Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Americans, it seems to me, are loath to place their sense of shared responsibility ahead of their self-gratification.

How's that for a view on Americans? With all the debate out there, here's a less statistical take on why SUVs are such a hot item.

The first 70-plus pages of his paper detailed the safety and environmental drawbacks associated with SUVs and the Hummer in particular, and drew parallels between these gas-guzzlers and U.S. positions on the Kyoto Protocol and Middle East foreign policy. But in the end, the author sounded a cautionary note�luxury can seduce even the well-intentioned.

Jain notes that Americans� dependence on cars really began in the boom years following World War II, when personal autos supplanted public transportation, suburban development created a commuter culture, and the government built thousands of miles of wide, easily navigable highways. The result: vast, sprawling metroplexes catering to cars. Today, Jain says, �if you live in the suburbs you�re physically handicapped without a car. How are you going to get to work?�

But the source of our collective infatuation with the automobile isn�t just utilitarian. Cars and trucks are marketed and widely embraced as icons representing sex, adventure, even patriotism.

Ah the influential strength of marketing (or perhaps just the naivete of Americans in general :)

I've lived in Tokyo for over two years straight now and have driven a car once - and even then it would arguably have been more efficient to take public transport. Population density makes a difference for sure, but so does government priority.

-- matt // 5:49 AM //


Hm, but a deeper question might be how did trucks and SUVs get equated with sex, adventure, and patriotism. Sure, the marketing folks want us to believe that they made this transition themselves and they probably deserve some credit. However, as Davi Cay Johnston (NY Times columnist) noted in his book, "Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich and Cheat Everybody Else", the tax system was skewed in the early 1990s to purchase SUVs and trucks.

Tax laws were written in such a way that, if you could prove that your SUV or truck was your primary vehicle for work, then you could write off up to $50,000 of the price over 5 years. This was recently amended to cover up to $100,000 over 5 years. Why was this written? Originally to assist farmers and those professions in rural areas that might require the use of such a vehicle (doctors, for instance). But because the law was so vaguely written, it eventually applied to any profession in any area of the US.

The relatively wealthy, who read up on tax laws or hired professionals to do so, soon bought SUVs and used them as their primary vehicles in order to enjoy the write off. This led to an expansion of the SUV market by automakers into the luxury SUV market. You can guess where the story goes from here.
// B.D. // 8:09 PM

interesting point - the way i understood the tax implication was you can write off any car, not just suv's. at least that's what my buddies are doing!!
// umair // 8:16 PM

That's true, you can write off any car as long as it's used for work. This is true in places other than the United States. I'm not sure if your tax benefit is higher if you own a SUV.

I think the popularity of SUV's can be attributed to the fear culture of the United States. Some marketing gurus figured out that if you scare the living sh*t out of people, they'll spend excessive amounts of money on things they think will help them survive. So goes the atkins trend, the gun lobby, the war in Iraq, the missile defense program, the SUV. The popular sentiment towards SUVs was that you'd survive...
// dhd // 4:31 PM

Has anyone correlated the rise in impotency/use of impotency drugs to the swelling in size of SUV's? I've been wondering this for awhile.
// Anonymous // 10:52 PM
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