SUV sales soar as much as gas prices

March 29, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

IT'S THE START of the weekend and I am gassing my car at a Shell station in Baltimore County, where the prices on the signboard would make your heart seize up.

Regular unleaded is going for $1.759 a gallon. The mid-grade stuff is $1.839. Premium is an incredible $1.919.

Normally, the only way you'd fork over this kind of dough for gas is if someone with a bandanna over his face were holding a gun to your chest.

But here in the spring of 2004, with U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the war on terrorism looking like it sure won't be ending anytime soon, no one seems to mind that we're paying record high prices at the pumps.

At the pump next to me on this sunny morning is a Chevy Tahoe, an SUV that appears to be only slightly smaller than the QE 2.

I look at the guy filling up this beast and think: airline pilot.

You know the type. Rangy, chiseled features, brush mustache, aviator shades.

If he's not an airline pilot, I make him for a horse breeder or trainer, maybe from one of those sprawling farms in the northern part of the county with the white fences and emerald-green pastures that look like the Ponderosa.

In any event, as he stands there pumping, the Tahoe swallowing gallon after gallon of premium unleaded, I think: man, that can't be any fun.

With that huge gas tank, he must need to take out a home-equity loan every time he pulls up to the pumps.

And yet people keep buying SUVs as if the price of gas has never been better.

In a recent article in USA Today, I read that sales of SUVs are up 18 percent over the same period last year.

And that some of the largest SUVs, and worst gas guzzlers, the Chevy Tahoe and Dodge Durango, the Cadillac Escalade and Honda Pilot, are also the biggest sellers.

And that a recent survey showed that not until the price of gas reached $3.25 a gallon would a lot of motorists consider buying a car that gets better gas mileage.

This, of course, should surprise absolutely no one familiar with American culture, where bigger is always better, in houses, cars, stadiums, movie theaters, you name it.

If we're going to be out on the road, we want more head room and more leg room, so that we don't feel even the slightest bit cramped.

We want big bucket seats, so that there can be no possibility that our flesh may actually brush up against the flesh of a fellow passenger.

We want a killer sound system with 120-disc CD changer and TV's all over the place so the kids can watch movies or lose themselves in their Playstation 2 instead of whining and bothering us.

Basically, what we want are rolling family rooms.

Yes, that's it exactly.

If there was a way that we could stuff the couch, the big-screen TV, the wet bar, the pool table and the StainMaster carpeting by DuPont into a vehicle that could still cruise at 80 mph on I-95, we would do it.

But we can't, unless we want to spring for an RV, which is like springing for another home. So instead we buy these huge SUVs, which only cost as much as a small condo.

And who cares how much it costs to gas them up?

Or that the exhaust fumes from these big vehicles are ruining the air quality and punching a hole the size of Alaska in the ozone layer?

WE'RE AMERICANS!

JUST GIVE US MORE ROOM!

As usual, no one seems to know precisely why gas prices are so high once again.

It could be the usual extortionary tactics from OPEC. (Don't you get the feeling that the heads of the petroleum exporting countries get together every few months, crack a few beers, slap each other on the back and: "OK, what do you want to charge for a barrel of crude this time?")

Or it could simply be that supplies are low while the demand for gas keeps going up and up.

Whatever the reason, the price of gas doesn't figure to drop anytime soon, since analysts are saying it'll probably top $2 a gallon by this summer.

Great.

Still, it doesn't seem to be bothering too many people right now.

And it sure didn't seem to bother the guy in the Chevy Tahoe, who spent 50 bucks to fill his gas tank and drove off, whistling.

It was a beautiful scene. The OPEC heads would have loved it.

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