April 18, 2008

Saving the Environment & Anti-Momism

With all the hype over the environment and carbon footprints etc etc these days, it's worth thinking about how much excess oil has been consumed over the last 15 years because married women with children haven't wanted to be seen driving mom-shaped minivans that make them look like married women with children.

Minivans, with their three rows of seats, get about 30% better gas mileage than big Sport-Utility Vehicles with three rows of seats, due to better aerodynamics (a more rounded look) and less general blockheadedness. But the minivan, which traces back to Lee Iacocca's Chrysler in 1983, isn't sexy, so, looking at Consumer Reports, I see 87 models of Sport Utility-Vehicle listed, but only 10 models of minivans.

Tellingly, the Big Three Japanese automakers sell minivans only under their mass market labels -- Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Their luxury labels (Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti, respectively), which typically take their mainstream cars and SUVs, put some different sheet metal on them, and offer them at $10k higher prices, don't offer any minivans. Nor do Cadillac or Lincoln. (The Chrysler Town & Country is the only example of rebadged upscale minivan.) Presumably, there is no demand for a prestige minivan, and/or the companies don't want to taint their upscale marques by associating them with minivans.

The problem with the minivan is that the only reason you'd buy one is if you have children, so you can't pretend you're still on the market. In contrast, moms driving around in massive SUVs can tell themselves that everybody who sees them assumes they bought it because they, uh, go whitewater kayaking every weekend so they need the off-road capability.

Considering the constant environmentalist propaganda we hear in the corporate media, it's ironic that the near-extinction of the highly efficient minivan has elicited so little comment, but, then, environmentalism these days is mostly about status striving through sexier shopping.

The good news is that some SUVs have been growing more aerodynamic (i.e., minivan-like, but, shhhh, don't tell anybody). And the station wagon has come back from the dead, with 26 models listed, although I think much of the revived popularity of the wagon comes from Chrysler's discovery from the success of the PT Cruiser and its running boards -- which played such an important role in 1930s Chicago gangster movies (mobsters would fire their tommy-guns at the coppers while clinging to the outside of the getaway car) -- that there was a market for evil-looking station wagons. Thus, the introduction in 2004 of the trendsetting Dodge Magnum wagon, with its dark-tinted windows and high beltline, making it look like what a 21st Century version of Capone's gang would drive to a rubout.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seemed to me it was more the dads who didn't want to drive to soccer practice in some wussy woman car.

Anonymous said...

I always use my cloth bag to carry groceries to my Hummer. People like to feel environmentally responsible. Feelings are also behind the SUV boom. Women desire security and the SUV feels massive and safe. Men like to feel macho. A big SUV with crashbars on the front like the Lincoln Annihilator is just the ticket for intimidating those slowpokes on the freeway. Minivans are safer and more versatile. I've carried several 4 by 8 sheets of drywall inside my minivan. Full size sheets won't fit in most pickups and forget carrying much in an SUV. But the SUV with its mass and 4 wheel drive feels right to a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Man the Puritan streak in americans is a mile wide and twice as deep. What we clearly need is a Hedonism Tzar whose minions will evaluate each person's use of any resource (money or value) for thir own enjoyment. That way superrior people can impose their enjoyments on less superrior people. So if a dad wants to take his daughter to the balet, its OK, if a dad wants to take his son to NASCAR or a suburban mom wants to turn her drudgery driving the kids around into a bit of an adventure, its verboten. How dare she be so narrow minded in her enjoyments of her money.

Anonymous said...

I do believe you're spot on with the psychological assessment of mom's and their SUV's. I live in San Diego, not quite as bad as LA insofar as arrogant self-aggrandizement, but visibly measurable nonetheless... And yes, mom's wouldn't be caught dead driving about in anything other than a "look at me" vehicle, shuttling their little toddler-trophies (aka "look what I can do's") from A to B to points beyond. Interestingly, the worst offenders of this phenomenon are residents of the poorest neighborhoods. Sure you'll find big-ticket SUV's in La Jolla or Coronado Island, but you're more likely to see the flashy-rimmed, tinted window rides cruising through east Chula Vista or National City. The peacock principle at work, no doubt.

