Thanks to gas prices, SUVs have become the fur coats of the automotive industry: ostentatious, outdated, hard to defend and even harder to maintain.
Once buying a SUV was a referendum on where you thought the country’s fortunes–and your own–were going. Ethics, if any, were between you, your conscience and your pocketbook.
Now Explorers, Navigators, Yukons and Expeditions are eliciting the same who-do-you think-you-are looks as furs coats do–and what-was-I-thinking recriminations from confused and deflated owners. (see: American dream NOT)
The image of a 120 pound woman entombed in a rolling condo-on-wheels to traverse six city blocks (and circle for parking) is becoming a neo badge of excess, entitlement and exceptionalism like wearing 44 chinchillas.
Of course driving an SUV does not crystallize someone’s politics the way wearing a fur does for a Sharon “the-China-earthquake-was-karma” Stone or a Sarah let’s-shoot-wolves-from-planes Palin. Yet.
But bumper stickers like COUGH IF YOU HATE SUVS, SUPPORT OPEC, BUY AN SUV and JESUS HATES YOUR SUV and “SUV free zones” where violators are ticketed and their tires sometimes relieved of air suggest that day could come.
Especially if drilling wars escalate with the McCain-Palin ticket.
Unlike furriers who can return to styles from a pre-controversial time–Jean Paul Gaultier has resurrected Helen Keller/Eleanor Roosevelt style fur this year with limbs and heads still attached and with similar effect–SUV makers can’t return to popular prices.
Nor can they claim an SUV is a necessity–with one passenger in it?–like the fur industry contends a fur coat in the winter is. (What with the warmth from dangling limbs.)
Still, with car lots full of SUVs as sales fall 53 percent and warehouses full of unsold furs looking like Big Foot movie sets, both industries are in deep doo doo.
The recession hasn’t just hit the job and real estate markets and done a number on consumer prices and home heating oil, it’s hit the luxury goods market where buyers are inexplicably saying no to monkey fur jackets from Salvatore Ferragamo.
It’s even inspired Dominion author and animal lover Matthew Scully to pen the speech for polar bear-killing, mooseburger eating Sarah Palin–he can’t design web sites like the rest of us?–and veg sympatico Gwen Paltrow to troll fox fur and fur lined boots for Italian luxury goods company, Tod’s.
No, people aren’t just failing to buy SUVs–they’re unloading them as fast as they can.
Unfortunately they’re competing with SUV dealers themselves with their “employee pricing.”
Nor do SUVs lend themselves to adaptive re-use like furs which can go to homeless and pet shelters once the Goodwills refuse them–though some say SUVs have less formaldehyde and more room than current FEMA housing.
Of course once a product has reached an anti-status summit and actually become Stigma there is no pulling it back.
You can discount the life out of it like the dog fur from China sold as “Asian wolf” on open racks at Dillard’s and Sears unlabeled, you can green wash it, funnel it through charities, donate it to the poor, make noises about boom times just around the corner, assert that it’s not as bad as fill in the blank–but once they start ridiculing you on YouTube, you’re as done as John McCain’s complexion.
No wonder Detroit is converting its SUV plants to manufacture smaller, more fuel efficient cars as if its life depends on it.
Unfortunately the fur industry, still contaminating fashion runways with pelts, is a slower learner.
It thinks smaller and more efficient means chinchilla.
MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org