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Time for SUV Jihad? Car-Based SUVs Defuse Argument

Time for Periodic SUV Jihad – New Soft-Roaders Just Now Approaching
Every two to three years, the New York Times leads a jihad against SUVs. Keith Bradsher, a New York Times reporter, after all made a career bashing SUVs while on the quest for a Pulitzer he never got. In Bradsher’s book The High and the Mighty, he took SUVs to task. Albeit, he admitted his real target was truck-based SUVs, not the more efficient SUVs based on cars. To the layman, however, that argument was lost and Bradsher became known as the SUV Killer. The reason we call this the “jihad” against SUVs is that the media piles on without really thinking about the issue when a heavyweight like the New York Times takes a strong position.
[As an aside, during the last jihad, Paul Eisenstein editor of The Car Connection (, determined that only a few of the New York Times reporting staff owned or even drove a car and certainly even fewer had any hands-on experience with owning or driving an SUV].
While the New York Times has shown some restraint this year, SUVs have become an easy target as sales for Suburbans, Expeditions and Grand Cherokees soften in the face of soaring gasoline prices. Resorting to huge incentives to move the metal, SUV profitability has been gutted. The American automakers have been slow to respond to Japanese SUVs based on car platforms that are more fuel efficient than traditional truck-based SUVs. Ford has been competing with the Escape/Mariner and Freestyle, GM with the Chevrolet Equinox. But the wave of competitive American crossovers will come in 2006 and 2007. More on that later.

GM’s New GMT900 SUVs an Easy Target
A victim of timing, the press is piling on General Motors for introducing its new GMT900 full size SUVs when gas prices are so high. They rarely give credit to the fact that the auto industry is a very competitive place and GM had to renew these vehicles or risk a crash in their sales because their products were out of date. While trucks used to have a ten year product cycle or more, today that cycle is more like five or six years. Also, the press conveniently ignores the fact that auto industry lead times are very long. The GMT900 program began development in a time when gasoline was priced closer to $1 than to $3.
The GMT900s are much improved from their predecessors having evolutionary styling, much better interiors and achieving substantially improved fuel economy. But in light of fuel prices, media scrutiny and competitive pressure, it appears that GM may reduce the production capacity of the GMT900 SUVs in favor of more pickup capacity.
Americans Still Crave SUV Functionality
American buyers still crave the functionality, utility and image of an SUV. They do not, however, need the ultimate off-road capability that many SUVs have been designed to provide at the expense of weight and fuel efficiency. Credibility now comes from function, not from the ability to go mudding or rock climbing.
Ford’s Freestyle (based on the Five Hundred sedan) has been a moderate but not overwhelming success. Ford will introduce two SUV derivatives of its new Fusion sedan in Fall 2006 – the Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator. General Motors will introduce large mid-size SUVs based on what they call the Lambda platform. Buick, Saturn and GMC will sell Lambda SUVs. Chrysler will launch car-based unitbody smaller SUVs for its Jeep and Dodge lineups in 2006.
Need for SUV Jihad, Even from New York Times, May be Over… But What Will They Criticize Then?
So, if the journalists are paying attention, there may be no need for an SUV jihad. The American automakers are responding to what the market wants and that is for more efficient SUVs that do not sacrifice around-town function but do not need off-road capability.
So what will they do for their poster child if they cannot bash SUVs anymore?

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