There Are Two Sides To The SUV Debate Coin

By: Wojciech Kic

An extravagant monster, the SUV — sport utility vehicle — rules the American road.

The debate over this immensely popular vehicle rages on. To some, the high gasoline consumption of the vehicle is a symbol of decadent waste. To others, the large size of the vehicle is a symbol of status and safety. What is notably absent in the SUV debate is the discussion of its utility.

To properly evaluate the SUV debate, one must make an objective and simple comparison between a typical SUV and an alternative, such as a two-door Volkswagen.

In a nutshell, the typical 2002 SUV model burns about a gallon every 12 miles. A VW gets about 24 miles per gallon.

At an average monthly driving rate of 1,000 miles, the SUV burns approximately 83 gallons of gas. A VW burns approximately 41 gallons of gas.

Thus, the VW burns less gas. At $1.50 per gallon the owner of the SUV spends $63 a month more on gas than the owner of the VW.

All other mechanical things about the SUV and VW being equal, are there functions of an SUV that a VW does not provide.

The owner of an SUV during a typical December can transport a Christmas tree home in one trip. She can also purchase and deliver about 100 pots of poinsettias for her neighbors and friends. Her husband can move household items (television sets, appliances) without the embarrassment of a request for a favor from a truck-owning co-worker or a high-dollar delivery fee. Also, the ability to transport these items actually saves gas consumption that a delivery vehicle would require.

For example, if the SUV owner purchases a 30-inch television, he can take it directly from the store to his home.This requires one trip to the store and one trip home.

A VW owner who purchases the same television cannot transport he set home in one trip. He would either have to have it delivered, or borrow a truck and return to the store and pick it up himself.This would mean two trips back and forth.Therefore, gas consumption would be equal to or higher than its SUV counterpart.

In another example, if the SUV owner’s child is a Little Leaguer, eight teammates can be delivered to a game in one trip by one parent, thus saving two or three other vehicles the same trip. In review, a VW two-door model does not yield any of the above functions that the SUV provides.

The value of each one of the above functions well exceeds $63.Thus if an owner of an SUV engages in more than one “cargo carrying” monthly function he quickly realizes a “profit” when compared to the owner of a VW. As a consequence, individually, the owner of an SUV behaves rationally.

But that’s not all. When an owner of an SUV carries a group of kids to a soccer game he saves the valuable time of other parents, as well as their vehicles’ wear and gas consumption. Collectively, these owners also have lower costs of commuting to Little League games. Thus, the owners of SUV’s behave rationally as a community. The $63 advantage becomes meaningless when the utility factor is introduced.

This raises a real question of why Americans realize the profits and advantages of SUVs and other do not.

The answer lies in differing concepts of utility. It is utility that accounts for the formidable growth of the United States economy. It is utility that accounts for fast-food restaurants and drive-thru banks. It is utility that brings about the construction of 16-lane highways, air travel and high-tech communication devices. It is utility that money and credit creates, that is solely accountable for a negative savings rate.

Utility means a 24/7/365 economy. Utility means there is no economic scarcity except wasted time. For Americans, the pursuit of utility equals freedom.

In America, personal utility consists of a maximum level of self-investment that yields maximum individual progress within the society. A maximum self-investment, in turn, yields the maximum progress of society as a whole.

Europeans, for example, may see the financial advantage of a SUV, but only as vehicles for farmers, construction workers or truckers. They would never consider owning an SUV as a family vehicle.An SUV is considered a work vehicle.They would never imagine driving such a vehicle from a construction job to a fine restaurant.

Hence, to the world, American largesse has no visible source.

But if the SUV aids economic growth, what happens during a time of high fuel costs? What if the cost of gas increases by a multiple of 10? If the cost of gas increases, when compared to all other vehicles, the utility of an SUV will also increase. That utility, in turn, depresses the cost of fuel.

If the high cost of gas increases utility in America, why does it seem that the low cost of fuel is in the American interest? Low fuel costs are solely in the global interest — a sub- stantial increase in the cost of fuel leaves the world without the utility to absorb it. For the American utility economy, the cost of fuel is irrelevant.

Thus in the SUV debate, let’s keep in mind that the lack of personal utility for an SUV is supported by the SUV utility of those that need it.

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