Gallery: TRANSPORTATION TUESDAY: Rest in Peace SUV

 

For car manufacturers, creating a green vehicle is finally no longer a case of fulfilling the needs of a small niche market; nor is it a case of having a token nod to sustainability in the lineup for “feel good” purposes or as a way to greenwash a path into American garages. With $4 per gallon gas prices, it is now finally becoming clear to car manufacturers that renewable energy is the way of future, and going green is a matter of economic survival. Thus, we are happy to announce that it appears the SUV has finally come to the end of its road.

US consumers have finally found the price point, $4 a gallon, that is forcing them to reconsider their automotive choices. Cities are reporting high ridership in public transport and were unprepared by the influx of extra riders to the system. Consumers are moving towards smaller vehicles, and suburban neighborhoods are looking just a little too far away with the ever-rising cost of the commute between work and home.

How bad is it for SUVs? May sales started to point towards a big downward shift in the US marketplace. For the first time since 1992, the Ford F-series, a pickup truck, was outsold not just by one vehicle, but by four small cars including Honda’s Civic and Accord, and Toyota’s Camry and Corolla. If trends continue as they did in May, then the auto industry, particularly SUV-dependent companies, is looking at significant financial pain for the next couple of years.

Just recently, General Motors announced that it was looking to wean itself from the SUV. The Hummer brand, once a bright beacon in the field of SUVs, is now being looked at more critically and, if the landscape doesn’t significantly improve for SUV sales, possibly being positioned for sale. It is not only the Hummer brand which is suffering, GM announced that four plants making SUVs are closing. The shift in the market is not good news for US carmakers, which rely on sales of “large vehicles” – pick-ups, trucks, SUVs – to survive.

It’s not just American manufacturers that are feeling the SUV sales pinch. Australia’s automotive industry, already in trouble, has been hit hard by the demand for more efficient, or alternative-powered vehicles. Australia is feeling the strain with auto manufacturing plant closures and a slew of lost jobs. In light of the market shift, an emergency fund has been proposed by the Australian government to encourage the development and manufacturing of fuel efficient and hybrid vehicles.

So what’s the next move for car makers? GM is rushing the very stylish looking Volt to production, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Cadillac Provoq wasn’t available soon after. The Malibu, Aveo, and Cobalt will probably get more efficient and likely feature a hybrid version as soon as possible. The Ford Focus is looking like it will become Ford’s flagship vehicle. Toyota and Honda will probably continue to enjoy the spoils of having been foresighted, or lucky, enough to provide the market with a reasonable, in-demand product.

It is a tough situation for manufacturers, but one that doesn’t evoke much sympathy. The slow creep in oil prices in the past three years, the increased demand by China and developing countries, and the now well acknowledged fact that Global warming is real (and will be the biggest problem that the world will face in the next decade) made SUVs a bad business bet. Car makers weren’t caught off guard by a sudden change in market demand, but rather failed to see that moving away from the SUV not only made sense from an environmental point of view, but was integral to their own survival.

So, let us raise a glass to the death of the hulking, gas guzzling SUVs. Let us not cry for their death, but cherish the fact that with them gone, the industry will have to reinvent itself and embrace what they should have embraced years ago: small, environmentally friendly, and fuel efficient vehicles.

+ The end of the road @ the Guardian + Australia to encourage ‘green’ car development: PM @ AFP + General Motors, Others Decide the SUV is Dead @ U.S News Rankings + Drivers choose cars over trucks as auto sales plunge @ USA Today + Gas price record reaches $4 a gallon

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7 Comments

  1. Anonymous Coward June 16, 2008 at 4:05 am

    Hang on Prius and hybrids are not green cars for the sake of being green, they are actually smart and relevant technology. A hybrid uses a electric motor for taking off from standing start, because an electric motor develops maximun torque from zero revs when a internal combustion engine does not. Also the internal combustion engine on a hybrid runs at a fixed engine speed, the best mode of operation for an ICE, for charging/generating electricity. Providing the best of combustion engines and electric motors together also is far from new. Locomotives and large mining earthmovers use similar hybrid principles. Do not critisize hybrids, do the smart thing and buy one to save on your fuelbills cause hybrids are not green but smart.

  2. architechnophilia June 12, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I have a 2.0 litre small suv, It is a 4×4 and I get about 30+ round town…I wish that the automotive industry like the television industry would make specific demands (digital by 2010) and with it create a market not just for new vehicles but for conversion to electric, to hydrogen, or even just to make into a hybrid of whatever sort. That is the immediate solution that would curb the appetite for fuel, regularise the costs internationally yet still allow independent travel to remain without unnecessarily creating new greener vehciles which ultimately add to the waste problem – the opposite side of the coin. For one I\’m not buying a prius until its made by at least 90% post consumer goods from previous automobiles

  3. peterL June 12, 2008 at 7:55 am

    an SUV with sportswheels – what´s the purpose of that? with the tyres shown (2nd pic from top) you can do nothing but showing off your coolness – but there´s no coolness at all in driving such a vehicle. big cars are ok if there´s space enough. however, its odd to find cars like a Hummer in the center of a small european city. cars should also be taxed by the amount of space they consume.

    no doubt – if somebody works in the forest or so, a 4wd-car with sufficient freedom to the ground is required. but to drive to the store around the corner to get some frozen pizza, use a bicycle.

  4. Scott June 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Sheldon, sounds like you need a new small car.

    elepski, we all understand that trucks are necessary for certain jobs. but i would argue that over half of the people that have a large vehicle do not use it for its all terrain and towing capabilities. a jeeps or porshe suv rolling through nyc is unnecessary, as is a family towing kids to and fro school in a F150. If you need a truck to move in to a new apt, rent it from home depot. if you are a park ranger, then buy the truck. the argument is for everyone to buy what they need, not what they want to need or what i want them to need. i’m sure you agree with that.

    i dont know whats up with all of these nay sayers, i think that there is the possibility to redesign the automotive industry, our cities and our lifestyles in a way that actually improves our quality of life and responds to the fuel problem.

  5. elepski June 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I agree with the above… this just more propaganda!

    The issue is not the platform of the vehicles.. it is the power train.

    Yes, Gas is not good.. In and SUV, Truck or Hybrid…

    Not everyone lives in a Urban areas.. or Suburban for that matter…

    What needs to happen is everyone needs to get off there a$$… (I’m speaking of auto companies here)

    Hydrogen, Electric, Air powered…there are many technologies that will cure the ails of the automobile…

    my truck is well on it way to becoming a full hydrogen powered drive train….

    So lets remember.. once the auto industry has gotten with the program and all hydrogen trucks are produced… hybrid cars (prius and the like) will be the gas guzzles

    I live in Florida and spend time in the everglades.. to help protect it from URBAN development…. I have a boat and ATVS to haul… I want to see the compact car that can handle that type of work…

    So.. just because you have no use for trucks.. dose not mean that others don’t.

  6. Sheldon June 10, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Gah, more brainwashing!
    What matters is economy, I have a small car (engine is less than 1 litre and it only has space for two, yes 2, seats) and yet it is less economical than my large “SUV” (it’s actually a real 4×4) but going from this article, I should be using my small car which is *worse* for the environment.
    What is happening is that people are finding they can’t afford to keep vehicles with 6 litre v8 engines on the road, irrespective of the body shell.

    If you want to pick on SUVs then you should pick on MPVs as well because they are just as bad from an economy point of view,
    Oh and sports cars & bikes… and all “executive” cars and limos….

  7. PaTrond PaTrond June 10, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t said R.I.P. to the Hummer, because they’re testing their vehicles on hydrogen.

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