On top of all that, the following formula is absolutely concrete in factuality: Small Woman + Big SUV = Macadam Tyrant with Zero Patience and You in Her Way.

On a semi-related note, after I read Matheson's "I am Legend," I hunted for a Willys station wagon for years. There are still some floating about the used market. Now THAT is a cool station wagon.

Anonymous said...

The issue with minivans I've been aware of is they traditionally aren't safe in a collision. They tend to roll, and can't take a good hit from any side without the people inside getting pretty bashed up.
Starting, stopping, suspension--all the tools for avoiding an accident... all the specs on minivans suck.
This may have changed in the last 5 years or so, since auto manufacturers have upped the quality of steel to the point that now newer cars are defeating fireman's "jaws of life."
After an accident, firemen have a bitch of a time cutting through, if at all.
Anyway, I think a lot of mother's may read Consumer Reports or somesuch, and they always badmouthed minivans for the above reasons, in addition to not wanting to look like dweeb soccer moms.

Leonard said...

Don't forget the malign influence of the government in this. The cafe standards allow significantly lower MPG rating for "light trucks", as versus other vehicles. Among the ways of being a "light truck" is having 4-wheel drive. It's not clear to me, but I am suspecting that minivans don't count as light trucks. (They don't seem to according to that web page.) Thus, according to the standard's penalties, there is in essense a $302.5 penalty for being a minivan as versus a "light truck" of the MPG rating. Thus we can expect the manufacturers to underproduce vans while pushing trucks, via pricing and advertising.

dharma bum said...

Minivanism is much bigger here in Canada. The prosperity gap between the two countries is reflected in vehicle sales; SUVs never took off here as much as Minivans did.

See Yahoo Canada answers "Which is better, minivan or SUV" for example:

http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/answers2/frontend.php/question?qid=20080322104306AA9Vf8N

Note that 65% of all new cars sold in America last years were sold to women. Without relegating men to the back of the bus, I'm not sure how much further they can come, baby.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about the decline of the minivan are spot on. I know a mother of 2 who said she used to cry while driving her minivan. She said it was just so obviously maternal.
In addition to the gas saving issues you raise, the decline of the minivan also raises another issue in our society: the loss of respect for parenthood.
What's wrong with looking like or being a mother?
No wonder our society's a mess when even the parents think parenthood is uncool.

-Vanilla Thunder

airtommy said...

It seems the point of Steve's article is that environmentalists aren't being harsh enough in their attacks on SUV owners.

Since most of the readers here are Fox News-watching liberal-hating right-wingers, I'd like to know what you guys think. Do you agree that liberals are not attacking SUV owners enough?

Anonymous said...

It's also insane that none of the major companies sell hybrid minivans, given how they're typically driven in stop and go traffic environments that are ideal for hybrids' mileage boosting through regenerative braking. Supposedly Toyota sells a great one in Japan that they won't import into the US. Which leaves anyone with more than two kids almost zero options when it comes to getting a hybrid.

William said...

although I think much of the revived popularity of the wagon comes from Chrysler's discovery from the success of the PT Cruiser and its running boards

Actually I think the success of the Subaru Outback has as much/more to do with it as the PT Cruiser. The Outback ("the world's first all wheel drive sport utility wagon") made it cool again. And weren't SUVs basically just souped-up wagons to begin with?

As with so many other things, I blame Oprah for the anti-Momism. She convinced the moms that watched her show that they shouldn't look like moms.

Udolpho said...

Why do these families even need station wagons, the typical household only has 2-3 kids, which would fit right in the average sedan until at least the teen years.

But I guess they feel cooped up in anything that doesn't let them spread out and watch movies in the back or whatever. Need big fat car to match big fat McMansion.

Veracitor said...

Old people or childless dweebs think you can carry three kids in a sedan... because they forget about child safety seats. The damned (and nearly useless) things are so bulky that you cannot fit three of them across a bench seat.

