SUV Solutions by the Union of Concerned Scientists
It's been a while since we mentioned our affection for the Union of Concerned Scientists, so we'll fix that right now with a post about one of their projects. Being a constructive bunch, they can't just criticize; they also offer solutions and alternatives. That's exactly what they do with their SUVSolutions website. I don't think they like SUVs much, and neither do I, but in the spirit of pragmatism they figure that as long as people are buying them, why not try to make them greener and safer. After all, any improvement on a high-volume product can make a non-negligible difference.They have a blueprint for a fictional SUV called the UCS Guardian (with a fictional XSE model that comes with more features). It's basically a way to show the improvements that they would make to SUV design. Unibody construction, window curtain airbags, stronger roof, efficient V6 engine with 6 speed automatic transmission, integrated starter-generator, etc.
For less than $750 added to the sticker price of an Explorer, the Guardian provides all the same room and performance with substantially improved safety and 27.8 mpg. The Guardian XSE would provide even more safety and 36.3 mpg for about a $3000 increase. With the continued safety problems of SUVs, their environmental impact, and today's skyrocketing gas prices, the value of putting the better SUV blueprint technologies to work in SUVs of all sizes is clear.
While looking at these figures, don't forget that SUVs are some of the highest-margin vehicles for automakers (which is why they have pushed them so hard). Even the $3000 increase wouldn't eat that much into profits, especially since it would make them more attractive and they would need to discount them less to sell them (unlike what the Big 3 is doing now). Not that I recommend that anyone buy a SUV unless it's really needed.