THE LARGEST sport-utility vehicle ever, Ford Motor Co.'s new Excursion, will be 19 feet long, nearly 7 feet high, weigh 3.5 tons and cost $50,000 (turning Ford a profit of $20,000). With a fuel rating of only 12 miles per gallon and a 44-gallon tank, critics dubbed it the "Ford Valdez," a biting reference to the 1989 oil tanker spill in Alaska.
The excess may be laughable, but effects of this trend aren't.
Road accidents involving light trucks in 1996 caused an estimated 2,000 more deaths than they would have had only passenger cars been involved, a recent study found. Stiff frames, taller height and greater weight of these "passenger trucks" were factors noted.
That adds to research showing that the high-riding SUVs are four times more likely to tip over in collisions than passenger cars. A AAA study finding that, in collisions between SUVs and cars, car occupants are 10 times more likely to die.
Legally defined as trucks, these behemoths belch three to five times as much smog-causing pollution as cars. Their fuel economy is poor.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing to make these large vehicles subject to the emissions standards for cars. That's the cleanup equivalent of removing 54 million cars from the nation's highways.
None of this has put the brakes on the demand for SUVs and light trucks. Fueled by cheap gas prices and growing consumer affluence, SUV purchases now account for more than half of new vehicle sales in the United States.
For air quality and safety, the American road needs fewer of these gas-guzzling SUV monsters, not more.