Anyway, the guy who mentioned CAFE and safety was spot on. Minivans fail to protect their occupants in crashes, so it's no surprise that parents with some concern for safety and enough money to buy an SUV do so.

Eric said...

Udolpho,

The way my brother explains it, you can fit the kid in the back of the sedan, but you also need all the stuff that goes along with the kid: Stroller, tricycle, playpen, toys, daiper bag, etc. He has one child and his wife refused to consider a sedan when it came time to replace her car.

You can't just go somewhere and turn your kids loose anymore. You have to bring things for them to eat and things to do or you'll be criticized by the mother mafia.

Also, even though the statistics don't bear it out, people think SUVs are safer. I've always wondered if that has something to do with the relative paucity of children - if you're only gonna have one kid, you put all your resources into protecting and educating that child.

dearieme said...

We bought a Landrover in the days when we used to go hill-walking a lot. The trouble is, those vehicles just last and last and last.

Anonymous said...

I find this observation pretty good though it doesn't apply to me perfectly. I'm one of those moms who doesn't like driving a minivan though I drive one. For me personally, they're just non-descript and blah. I'm more into beautiful rather than sexy, however, and wish there was a Jaguar that could haul my five kids around. I can't relate to the SUV driving women, but understand they're the norm.

Carolyn said...

Udolpho is obviously childless. There is no way you can fit three toddler car seats across the back of a Camry or Accord, especially the super safe Britax ones. (Though we could do it in our Volvo wagon in a pinch.) Additionally,children usually have a lot of support stuff associated with them - toys, snacks, diapers when they are small, sports equipment once they are large so a sedan is not the optimal choice as the primary vehicle for a family with children.

Moreover, I want as much mass surrounding my kids as I can afford to drive to better my odds in a collision. Thus, I have a very large five star safety-rated Honda Minivan.

Minivans are fairly popular here in child-friendly Orange County. However, they are usually the top of the line Sienna XLEs or Odyssey EXs with leather and DVD systems. Go to any soccer or Little League game and the parking lot is jammed with minivans or SUVs.

Families in colder climates probably choose SUVs because of the availability of 4-wheel drive. They weren't available on minivans until recently.

Anonymous said...

With new laws mandating kids in car seats and out of the front seat until they're a certain size and age, that means if you have more than two kids, you need a third row of seats. Modern car seats are enormous, with no room for a kid to squeeze between two of them.

And modern minivans-- especially the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey-- are ridiculously well-engineered and built and have vastly more storage capacity than a similarly-sized SUV because they ride lower.

Steve Sailer said...

Crash testing is expensive, so not all seven government or insurance institute tests have been carried out on all models, but scanning the data shows there is no apparent advantage in safety for SUVs over minivans.

A Honda Odyssey gets highest ratings in six of seven government or insurance institute crash test ratings in the Consumer Reports book, while it gets the second highest rating in the rollover test. That's the same as the Honda Pilot SUV and better than the Ford Explorer SUV, the Cadillac Escalade, the Chevy Suburban, and a host of other SUVs.

The Nissan Quest minivan outscores the Nissan Pathfinder SUV by a considerable measure.

The Dodge Grand Caravan isn't as safe as the Japanese minivans, but it's comparable to the Dodge Durango and Dodge Nitro SUVs.

beowulf said...

Any discussion of SUVs and who drives them should bring up Keith Bradsher's book "High and Mighty". Bradsher (a NY Times reporter) documents how SUVs are very profitable, very unsafe and very popular with people who should better spend their money on a psychiatrist or a marriage counselor.

"According to market research conducted by the country's leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.

He says, too, that SUV drivers generally don't care about anyone else's kids but their own, are very concerned with how other people see them rather than with what's practical, and they tend to want to control or have control over the people around them..."
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0212.mencimer.html

SFG said...

I originally wanted to buy a minivan for the increased safety value until people told me my sexuality would be questioned (I am a single male), with attendant difficulties at work. (I wouldn't give a crap what anyone thought about me if I didn't need money.)

