Recently I witnessed a brief urban melodrama in a snow-filled downtown Detroit parking lot. A young housewife had managed to block a busy street with her Chevrolet Suburban.
She had backed her oversized vehicle out of the lot, and was yanking the steering wheel back and forth, swearing like a cab driver at the honking cars in her path.
A few minutes later, I was back inside the Detroit auto show, viewing GM's newest crown jewel: the Hummer H2. GM assures us it plans to produce a family of Hummer-like sport-utilities, presumably for all of those would-be Arnold Schwarzeneggers who want to relive the glory days of the Persian Gulf war.
I can't wait. It seems we are mired in a baroque period of automotive design. Judging by the popularity of behemoths such as the Suburban and the Ford Excursion, a remarkable number of Americans want to buy vehicles that look like bricks, handle like schoolbuses and cost as much as a summer cottage.
Unlike some people, I don't think sport-utilities will destroy the world. I do believe American motorists are missing out on some nifty European exercises in interior design - vehicles such as the Opel Zafira, Renault Megane Scenic and Audi A2.
But there's hope. The trend toward crossover trucks - vehicles that combine the features of cars, pickups, minivans and sport-utilities - has liberated automotive designers.
No one knows for sure what the public wants. With no cut-and-dried design formulas, they are beginning to take chances.
Witness DaimlerChrysler's PT Cruiser, which borrows the exterior styling of a 1937 Ford. Or the Chevrolet SSR sport pickup, which calls to mind the old Chevy El Camino. Or the Opel Zafira Snowtrekker, a micro-minivan based on the Zafira.
When it comes to vehicle design, the world's automakers are throwing away the rulebook.
Perhaps the reign of the sport-utility will end. Perhaps we are entering a golden age of vehicle design. My one plea to GM: Ax the Hummer. Bring on the Snowtrekker. No more bricks.