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SUVs and the Freedom to Choose

Our most compelling quotes on the U.S. preference for SUVs — and reliance on oil.

March 11, 2003

Our most compelling quotes on the U.S. preference for SUVs — and reliance on oil.

SUVs are a topic of great debate in the United States at present. Proponents and opponents of these vehicles argue ferociously about their merits. They bring two closely related issues into focus: Are there limits to U.S. consumers’ desire to choose? And how does the country's dependence on oil affect U.S. foreign policy?

Why are Americans so wedded to the idea of the Sport Utility Vehicle?

"SUV’s trigger the emancipation of the masses from dependence on government — public transportation.”

(George Will, Washington Post columnist, November 2002)

Why can't Americans give them up?

“Imagine climbing an icy mountain, towing your snowmobile — but instead of driving a pickup or an SUV, you’re driving a compact car. That’s what you could be forced to do, if some U.S. senators get their way.”

(Advertisement of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, March 2002)

What makes buying an SUV for safety reasons questionable?

“The theory that I’m going to protect myself and my family, even if it costs other people’s lives, has been the operative incentive for the design of these vehicles — and that’s just wrong.”

(Jeffrey Runge, U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator, March 2003)

Will better legislation help?

"SUVs are rolling symbols of federal energy policy gone awry."

(Warren Brown, Washington Post automotive writer, December 2001)

Why doesn't Washington appear willing to act?

“Basically, Washington is in the pocket of Detroit.”

(Arianna Huffington, syndicated columnist, January 2003)

Would Americans be willing to support a war for oil?

"I have no problem with a war for oil — provided that it is to fuel the first progressive Arab regime and not just for our SUVs."

(Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, January 2003)

Could it be that politicians are also part of the SUV crowd?

"Politicians like driving SUVs — because it's not usually a good idea for a politician to be driving a Mercedes or a Volvo."

(Keith Bradsher, former New York Times Detroit Bureau Chief, October 2002)

What are the prospects for a meaningful debate on energy issues?

“The American idea of an energy debate is to preach conservation — while driving to the mall in an SUV.”

(Robert Samuelson, Newsweek columnist, May 2001)

If debate doesn't work, does money?

"If fuel were $3 a gallon, I think you'd see a very different distribution of size of vehicles — car and truck."

(Alex Trotman, former CEO of Ford, November 1997)

Can U.S. carmakers continue to bet on SUV production?

“Detroit in the 1990s grew lazy on fat profits generated by pick-ups and sport utility vehicles, while Japanese rivals stole market share in lower-margin cars.”

(Jeremy Grant and James Mackintosh, Financial Times columnists, December 2002)

What is the result?

“The future of GM, Ford and Chrysler now depends on SUVs and pickups.”

(Danny Hakim, Detroit Bureau Chief for the New York Times, March 2003)

Who is ultimately responsible for the production of SUVs?

“Businesses needn’t apologize for making products that other Americans want to buy. Their first obligation is to their shareholders and employees — and that means above all making an honest profit.”

(Wall Street Journal editorial, August 2002)

Why doesn't the industry simply switch to different models?

"Just with increased seat-belt usage, upwards of 1,000 lives of those occupants could be saved. We are doing a lot with the product but what we are able to do is limited by what our consumers do.”

(Robert S. Strassburger, Vice President of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, February 2003)

What about risk evaluations undertaken by the manufacturers?

“What’s the credibility of the auto manufacturers when they clearly opposed seat belts and air bags.”

(U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), March 2003)

Finally, how is Saddam Hussein involved in all this?

"Self-indulgence verging on anti-social behavior is called freedom of choice — the very thing that separates America from the Axis of Evil."

(Bruce McCall, actor and writer, October 2002)