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This interesting article should be ok to post in full sinvr it's off the newswire. I don't dislike the SUV's because of environmental concerns; I just hate them because they are so trendy. Where I live, in Palm Beach county there are too many, especially for such a congenial climate. We probably have more Hummers driving around than Colorado, Vermont and the entire Appalachians combined yet the closest thing we have to a hill or mountain for 500 miles is a pot-hole. Pretentious. I wonder what Freud would have surmised about that.

By Jeffrey Ball
Detroit -- AN UNSETTLING THOUGHT is starting to nag at auto makers who rely on sport-utility vehicles for a big chunk of their profits: The biggest SUVs may be becoming uncool.
The death of the SUV has been falsely proclaimed off and on throughout its decadelong rise as an American consumer icon. But now some of the Big Three's top executives themselves say they see distinct signs that an important segment of cutting-edge consumers -- not just environmental activists -- are starting to sour on monster SUVs.
Sales of SUVs hit a record in 2002. Still, DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler unit is finding in market research that SUV owners themselves are increasingly unhappy with their vehicles' poor fuel economy. Chrysler, hoping to play on what it thinks is a growing environmental consciousness in the average American consumer, is even running a national TV commercial suggesting that people buy a minivan instead of an SUV because the minivan goes farther on a gallon of gas.
SUVs increasingly have become the butt of jokes for political satirists and cartoonists. A group called the Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for a series of vandalism attacks on SUVs, including a fire this month at a Pennsylvania car dealership. But what has some Detroit executives
particularly worried are signs of a backlash developing among the next
generation of auto buyers: the "millennials," who are now in their teens and 20s. "It's a big deal, and it's real," says James Schroer, Chrysler's executive vice president for sales and marketing.
Criticism of big SUVs is clearly getting louder and broader. On Sunday, the Detroit Project, a coalition headed by newspaper columnist Arianna Huffington, is scheduled to begin airing 30-second TV ads in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Detroit that mimic popular antidrug ads in their suggestion that SUV buyers are implicitly supporting terrorism. The ads follow efforts last year by major Christian and Jewish organizations to persuade their adherents
that gas guzzlers are immoral because they use wasteful amounts of natural resources. In the fall, an evangelical Christian group started running TV ads
in four states with the tagline: "What Would Jesus Drive?"
The Huffington ads mark the latest effort by SUV critics to tie the vehicles'high fuel consumption not to environmental concerns such as global warming, but to U.S. dependence on foreign oil -- an issue meant to grab public attention as the nation moves toward possible war against Iraq.
"This is George," one of the ads says. "This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. This is the oil company executive that sold the gas that George bought
for his SUV. These are the countries where the executive bought the oil, that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV." The tagline: "Oil money supports some terrible things. What kind of mileage does your SUV get?"
For the most part, the auto industry continues to aggressively market big SUVs, which in some cases fetch profits topping $10,000 apiece. Chrysler, for instance, displayed at the annual Detroit Auto Show this week a new version of its biggest SUV, the Dodge Durango, touting its massive climbing and towing power. Big pickup trucks are still an industry favorite: Yesterday, Japan's Nissan Motor Co. unveiled its first full-size pickup -- the Titan -- with a news conference showing the shadow of the truck eclipsing pristine red-rock canyons. The teaser: "Get ready for something big. Really big."
Consumers, of course, continue to snap up the big rigs. One in four vehicles sold last year was an SUV, according to Autodata Corp., an industry research
firm. SUV sales overall rose 6% last year, even as the overall auto market fell 2%. "Light trucks" -- a category that includes SUVs, pickups and minivans -- now account for about half of the U.S. market. Plenty of buyers continue to believe that bigger is better. One of the hottest new SUVs on the market is General Motors Corp.'s Hummer H2, a military-inspired vehicle whose aggressive look and massive size is its basic selling point.
Still, despite the popularity of the Hummer and other in-your-face SUVs, many consumers have been gravitating for the past couple years toward a kinder, gentler kind of SUV, such as Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus RX300 and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG's BMW X5. These "crossovers" -- introduced by the Japanese and
European auto makers and then copied by the Big Three -- offer smoother rides and better fuel economy, partly because they are built on the underpinnings of a car, not a truck.
Now, however, some top U.S. auto officials quietly acknowledge signs that the leading edge of consumer culture is starting to shift against the industry's cash cows. The auto industry pays especially close attention to cultural trends, and some of its leaders say they see signs that Americans in their teens and 20s are far less likely than their elders to gravitate toward vehicles that drink a lot of gas.
One result is the Chrysler TV ad. In it, a brain surgeon in an operating room about to start the procedure comments that a minivan gets better fuel economy than an SUV. The patient, lying on the operating table, notes that he drives an SUV. Hearing that, a nurse looks at the patient as the anesthetic is about to take hold and says: "Sleepy time."
Chrysler's spot for the minivan isn't entirely altruistic. Minivans are more important to Chrysler than to any other auto maker, and Chrysler doesn't have an SUV as big as the GM's Chevy Suburban or Ford Motor Co.'s Expedition. Still, by criticizing SUVs so explicitly, Chrysler is taking a big risk.
Mr. Schroer said Chrysler executives debated whether the ad was so anti-SUV that it would dissuade customers from buying SUVs, which still contribute much of Chrysler's sales. "Frankly, it's a gamble," he says. After all, one of Chrysler's brands, Jeep, sells nothing but SUVs. Indeed, some dealers believe Chrysler should build an even bigger SUV to compete with the likes of the Suburban and Expedition, he notes. "You guys in Detroit don't understand," Mr. Schroer says some dealers complain. "You're listening too much to the environmentalists."
In the end, however, Mr. Schroer said, he and his colleagues concluded that the core group of die-hard SUV fans couldn't be dissuaded by a mere TV
commercial. And even those buyers are finding the anti-SUV message increasingly
tough to avoid, he says. "They're starting to get a little sensitive about fuel
economy because they're starting to get guff," he says. "They didn't get any
guff two years ago."
Chrysler isn't the only auto maker sensing a cultural change. Ford Chief
Executive Bill Ford said at a dinner with reporters Monday that he has insisted
that his senior executives take seriously what he regards as a broadening
consumer concern about SUVs. He said his company needs to be prepared to adapt
if consumers do shift away from the biggest SUVs, and he points to Ford's
forthcoming hybrid gas-and-electric SUV, the Escape, as an example of Ford's
effort to respond to SUV critics. Next year, Ford plans to bring out a midsize
crossover wagon, the Freestyle, aimed at consumers who are either tired of
traditional SUVs or unwilling to buy a big SUV when their lifestyles dictate a
move out of a sedan.
GM, meanwhile, confirmed this week that it intends to offer fuel-saving hybrid
gas-electric systems as options on as many as one million vehicles, including
large pickups and SUVs. The question, GM officials say, is whether consumers
will buy the systems.
Robert Lutz, GM vice chairman and product-development chief, was one of the
drivers of the push to SUVs in the 1990s when he worked at Ford and then at
Chrysler. He says GM sees no sign of a backlash against SUVs now. "We're
dealing with fringe elements here whose voices are greatly amplified by a
bemused press," he says. "It's much ado about nothing."
GM officials say their research shows no evidence younger consumers are less
inclined to buy SUVs because of environmental concerns. "On the contrary, it's
especially the younger buyers who just love stuff like the H2," Mr. Lutz said.
"Kids like the same things we do." In fact, GM officials said their consumer
research indicates a backlash against minivans, with buyers moving out of that
segment to SUVs.
---
Gregory L. White and Joseph B. White contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
01-07-03 2303ET- - 11 03 PM EST 01-07-03
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