Thursday, August 21, 2008

SUV Love

The history of the horseless-carriage, motor coach, or “car”, culminating in the modern SUV, is a long and surprisingly uninteresting one.

The first self-propelled road vehicle was invented by the prissy(I assume) Frenchman Nicolas Joseph Cugnot in 1769. His three wheeled steam powered vehicle was built for the French army to haul artillery. Sadly, it failed in this military application as early models did not feature a reverse gear. The same vehicle was marketed to civilians, but sales were poor due to a top speed of 2 ½ MPH, and the unfortunate name under which it was sold, “Le 69 Grande”.

Following the failure of these steam powered Francophone experiments, a Scotsman by the name of Robert Anderson invented the first electric car in 1839. The vehicle was thus described, “heavy, slow, expensive, and needed to stop for recharging frequently”. With these characteristics, there is no doubt that Anderson’s vehicle was the forerunner to the modern SUV.

After the experiments with electrical cars there were many trials involving internal combustion engines. This new line of testing in transportation emerged when the obviously crazed Francois Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland decided that the engine, as it stood in his time, didn’t involve enough highly volatile and explosive materials. Later, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany competed to make the first practical gas powered automobile. While the cars that resulted were described as “particular” and “humorless”, they got the job done.

In today’s modern and fast paced world of TV-dinners, nuclear powered refrigerators, and moving-picture entertainment, having a motor-vehicle to move you between your box-socials and philanthropist charity events is a must. The latest innovation in vehicular travel is the Sport Utility Vehicle(also known as the Seemingly Unattractive Vehicle). The popular abbreviation SUV is pronounced “S-uh-‘v”.

SUV popularity skyrocketed in the 1990’s as the average jackass looked for a way to articulate his overconfident and pompous attitude while traveling. This merger of arrogant idiocy and multi-ton, super powered, steel reinforced vehicles of dubious construction soon took the world by storm.

The SUV itself is best described as an amalgamation of features found in other objects. It has the seating capacity of a small gymnasium, the fossil fuel expenditure of a minor South American country, the cornering ability of the Exxon Valdez, and the ground clearance of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank. All of these features are wrapped into the vehicular equivalent of the rugged good looks of Clint Eastwood.

Today, the discerning consumer has a nearly infinite choice in SUVs. There is the Ford Excursion, with a V-10 engine, 11,000 pound towing capacity, and 9 person seating. A vehicle no doubt built for Baldwinian sized families and Cruise Liner Captain wannabes. For a slightly smaller vehicle, there is the GMC Jimmy. Assembled entirely out of crushed beer cans in Guatemala, the Jimmy is custom built for drivers interested in spending the entirety of their children’s college funds just to keep the vehicle running. Also, it caters to those individuals who go by the name Jimmy, and wish to have their name emblazoned on every side of the vehicle.

For those seeking a vehicle whose combined length and width dimensions are less than the total height measurement, there is the Geo Tracker. This nifty little SUV has all of the features of a compact car, without the reasonable price. Also, it's center of gravity is approximately that of a top. Finally, there is the so dubbed ‘cross-over’ SUV which is an SUV built on a car chassis. An example of this is the Honda CR-V. The CR-V features the off-road ability of a Civic, the seating capacity of a Civic, the smooth ride of a Civic, and the raw horsepower of a Civic, all built on the sturdy chassis of a Civic.

However many SUVs there are to choose from, our love affair with these mighty vehicles is in danger. Soaring gas prices threaten to eliminate any vehicle posting less than 12 gallons per mile. Moreover, Darwinian Law dictates that a vehicle unable to corner at speeds over 17 MPH may indeed succumb to natural selection. Nevertheless, however shaky the future of the SUV may look, we can rest assured knowing that at least one French inventor is spinning in his grave as he looks over what has become of his cherished creation.

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