Gas Costs More? Fill ’Er Up!
Rising gas prices may be causing a reduction in driving. That makes sense. What doesn’t is the news that in spite of increasing pain at the pump, SUV sales are on the upswing.
The numbers for large SUVs rose nearly 6 percent in the first quarter of
2007, and the April figures were up 25 percent from April 2006, according to
automakers’ statistics provided by Edmunds.com, an automotive research Web
The bigger the guzzler, the better the numbers. Sales of GMC’s Yukon XL
were up a whopping 72 percent last month, and the totals for its Chevrolet
sister, the Suburban, rose 38 percent. Topping off the tank on either one can
cost as much as $120.
The turnaround comes after a 24 percent drop in SUV sales from the first
quarter of 2004 to the same period of 2006. One explanation for the renewed
interest is that U.S. automakers are selling a more modern fleet of SUVs, some
of which consume moderately less gas than their predecessors.
So who’s buying these things? And how do they justify their purchases to themselves?
A typical SUV buyer is Dr. Reginald Fulford, an El Cerrito orthodontist
who recently bought an old-fashioned Ford Expedition. It weighs a bit more than
6,200 pounds, is nearly 3 feet longer than a sedan and, on a good day, gets
about 14 miles per gallon.
He knows that to some people, especially in the greener-than-thou Bay
Area, he’s something of a pariah. Occasionally he finds that someone has left a
slip of paper under his wiper blade, asking him to buy a smaller car.
Actually, he has a smaller car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima, that he uses for
some local runs because he knows the Expedition is a big, gas-guzzling vehicle.
Nonetheless, Fulford says there are many reasons why he bought the
"I’m 6 feet 4 inches and I weigh 250 pounds, so for me, it’s a comfort
thing," he said. "It’s a comfortable and convenient vehicle. I have a son who
is 4 and a daughter who is 16, and we use the SUV to haul kids around, take
them to parties. We use it to go to the mountains and we pull a water-skiing
boat behind it."
Fulford says he loves the car because of "all the functional aspects" of
it, and his wife loves it "because of all the nice amenities," such as heated
"It would be nice if they could get this fuel thing together," Fulford
said of the Expedition’s comparatively miserable gas mileage. "And as a citizen
of the United States, I’m concerned about global warming. It’s not that I don’t
consider those things. We try to do as much as we can. We try not to drive that
An analyst at Edmunds.com remarks, "We’ve always said that large SUVs are never going the way of the dodo." Perhaps their owners are.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigoso, who recently attended the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit, arrived in a chartered bus at a press event touting the city’s efforts to stop global warming…and left in nothing less than a GMC Yukon. Somebody ought to tell the mayor those things are awfully hard to hide.