SUVs are taking over the world

mini stuff
© R Viner/Getty Images/ Who needs an SUV? You can get a lot of stuff into a small car.

From Beijing to London, everybody wants them. This is bad for pedestrians and bad for the climate.

It used to be that cars were small; in Europe, they were tiny, which was actually a good thing on the narrow roads in old cities with no parking. But now, according to Hiroko Tabuchi in the New York Times, everybody everywhere wants an SUV.

Spurred by rising incomes and lower gas prices, drivers in China, Australia and other countries are ditching their smaller sedans for bigger rides at a rapid pace. For the first time, S.U.V.s and their lighter, more carlike cousins known as “crossovers” made up more than one in three cars sold globally last year, almost tripling their share from just a decade ago, according to new figures from the auto research firm JATO Dynamics. “Everyone is jumping on S.U.V.s,” said Matthew Weiss, JATO Dynamics’ president for North America.

Mini world record© Ron Case/ Getty Images/ Who needs an SUV? "Fifteen mini-skirted girls crammed in an Austin Mini, breaking the previous world record, set by an American college group, for the number of people you can fit in a Mini."

It's odd that it would become an international phenomenon because in Europe, the roads are still narrow, gas is still expensive and parking is still hard to find. But people love them and are now loving the big American pickup truck.

Last year, Ford sold more than one million F-series pickup trucks — a fifth of them outside the United States — putting it within striking distance of unseating Toyota’s Corolla as the world’s best selling vehicle, according to tallies from JATO and Toyota.

Nissan Qashqai© Oli Scarff/Getty images: Former Prime Minister Cameron admires a Nissan Qashqai

The new European SUVs are different from the ones in the States because they have to meet higher standards for pedestrian safety, which makes their front ends much lower. The most popular is the Nissan Qashqai (how do you pronounce that) which is really a pumped-up car, more what is called a Crossover Utility Vehicle. I doubt most Americans would look at that and even consider it an SUV. They have to meet all the fuel and safety standards that cars do.

Jeep CherokeeJeep Cherokee ad for the new family car/Promo image

In the USA, SUVs are considered light trucks, which historically had less stringent rules. That's why we got them in the first place, as a way of getting around the fuel efficiency standards of the seventies. Tabuchi notes that the manufacturers used this loophole to "turn the truck into America’s new family car." Now they rule the road, and we are going to see more pedestrians killed, more greenhouse gases emitted.

Tabuchi points out how hypocritical the car makers are, talking clean tech and electric cars and then:

General Motors, which unveiled its Chevy Bolt electric car in 2016, has sold about 25,000 of them in the United States, and the model hasn’t received updates that might spur sales this year. This month, though, the automaker announced it was spending $265 million to build its new Cadillac XT4 crossover S.U.V. at its plant in Kansas City, Kan.

percentage driving chart© UMTRI

Of course, all of this is really terrible if you believe that we have to actually do something about climate change. About the only good news is that once again, it is the kids that will save us, as the number of young people with drivers licences continues to decline. That is about the only thing that will save us from being buried in SUVs and pickups.

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