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Are We What We Drive?

January 11, 2003

Re "Shift Gears in Drive Against SUV Owners," Commentary, Jan. 6: I disagree with Auden Schendler's statement that people drive SUVs because "there are no comparably priced options with better gas mileage that offer equivalent safety, convenience, performance and comfort." When we moved to Southern California last year we were told, "You are what you drive." At the time I was an old Honda.

The real reason people drive SUVs is because they are "in." When my children were growing up, I watched the evolution of the "cool Mom-mobile" from Volvo wagon to minivan to Jeep to Lincoln Navigator. Now I see a growing number of Hummers in as-yet nonmilitary situations, such as the one parked so close to me in Westlake Village that I had to crawl in over my aged mother.

Schendler should check the safety, convenience and comfort facts on minivans, although I give him the issue of off-road and severe-weather driving in Aspen. Although the penalty for driving a minivan in Southern California may be exile to Nebraska, it should be uncool among the environmentally aware to drive an SUV. I shouldn't have to buy a behemoth vehicle in self-defense against the escalating (or "Escalading") size of my fellow motorists.

Allyson Williams

Thousand Oaks

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Schendler perpetuates the myth that SUVs are safer than sedans for their own occupants. While SUVs fare better in some accidents, their propensity for deadly roll-overs and their lack of crumple zones negate any advantages provided by size and weight. As a result, SUVs cause thousands of deaths and severe injuries annually to drivers of more efficient vehicles while providing no additional protection to their own occupants. Couple that with the added pollution and damage to the environment and there is no excuse for driving these gas-guzzling behemoths.

Roger Rudick

Los Angeles

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Schendler couldn't have put it better: People buy gas-guzzling SUVs because auto makers aren't yet offering large, affordable vehicles that get better gas mileage. There's obviously a market for more fuel-efficient SUVs: General Motors has announced plans to produce a hybrid Saturn Vue that would get 40 mpg. When the industry's biggest opponent of increased fuel economy begins to invest in hybrids, it's clear that consumers want to be able to keep buying their favorite models but want them to get better gas mileage.

Existing technology like the integrated starter-generator and the variable valve-control engine would allow auto makers to produce cars, trucks and SUVs with significantly improved fuel economy. By making this technology standard, auto makers could save consumers money at the gas pump, cut global-warming pollution and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. If we use existing technology, we don't need to choose between driving SUVs and improving fuel economy. We can do both.

Kate Simmons

Global Warming and Energy

Program, Sierra Club

Washington

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The first half of Schendler's commentary made sense to me until it went silly. He claims that many SUV drivers are outdoors people with a concern for the environment. How does he know this? He blames Ford, General Motors and the federal government for opposing corporate average fuel economy standards. It's true that the federal government could take a more active approach in this area. But we all know that the car manufacturers build and sell because of demand. Plainly, people desire SUVs for a multitude of reasons and none of them have anything to do with the environment.

From the number of SUVs I see every day in Los Angeles, it would be hard to believe that they are all driven by outdoorsy types. Real environmental concern starts with one's lifestyle.

Bill Franks

Los Angeles

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Smearing dog excrement on SUV door handles? Whoa! Counterproductive doesn't half cover it. But addressing concerns to the Bush administration is almost as silly. California has already enacted standards to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency, and the federal government is suing us to block the standards taking effect. In other words, our own tax dollars are being used to attack our environment and the will of the people of California.

Assuming the feds succeed in their suit, all that is left to us is a consumer boycott of polluters and gas guzzlers. People who already own these vehicles, however, are the wrong targets of such a campaign.

Activists should be "ticketing" cars in parking lots at auto shows and in customer parking areas at auto dealers -- or anywhere a potential buyer might be. They should be talking to industry promoters inside the Convention Center about their desire for an environmentally friendly vehicle.

California is the greatest market for motor vehicles in the world. The industry can't ignore us. If we create a market, the product will follow.

Margaret Morris

Ventura

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