Big is beautiful again in the US suburbs

David Usborne on the giant ego machines taking over the streets

If you thought that the love affair between Americans and their gas-guzzling road-cruisers was over long ago, think again. Tail-fins may not yet be back in fashion, but cars with monster dimensions are once more the national rage.

In fact, these garage-busters are not cars at all. What is drawing buyers to the showrooms in droves are so-called sport utility vehicles that ride high above the road. They have beefy engines, intimidating front-grill fenders and that other feature that is so vital in suburbia, four-wheel drive.

Their conquest of the US roadway - the big American manufacturers like Ford and General Motors simply cannot keep up with demand - is sounding alarm bells among safety groups. In accidents between these Goliaths and flimsy saloons, guess which gets crushed?

Ford apparently sees no limits to the trend. Yesterday came news that it is developing what should be the biggest utility yet - an eight-passenger titan to be called a crew wagon. It will be 19 feet long - compared with slightly under 15 feet for the Jeep Cherokee - and boast a V-10 engine under the bonnet.

The crew wagon will be bigger even than the current bully among bullies, the Chevrolet Suburban. In this correspondent's neighbourhood the Suburbans rule everywhere except in one street. Here there is a resident with the biggest status-symbol-on-wheels available anywhere - the Hummer, a derivative of military vehicle that might have been designed to cross the Himalayas.

At Universal Ford, a sprawling dealership just across the East River from Manhattan in Queens, Frank Thomas confirms the passion for size. "The bigger they are and the larger the engine-size, the more I sell," he said yesterday. "I love it." For every five large-saloon Taurus models he sells, he will shift 30 of the four-wheel-drive Ford Explorers.

"It's totally about ego," Mr Thomas says of his customers. "I look at their backgrounds and their credit histories and it's obvious that there is absolutely no practical point in them buying these vehicles.

"They think that they are going out on safari or something when in fact the largest obstacle they are likely to meet around here is a runaway shopping trolley".

An additional, somewhat ironic, attraction of these brutes is that their size means that they can no longer be described as small cars by the government. They thus escape both luxury taxes and federal regulations on fuel consumption.

There will be no limits on how much these vehicles can drink - which is a good thing. Most can manage only 14 miles a gallon.

The safety disadvantage that the rest of us find ourselves in on the road was highlighted by a study released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It noted that in fatal accidents involving a car and a light truck, which includes pick-ups and sport utilities, 80 per cent of those who died were riding in the cars.

That is a statistic, however, that may only quicken the stampede for the utilities. Have one of these parked outside your house and not only are you the meanest SOB on the block, your kids are likely to be the safest, too.

And who worries about fuel efficiency when you are living in a country where a gallon of petrol sells for less money than a gallon of designer mineral water?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Business Development B2B - Year 1 OTE £25,000

£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Several opportunities to join t...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Administrator

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a small, busy team s...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Field Engineer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT Support c...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works