Friends don’t let friends drive gas-guzzlers
November 9, 2005
Judging from TV, Americans seem to think the only thing needed to sell a product or solve a problem is a catchy slogan. You’ve probably got the tinkly music from some jingle running through your head right now – even if you’ve tried to remove it with an ice pick.So I’m starting my crusade to change our driving habits this way: Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive SUVs.Like most mottoes, it sounds familiar because – following standard advertising practice – I stole it.Repeat after me: Friends don’t let friends drive SUVs. Catchy, isn’t it?A good slogan often ignores logic, but here’s my thinking: Almost anyone can now see the serious consequences of our American obsession with the biggest everything. We’re chubs in gluttonous cars. Whining into our cell phones about gas prices and the economy, we drive to the mall to buy plastic trinkets made overseas.No matter what you believe about our fossil fuel supplies, most of us know waste is shortsighted. We Westerners, who have always lived with limited resources, understand scarcity – or at least we ought to – so I propose we lead the demand for practical transportation.But how do we convince the woman in a Yukon, pretending she’s mushing through the Arctic instead of heading to the cubicle? How to convert the Safari driver who sees himself muscular in a leopard loincloth instead of wimpy in pinstripes?Friends don’t let friends …Nobody wants to think about the ozone layer, but we can’t afford to allow the reality-impaired to rule. America’s energy crisis is likely to be permanent. Sure, everyone deserves a few illusions. Pretending to be hacking through the jungle is more fun than reality – cutting ahead of a mother with three kids in the rust heap.But most of us don’t really need an SUV; the sales slogans prove it. In one, a big square vehicle heads down a cliff above the words: “No intelligent life out here. Just you.” Reinforcing the car maker’s idea of your intelligence, the ad continues: “Stay ahead of your better judgment.”A pickup sales pitch says, “If you brought this truck to the playground, you’d be king of the dirt pile.”Rather than noting capacity or power, the maker of the world’s biggest truck say it’s “for kids over 20 who miss playing with trucks in the sandbox,” and “the ultimate toy for extreme work and play.” Isn’t it time we grew out of the sandbox?It is true that driving is here to stay – if you can call it that. Statistics compiled by the California State Assembly in Sacramento show that the projected average speed of cars on that state’s highways in 2010 will be 11 miles an hour. The only speeders will be on skateboards.Besides wasting resources, tall, square machines are unsafe because they are aerodynamically unstable. Why aren’t fish square? Submarines? Airplanes? Curved bodies move more easily through air or water. I’ve seen a square SUV hit black ice in the backwash of a speeding 18-wheeler on I-80 with a 70 mph wind. It crumples like tinfoil as it rolls. Cars shaped like watermelon seeds slip right past the wreckage.We can change our habits. Remember when everyone smoked? With enough slogans, we can break this addiction.The VW Bug was arguably the most beloved car in our history. Tough, compact, efficient – and you could replace the fan belt with panty hose. Maybe, given enough public pressure, car makers will start to manufacture efficient cars. Then ad writers could change their focus, naming them for little critters with big abilities. Say, the Hummingbird: Flies 30 hours without touching down. The Pocket Gopher: Carries a heavy load and can tuck itself in anywhere.Young couples might buy the Gnat: Tiny, but powerful enough to drive men and moose insane. The Microbe: It can bring an elephant to its knees. Such names would make a lot more sense. Who’d want to be caught in an Avalanche? Ride in a Typhoon?Since Westerners will take the lead in this effort, we might campaign for Western monikers: Drive the desert in a Pronghorn: Goes For Days Without a Drink. Want honest advertising? The Turtle: You Always Get There. Jack Rabbit: 0 to 50 in 10 seconds. Animal lovers might like the Prairie Dog: Takes a licking, but keeps on digging. I’d like to hold out for the Polecat: Goes anywhere it wants.Linda M. Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She ranches in South Dakota and writes in Cheyenne, Wyo.