Though I generally laud Tom Frank's analysis of the auto show [February 23], I believe he missed a few points about the marketing of sports utility vehicles (SUVs):
(1) Practicality. There are a couple of rational reasons to want an SUV in an urban environment. Women like Jeeps et al because they feel safer driving them in the city. Sitting in an ordinary car you are always shorter than the pedestrians around you. In most SUVs you are taller than potential carjackers and smash-and-grabbers. Like a square of infantry, or Social Security, or owning a handgun, you at least have the illusion of security, and sometimes even actual security.
Similarly, you have at least the impression of greater mobility, an SUV being somewhat capable of four-wheel driving over curbs, snowbanks, and other obstacles. (Who remembers Mike Royko boasting in print of buying a Ford Bronco after one of our Big Snows?)
(2) Class distinctions. Rich men like luxury SUVs because it allows them to look down physically, not just metaphorically, on us members of the lower orders, who are condemned to ordinary cars (even ordinary luxury cars), bicycles, or shoe leather.
Also, luxury SUV drivers have a better vantage point from which to observe incipient mob activity, and more hastily escape.
(3) Aesthetics. Frank should have noted that, for all its falsity and pandering to the worst instincts of the wealthy, the Land Rover/Range Rover display was an absolutely stunning work of industrial/advertising design. With its nature noises, matted floor, real bamboo, real live plants, and real (mostly) live goldfish, you fully got the impression you had walked into Lincoln Park Conservatory--or at least a really good plant store.
I can't afford a Land Rover, but with such an appeal, I would consider picking up one of their shirts.