You guys are right about the decline of respect for motherhood. What's wrong with being a mother? I don't want kids because I'm a lazy, selfish slob and probably couldn't raise them effectively, but anyone actually willing to shell out the cash to raise the next generation is to be admired.

Bill said...

SUVs are just pickups with a roof and seats where the bed should be. The reason people like them is they sit higher than other drivers, which makes them feel more secure, but which also increases the rollover risk.

SUV + cell phone + woman = serious menace on the road.

I hate SUVs, mainly because I used to drive them and they are pigs. Non-responsive steering, bouncy suspension and gas hogs. When I was a kid I loved the old Toyota Tercel for city driving. I could virtually dance a jig through downtown with that little car. It was fun until I got hit by a two-ton '92 Buick Lesabre.

Geronimo McTavish said...

It seems to me that minivans (people movers we call them) are quite popular here in the UK. Moms with a minivan do have status. A lady I know just swapped her SUV for a minivan in the last few weeks.

Also a lot of them are Japanese grey imports, Toyota and the like. The old Chrysler minivan was quite popular as well, especially when one considers they were never sold through dealers here, grey imports only.

I think therewas some study that showed children wanted their parents to drive a minivan, rather than SUVs, sports cars etc.

testing99 said...

This is more about (the Washington Monthly article) how un-cool and un-hip SUV owners are and how the "cool people" should tell them how to live.

Liberals are like the "cool kids" in High School, forever wanting to control every aspect of other people's lives. No wonder Hollywood, the media, etc. are filled with Liberals.

SUVs went up in sales when Station Wagons declined. Let's face it, cars drive better than trucks (on road anyway) and the classic 1960-1970's family car was the Station Wagon. It drove nicely. Could haul lots of stuff around. Go on long trips. Family freedom. Car makers hated them, largely as noted above for CAFE standards so in the 1980's, people substituted SUVs as the only large-space vehicle. Since as Steve and others noted, Minivans had an un-cool rep from the "cool people" which btw is still there in advertising, etc.

Make up your minds Liberals! Save the planet with Minivans, or "be cool" with SUVs!

The Dodge Magnum is not particularly good as a station wagon. It eats gas like crazy, has poor visibility, and isn't available until recently in 4WD. It and Subaru are the only makers AFAIK offering them. Ford used to have a Crown Vic station wagon, along with Toyota, etc. Great for hauling stuff, and ordinary driving.

What we are really talking about here is the demise of the Station Wagon in the 1980's and the long shadow that cast.

Anonymous said...

God forbid we act like intelligent people and build walkable neighborhoods based around light rail. I HATE DRIVING MY KIDS AROUND. They are on their own at 12, and I do not care what that neighbors think. Even that age seems really late to me and is a concession to the lawless police state parents live under - I was getting myself around at 8 and my husband was doing it at 6. This was in the 80s, in pretty high crime areas too. Why do people put up with being their kids' chauffeurs? Americans are more interested in looking like they're still on the market than in actually having the leisure time to engage in any actual adultery. IT'S SICK AND WEIRD.

beowulf said...

testing99,

Its not liberals, The Washington Monthly or even Keith Bradshers who's making that assessment of who buys SUVs, he's just citing auto industry marketing research (to again quote from the Washington Monthly review):

David Bostwick, Chrysler's market research director, tells Bradsher, "If you have a sport utility, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back and pretend you're still single."

Armed with such research, automakers have, over the past decade, ramped up their SUV designs to appeal even more to the "reptilian" instincts of the many Americans who are attracted to SUVs not because of their perceived safety, but for their obvious aggressiveness. Automakers have intentionally designed the latest models to resemble ferocious animals. The Dodge Durango, for instance, was built to resemble a savage jungle cat, with vertical bars across the grille to represent teeth and big jaw-like fenders. Bradsher quotes a former Ford market researcher who says the SUV craze is "about not letting anything get in your way, and at the extreme, about intimidating others to get out of your way."

SFG said...

Re liberals as 'cool':

I've noticed that jocks became conservatives, artsy guys became liberals, and geeks split the difference. Now, I am in the Northeast. Is the pattern the same in red states?

