Utility Vehicle isn't so enormous that it can hold Stephon Marbury's entire extended family with room to spare; it's small enough that you must actually do something athletic to shed those 50 pounds of fat from your frame so you can fit comfortably inside the front seat.
  • 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 He can be reached at



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