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2007.gmc.yukon.20029928_T.jpgRising 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.

This, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The numbers for large SUVs rose nearly 6 percent in the first quarter of2007, and the April figures were up 25 percent from April 2006, according toautomakers' statistics provided by Edmunds.com, an automotive research Website.

The bigger the guzzler, the better the numbers. Sales of GMC's Yukon XLwere up a whopping 72 percent last month, and the totals for its Chevroletsister, the Suburban, rose 38 percent. Topping off the tank on either one cancost as much as $120.

The turnaround comes after a 24 percent drop in SUV sales from the firstquarter of 2004 to the same period of 2006. One explanation for the renewedinterest is that U.S. automakers are selling a more modern fleet of SUVs, someof 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 orthodontistwho recently bought an old-fashioned Ford Expedition. It weighs a bit more than6,200 pounds, is nearly 3 feet longer than a sedan and, on a good day, getsabout 14 miles per gallon.

He knows that to some people, especially in the greener-than-thou BayArea, he's something of a pariah. Occasionally he finds that someone has left aslip 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 forsome local runs because he knows the Expedition is a big, gas-guzzling vehicle.

Nonetheless, Fulford says there are many reasons why he bought theExpedition.

"I'm 6 feet 4 inches and I weigh 250 pounds, so for me, it's a comfortthing," he said. "It's a comfortable and convenient vehicle. I have a son whois 4 and a daughter who is 16, and we use the SUV to haul kids around, takethem to parties. We use it to go to the mountains and we pull a water-skiingboat behind it."

Fulford says he loves the car because of "all the functional aspects" ofit, and his wife loves it "because of all the nice amenities," such as heatedleather seats.

"It would be nice if they could get this fuel thing together," Fulfordsaid of the Expedition's comparatively miserable gas mileage. "And as a citizenof the United States, I'm concerned about global warming. It's not that I don'tconsider those things. We try to do as much as we can. We try not to drive thatfar."

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.

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