Anonymous said...

Station wagons are still cooler than either SUVs or minivans. A Subaru Outback, for example, or one of those Volvos with the extra jumpseats (seats 7 in other words, but two had better be children)

Svigor said...

SUV + cell phone + woman = serious menace on the road.

Last I heard (several years ago), women are safer drivers, at least as evidenced by their lower insurance rates.

Not that you stated otherwise, but that seemed to be the implication.

nzconservative said...

I must admit I can't quite figure out the popularity of SUVs.

SUVs are horible to drive, horrible to look at in most cases, easier to roll, use more gas and have mediocre storage.

Sure they are safer around town, but not many fatal accidents occur in town anyway.

They certainly aren't safer on hills as they have a high centre of gravity.

If you a are looking for a reasonable balance of safety, looks, economy and space then you're best buying something like a Volvo Station Wagon or Japanese copy.

These have surprising good mileage, especially if you buy a diesel or manual version.

The average SUV owner, is usually a lower middle class white person who wants to emulate an upper class Range Rover driving country squire

Hence if I were an upper class left liberal, I'd hastle SUV owners for being unclassy wannabes, who don't have enough taste and breeding to buy a Volvo.

Hastling SUV owners for being anti-environmental won't work as most of them are brash right liberals, but they will be offended if more sophisticated people say they haven't got any class.

Anonymous said...

One thing I've wondered about: the SUV craze is now old enough for plenty of the monsters to now be in the secondary market by now. Which means the purchasers and drivers should by now increasingly be the last people you want behind the wheel of these things: teenagers (nothing need be said) and immigrants (if they are illegal they almost certainly don't have insurance, and sometimes don't even when they are legal, have higher incidences of DUI, etc.)

Udolpho said...

Who needs three or more toddlers at the same time? Oh, right, career parents who delayed having kids until the last possible moment and then had to go on fertility drugs and had quintuplets, whoops. What you want and what you need are two different things, also your kids are probably fat that's why you can't fit five 5-10 year olds in the back of a sedan.

none of the above said...

One big thing to keep in mind: If you look at the causes of mortality (there's a great CDC webpage that generates custom-made mortality summaries--wanna know what's most dangerous to non-hispanic white 50 year old men?), for almost everyone up to advanced ages, car wrecks are one of the main ways you're likely to die. So spending extra gas and cash to decrease that risk is a big win.

What I'd really like to know, though, is how much of an impact on expected mortality these car choices really have. Suppose I go from a Honda Odyssey to a Ford Escort--what's the expected impact in terms of my life expectancy? Is this like taking up smoking, or like walking by the nuclear plant once a week?

Anonymous said...

Those comments of udolpho's sum up perfectly why the West is lost. We have a bunch of stupidass regulations and an absence of custom that make it severely difficult to parent, even with an upper-middle class income; you try to explain the situation to childless people and they just stick their fingers in their ears and say lalalalala it's all your fault somehow.

airtommy said...

Leonard said...

Don't forget the malign influence of the government in this. The cafe standards allow significantly lower MPG rating for "light trucks", as versus other vehicles.


This is a mendacious spin on the situation. It isn't the malign influence of the government on us, it is the malign influence of private corporations on the government. GM, Ford, etc have lobbied for these breaks because truck sales are their lifeblood.

Of course, the idea that private tyrannies such as Ford can do anything wrong is heretical to modern day conservatives.

Udolpho said...

My swinish ADHD children need at least two feet of space on either side for numerous hyperactivity inducements and the deep basin of slop they eat from throughout the day to maintain their supple forms.

It has always been thus, of course, you'll recall the roomy horse-drawn carriages that were used in a bygone era to transport the morbidly obese offspring of the upper middle class.

The West is lost, but if you believe that this is because bobo self-indulgence is not applauded enough then you are lost too.

Lucille said...

Who needs three or more toddlers at the same time? Oh, right, career parents who delayed having kids until the last possible moment and then had to go on fertility drugs and had quintuplets, whoops.

Or women who start young and have children very close together, perhaps?