Monster truck rally: the "activists" who defend the SUV.Over the past few years, sport utility vehicles This page lists sports utility vehicles currently in production (as of April 2007), as well as past models. The list includes crossover SUVs, Mini SUVs, Compact SUVs and other similar vehicles. have been accused of many sins. Environmentalists decry de·cry
tr.v. de·cried, de·cry·ing, de·cries
1. To condemn openly.
2. To depreciate (currency, for example) by official proclamation or by rumor. SUVs' pitifully low gas mileage Noun 1. gas mileage - the ratio of the number of miles traveled to the number of gallons of gasoline burned
fuel consumption rate, gasoline mileage, mileage
ratio - the relative magnitudes of two quantities (usually expressed as a quotient) while consumer safety advocates note their disproportionate propensity to kill the drivers of cars with which they collide. Still other critics observe that SUVs are, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. market research, the vehicle of choice for vain See
See also: Vain , self-centered jerks. But it wasn't until late last year that the SUV actually met its maker. "What Would Jesus Drive?" asked the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN n. 1. The old plural of Eye.
And eke with fatness swollen were his een.
- Spenser. ), a Christian conservationist outfit affiliated with Creation Care magazine, in a nationwide ad campaign that received widespread publicity. "Pollution from vehicles has a major impact on human health and the rest of God's creation," noted the group's Web site. "Obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the 21st century."
In Washington, as in physics, every action has a reaction. So it came as little surprise when, last July, a new ad appeared in USA Today USA Today
National U.S. daily general-interest newspaper, the first of its kind. Launched in 1982 by Allen Neuharth, head of the Gannett newspaper chain, it reached a circulation of one million within a year and surpassed two million in the 1990s. , funded by an outfit known as the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (SUVOA SUVOA Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (now Standing up for SUV, Pickup and Van Owners of America)
SUVOA Standing up for SUV, Pickup and Van Owners of America (formerly Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America) ). Critics were asking the wrong question, the ads suggested. The right question was "What Does Jesus Drive?" Jesus, in this case, was Jesus Rivera, a proud father and Vietnam veteran This article is about veterans of the Vietnam War. For the French psychedelic musical group, see Vietnam Veterans.
Vietnam veteran is a phrase used to describe someone who served in the armed forces of participating countries during the Vietnam War. . He was also, the ad informed readers, one of 24 million who rely on their SUVs to "carpool car·pool
n. also car pool
1. An arrangement whereby several participants or their children travel together in one vehicle, the participants sharing the costs and often taking turns as the driver.
2. friends and family; tow boats, campers and trailers; haul home improvement supplies; and"--lest SUV owners he accused of selfishness--"volunteer to take people to the hospital in snow emergencies." The new group, reported The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times, was "a fledgling association of owners of sport utility vehicles ... taking aim at their critics." The group quickly became Pat Buchanan to the EEN's Bill Press, its spokespersons available able to provide "balancing" quotes for the growing number of reports about SUVs' poor environmental and safety records.
Last October, I paid a visit to the organization's Washington, D.C., headquarters, hoping to get a glimpse of SUVOA in action. The headquarters turned out to be the offices of Stratacomm, a very successful Beltway public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most firm specializing in issues affecting the aura industry. Sitting in a plush leather chair in Stratacomm's state-of-the-art conference room, Ron DeFore, one of Swatacomm's "principals," explained that SUVOA's "main purpose is to educate, so that people know the truth." DeFore seems most at home when throwing out facts and figures in support of all things SUV. When I called him to set up an interview, he launched, unprovoked, into an explanation of a little-known 1997 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration which found that making SUVs smaller would do little to improve safety in crashes. The study was "buried" by the Clinton administration, he said.
DeFore and his partner Jason Vines, who works out of Stratacomm's Detroit office, were perfectly positioned to bring SUVOA into the spotlight last summer. Vines, a former vice president for communications at Ford, also oversaw public relations for Andrew Card, now George Bush's chief of staff, back when Card was president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Until last year, DeFore handled communications for the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, a short-lived lobbying group run out of Stratacomm's D.C. office, which was set up by automakers and related interests to fight Congress' attempts to raise federal fuel-economy standards. All three major domestic automakers--Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler--as well as the industry's two trade associations, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Automobile Dealers Association, are current of former Stratacomm clients.
At least one member of the current association, however, entered the debate as an actual SUV owner defending his personal vehicular preferences: Bill Brouse, a 69-year-old retired business executive and SUV owner from Menomonee Falls, Wis., who founded the group to "provide a voice on behalf of the SUV." Brouse started the organization using only his pension money but late last year called Vines to ask for help funding and publicizing his project. It was a good fit--Stratacomm's clients rely on sales of SUVs for a major portion of their profits but, at that point, had been slow to fashion an effective response to the continued criticism of their most successful products--and the firm gladly took over Brouse's association. (Brouse remains on board as a "consultant.")
One of Vine's and DeFore's favorite themes--one that dovetails nicely with the group's P.R. narrative of underdog SUV owners battling the powers-that-be--revolves around the anti-SUV "misinformation mis·in·form
tr.v. mis·in·formed, mis·in·form·ing, mis·in·forms
To provide with incorrect information.
mis " and "bias" of the mainstream media. For my benefit, DeFore read aloud the opening paragraph of a page-one story from that day's USA Today, which reported that, 'A former Miss America probably will not be charged after the SUV she was driving struck and killed a mother of four ..." In case I didn't get it, Vines pointed out the gratuitous use, in a negative context, of the word "SUV," instead of a more neutral alternative like "vehicle." DeFore's assistant, who had joined us in the conference room, shook her head ruefully rue·ful
1. Inspiring pity or compassion.
2. Causing, feeling, or expressing sorrow or regret.
rue at the injustice of it all.
n. pl. centers of gravity
1. Abbr. CG The point in or near a body at which the gravitational potential energy of the body is equal to that of a single particle of the same mass located at that point do make them more likely than smaller cars to flip over, but he stressed that such accidents comprise only a small percentage of overall automobile crashes. He ignored a more important point: that rollovers account for one third of highway deaths.
When I brought up SUVs' contribution to global warming pollution--they burn more gas than smaller cars, and so produce more carbon dioxide--DeFore stopped me in mid-sentence to "correct my nomenclature." Carbon dioxide carbon dioxide, chemical compound, CO2, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is about one and one-half times as dense as air under ordinary conditions of temperature and pressure. , he insisted, "is not a pollutant. The EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.
n.pr See acid, eicosapentaenoic.
n. says it doesn't meet the criteria. It won't kill you." DeFore assured me he's not here to argue that global warming doesn't exist--it's just that there's not much we can do about it anyway. "We'd have to drain the oceans if we wanted to stop global warming," Vines piped in over the speakerphone. (Oceans actually absorb small amounts of carbon dioxide.) "Plants need carbon dioxide to produce oxygen," DeFore added helpfully.
Anticipating charges that SUVOA is just another "astroturf" organization--a business-backed fake grassroots group, designed to give the illusion of popular support to corporate-friendly positions--Vines and DeFore decreed when they took over that the group would accept no corporate funding, and would ban automakers from being members--though not from advertising on SUVOA's Web site, which bears a prominent picture of a Ford Explorer. When pressed, DeFore admits that some of SUVOA's funding--almost certainly the majority, since Web site advertising doesn't bring in much--comes from Stratacomm's general budget.
But whoever Vines and DeFore represent, there's no doubt they personally identify with the average SUV owner. Asked what they drive to work each day, Vines told me a Chevy Suburban. As for DeFore? "I'm in the market for a Hummer."
Zachary Roth is a Washington Monthly intern.