Treehugger Buys an SUV - Hell freezes, Arctic Melts?


[Editor's note: It probably comes as no surprise that this has been a hugely controversial post here among the TreeHugger community--both internally among the TH staff and with our readers and commenters. While we don't love the fact that there is yet another SUV on the road (and--eek!--driven by one of our own!) we do applaud the idea of taking a realistic look at the decisions consumers must make every day, and trying to understand what it means to go green in the real world. The whole point of "thinking like a TreeHugger" is to be able to apply green principles to each of our individual situations. But let's face it, sometimes compromise is the best we can do. We know you've got opinions about SUVs, this post, and TH in general, so go ahead and lay it on us in the comments below or in the forums. If you've got a rant, a rave, or you want to let us know about your own eco-dilemmas and compromises, bring it on.]

Yep, I did it; this Treehugger bought an SUV. Actually it's a Honda CRV, a 'crossover'. But it's certainly not a Prius. This self-interview lays down the facts as to why it was the right decision for us.

MJO: So Mark, You bought an SUV. Feeling a little guilty?

MJO: Not really. But I want to add that it was not my first choice - I really DID want to get a Hybrid, or a Smart, or a Scooter. But as it turned out, these vehicles didn't fit our needs.

MJO: Why don't you explain that.
MJO. Ok, some background. We are a family of three; I telecommute, my wife takes the bus every day. We live in-town Boston, so driving anywhere is essentially a PITA anyways. All in all, we drive maybe 6,000 miles a year. Now, our last car; it ran great until the engine light came on after 75K miles. We took it into the garage four times; ultimately they said we would have no alternative except to start tearing out parts and guessing. They said it might wind up at $1500; the car was worth $3000.

MJO: So you were in the typical old car bind - either start spending lots of money fixing lots of problems, or get a new car with a warranty, with new parts, with new everything.

MJO: Right. You know, I've been in this situation before, and it's a terrible, terrible situation to be in. We could have spent the money, fixed the problem, but then in two months there might be something else wrong. It's the usual risk/reward scenario; going green isn't going to help you escape making difficult choices.

MJO: So you decided to go new - why not just start out with a brand new Prius?

MJO: That was our first thought as well; new, great gas mileage, great Toyota brand and reputation; we were there. But it lacked a few items; space, for example, roominess. Having space in a car is a funny thing - you don't need it all the time, but when you need it, there aren't a lot of options; you aren't going to get a dishwasher into a Prius, or transport your extended family around when you are all together and going somewhere. So then you are into renting trucks and vans for these types of situations - which we did for years - and these rentals can really add up.

The other big item was safety. We realized that SUVs are often overrated in this regard, but the fact was that the SUV felt safer. I don't know why this is exactly; you are up a little higher, it is heavier; you sort of feel that if you get hit, mass will be on your side. Again, this is one of those 'probably never need it but nice to have things'; environmentally, it's a luxury item. But the effect is pretty powerful and swayed our decision.

MJO: Sounds like you needed/wanted it all - mileage, friendliness, comfort, space, safety. We're talking about a purple elephant here; this vehicle doesn't exist.

MJO: You're right, it doesn't. But trade-offs do exist, like the crossover SUV. I'll tell you, buying a car is a fascinating experience because you realize that car manufacturers must put a lot of time into their designs and do a lot of market research. This was not an easy decision to make - it was much harder than when we got our last car nine years ago - but given our particular situation, we thought it was the best decision. Going forward, we still don't plan on driving a lot, and I'm a big hypermiler.

MJO: What's the feeling out there amongst the car dealers, do they push the eco-choices?

MJO: They do and they don't. The cars with great gas mileage are flying off the lots - one fellow said there wasn't a single Prius in Boston to be had - and the large SUVs are just piling up as people dump them. But the market is at work here - dealers gladly take SUVs as trade-ins because the market is very, very soft for these types of vehicles, and the new buyers are 'dont-wanters', they just want to dump them. And the manufacturers are offering tremendous incentives on new SUVs, thousands of dollars.

Basically, our sense was that they will try and put you into the vehicle you want. If you want safety and space, they will emphasize these points and gladly get you into a SUV. If you are a commuter, they know you will pay sticker price for a Prius. So the game goes on. The best dealers are still the ones who have fair markups and are more interested in customer satisfaction than gouging. So, in this sense, going green won't help you either.

MJO: It's a personal decision, buying a car.

MJO: It's personal, it's expensive, and it's complicated. The best you can do it take a good, hard look at what you really need and go from there. Factor in every environmental consideration you can - and I think we did that - but ultimately, you have to choose what is best for you.

Tags: Prius