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January 14, 2003

SUVs and SOBs II

The first installment of SUVs and SOBs talked about Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty: SUVs, which debunks the myths of SUVs as safe vehicles (for their drivers or anyone else), and argues that driving SUVs is immoral on multiple levels—primarily because SUVs pose such a threat to drivers in other vehicles and because they consume so many resources. It turns out that Bradsher's book couldn't have come out at a better time. First, and most recently, you've probably heard about the "SUVs support terrorism" ad campaign being led by Arianna Huffington, and also about the tv stations refusing to run them. Call it a more aggressive take on last November's "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign; both are attempts to get people to think about the effects their massive consumption of resources might have on the world around them. Of course, as Bradsher's book shows, such campaigns will largely fall on deaf ears if they try to reach SUV drivers, since, on average, SUV drivers are very antisocial people. That's why the Huffington campaign seems so great to me—it makes an argument that's sensational enough to get people who don't drive SUVs to question those who do. With enough of that kind of thing, even antisocial SUV drivers might find the disapproval associated w/driving their vehicles too much to take. If the campaign seems far-fetched, don't forget that the U.S. government produced similar propaganda during WWII. (My favorite slogan: "Should brave men die so you can drive?")

Meanwhile, did you know that our tax code offers huge incentives to Detroit to continue making SUVs, and to buyers to continue buying them? It's true. First, a tax loophole exempts "light trucks" from a tax automakers pay on high-pollution vehicles they sell. (Note: The information I found on this is from 2000, so this may have been changed since then.)

Second, another tax loophole gives tax rebates to buyers of the largest SUVs. Apparently only "small business owners" qualify for this rebate, but there are enough of them to translate into a lot more SUVs on the roads. Plus, since the tax advantage is so great—as much as $25,000, which might make a $50k SUV downright affordable—that lots of small business owners who have no use for an SUV are choosing to buy one anyway, just because it's such a good deal for them. I understand that this tax break was meant to help small business owners afford the equipment necessary for the work they do, but the unintended consequences here are too serious to ignore.

Posted January 14, 2003 11:39 AM | general politics

heh -- my wife just came clean about our SUV -- you might be interested to read her essay at

Posted by: Val Cohen at January 20, 2003 03:30 PM

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