I was there when it happened -- I saw it with my own eyes. So I guess that makes me an eyewitness. You know, the death of SUV innovation.
It occurred at an auto show. Every automaker was showing off its latest massive, oversized econobox-crusher. It looked like a car lot run by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Every vehicle, it seemed, was powered by a massive engine, some of them pumping out more horsepower than it took to send a rocket to the moon back in 1969. Everything was big: big fenders, big wheels, big bodies.
And it stank, really. Where had the real innovation gone? I didn't see any. So here's a memo to car designers:
When alloy wheels were an expensive option on a limited number of vehicles, they really stood out; they were cool. Now that they're standard on virtually every SUV, they're boring. Let's try something else like a nice set of wheel covers or even just plain slotted steel wheels.
They've become the opera window of the SUV market. They're a dumb cliche used by dull people to impress other dull people. Let's drop them. And drop the fake rhino-guards and brush bars. They're cheesy.
Some of those huge SUVs have less carrying space than my daughter's Plymouth Acclaim. I checked out the Hummer H3 and was amazed at how little load space it offered in relation to its size. The Porsche and BMW boutique SUVs are two other examples of SUV styling without SUV utility.
Isn't utility a big reason why I'm supposed to want to buy an SUV?
Honestly, what benefit does a consumer get out of 17-, 18- or 19-inch tires? On the road, next to nothing. Off-road - well, OK, they are a bit better. But how many people actually take their SUVs off-road - 3 percent? 5 percent?
Meanwhile, most of us end up with lower fuel economy and higher replacement costs.
Some of those style marks have become caricatures of themselves. That's a sign that they've reached the end of the road. Let's come up with a totally new look that doesn't borrow from old ideas.
How about something with elegance and grace - something lithe and stylish?
How hard can that be to do? The 1963 Jeep Wagoneer had it. So did the 1984 Cherokee XJ.
When I think about the number of people who drive with a cell phone in one hand, a sandwich in the other, a hairbrush in still another hand, tuning their satellite radios while doing work on their laptops, I have to wonder: Is it really responsible to put so much horsepower in the hands of drivers who only occasionally bother to look where they're going?
By now some of you are thinking I'm anti-SUV. Nope. I've written four books about SUVs. Read them, and you'll see I'm not. What I'm against is staleness of thought, stagnation of ideas.
When SUVs first came out, they were cool because they were different. They occupied a small niche that grew rapidly.
Now that they're a large segment, they need to display some new ideas to make them continue to grow. If not, the segment will shrink.