Some of you may remember station wagons.
Before SUVs and crossovers – before minivans – station wagons were the family car of choice for millions of American families. They were as everywhere as SUVs and crossovers are today. As minivans were, before SUVs and crossovers supplanted them.
Wagons were natural things, created as the result of market demand for them. They were in demand because they could comfortably carry more than five people and a bunch of stuff in the back plus pull a trailer, if the need was there. Such attributes appeal to families, to people who have kids and often have to cart around other people’s kids, too.
The big wagons were based on the big sedans that were dominant at the time – the time being the ’60s and ‘70s.
This was the time before government got into the business of dictating to the car industry how many miles-per-gallon cars would have to deliver in order to avoid being fined for noncompliance. When cars were designed to meet buyer – rather than government – demands
When that reversed, the car business hit the equivalent of a patch of black ice and skidded in a different – and unplanned – direction. Station wagons disappeared almost overnight, because the large sedans they were based on had been fatwa’d out of existence by fuel economy mandatory minimums which made them too expensive to build, due to the “gas guzzler” taxes heaped on them.
Pick-up trucks were not yet subject to the fatwas – which only applied to passenger cars. It occurred to someone at one of the car companies – it was Ford that hit paydirt first – that pick-ups share the same basic attributes which made large sedans – and the station wagons spun off from them – so popular with the market. The were big and had lots of room inside. They had big engines.
And they were rear-wheel-drive.
Exactly like the big sedans and wagons extincted by fatwa. Just with a bed out back, open to the elements.
Voila – the SUV.
It was Ford’s Bronco II which began what would soon become a boom. It was a Ranger pick-up with an enclosed bed. Which made it agreeable as a passenger carrying vehicle that wasn’t – in regulatory terms – a passenger vehicle; i.e., a “car.”
It was – for regulatory purposes – a “light truck” and these skated elegantly past Uncle and his fatwas, as they did not have to abide by the MPG mandatory minimums that had forced an unnatural changed in the way cars were designed. But the most unnatural thing was the sudden effusion of these SUVs, which Blitzkrieged the roads like the panzers into Poland. Within three years of the Bronco II’s appearance as a new model in 1983, others had joined in. By 1990, every major car company had at least one SUV in its lineup – and those that didn’t were working on it.
It was like the muscle car frenzy set into motion back in 1964, when John DeLorean pretty much invented the muscle car by taking a mid-sized Tempest coupe and replacing its small V8 with a huge V8 from Pontiac’s full-sized cars – with the difference being that DeLorean was end-running GM’s internal edict that its smaller cars must only have engines so big (and no bigger) while Ford and the rest were end-running Uncle.
But there was a common thread – the car companies were trying to give the people who bought their cars what they wanted, not for altruistic reasons but rather because that’s how you made money. Well, used to – before it became possible to make money by passing laws forcing people to buy your goods or services (e.g., car insurance, Obamacare).
And now comes the next end-run, the last redoubt.
Uncle’s MPG fatwas have been applied to “light trucks” – and so, to SUVs built off them – and these fatwas are already at a level that cannot be complied with. Uncle demands they – like “passenger cars” – average 35.4 MPGs – or else. And the fatwa is on track to almost double, if the National Cockatiel doesn’t intervene. The good news is it looks as though he might. The bad news is that even if he does, the odds of his successor re-imposing the fatwas are high.
But the fatwas do not – yet – apply to heavy-duty trucks in the 2500/3500 series (and up) class. Why not let history repeat? Why not take, say, a Chevy Silverado 2500 dualie pick-up and enclose the bed.
Voila – instant super-sized SUV!
With an even bigger V8!
If people can no longer buy “light truck” – and SUVs – on account of their having been fatwa’d out of existence, but the same basic thing is still available to them in something even bigger and heavier and – the irony is almost too much – even less fuel-efficient – then they will buy it because the car industry will build it.
It’s what people want – a concept the people who work as Uncle’s minions seem congenitally incapable of grokking. Stifle what people want and people will find a way around it – often, with the net result being more of what the government claims it didn’t want and tried to prevent via the original fatwa.
Right now, Uncle – his minions (and this includes the media, which might as well be officially christened the Ministry of Truth or some such equivalent) moan mightily about what they regard as the not-so-great economy of the average new vehicle. Which is an SUV – or a crossover SUV, which is the same basic animal (i.e., big, heavy and so, thirsty).
Which is a class of vehicle that would not exist – not as a mass-market offering – were it not for the distortion of the marketplace caused by Uncle’s fatwas. Trucks would have remained trucks – built in small proportion relative to cars and sold mostly to tradesmen, farmers and so on. Most people would have bought cars – and if the market signaled that most people pined for smaller, gas-sippier cars, the car industry would have made them, no fatwa necessary.
Doubt this? Check into how many old Beetles VW sold. Or Honda Civics. Pre-fatwa, when market demand for them was what served as the genesis for their manufacture.
But this was not enough for Uncle. It never is. He had to meddle. Had to intervene – had to supersede and second-guess. And thus was born the arguably grotesque SUV boom, which continues to blossom like an endless far cloud to this day. Vast fleets of jacked-up hybrid truck-car things that suck oceans of gas – not that there is anything wrong with that; people have every right to be as profligate with their resources as they wish to be. Once pumped, gas is their to burn and the idea that a third party busybody should have anything to say about it is as obnoxious as a busybody issuing fatwas about what kind of carpet you may throw down in your own home.
But it’s silly for so many millions of people to be driving around in these grotesque truck-car things, which are creatures of Uncle.
And it may just be about to get a lot sillier, once production of of 2500/3500 series SUVs ramps up.
. . .
Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
If you like what you’ve found here, please consider supporting EPautos.
We depend on you to keep the wheels turning!
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
PS: EPautos magnets – they’re back! are free to those who send in $20 or more to support the site. Also, the eBook – free! – is available. Click here. Just enter you email in the box on the top of the main page and we’ll email you a copy instantly!