Saving the Environment & Anti-Momism
April 18, 2008, 05:51 PM
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With all the hype over the environment and carbon footprints etc etc these days, it's worth thinking about how much excess oil has been consumed over the last 15 years because married women with children haven't wanted to be seen driving mom-shaped minivans that make them look like married women with children.

Minivans, with their three rows of seats, get about 30% better gas mileage than big Sport-Utility Vehicles with three rows of seats, due to better aerodynamics (a more rounded look) and less general blockheadedness. But the minivan, which traces back to Lee Iacocca's Chrysler in 1983, isn't sexy, so, looking at Consumer Reports, I see 87 models of Sport Utility-Vehicle listed, but only 10 models of minivans.

Tellingly, the Big Three Japanese automakers sell minivans only under their mass market labels—Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Their luxury labels (Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti, respectively), which typically take their mainstream cars and SUVs, put some different sheet metal on them, and offer them at $10k higher prices, don't offer any minivans. Nor do Cadillac or Lincoln. (The Chrysler Town & Country is the only example of rebadged upscale minivan.) Presumably, there is no demand for a prestige minivan, and/or the companies don't want to taint their upscale marques by associating them with minivans.

The problem with the minivan is that the only reason you'd buy one is if you have children, so you can't pretend you're still on the market. In contrast, moms driving around in massive SUVs can tell themselves that everybody who sees them assumes they bought it because they, uh, go whitewater kayaking every weekend so they need the off-road capability.

Considering the constant environmentalist propaganda we hear in the corporate media, it's ironic that the near-extinction of the highly efficient minivan has elicited so little comment, but, then, environmentalism these days is mostly about status striving through sexier shopping.

The good news is that some SUVs have been growing more aerodynamic (i.e., minivan-like, but, shhhh, don't tell anybody). And the station wagon has come back from the dead, with 26 models listed, although I think much of the revived popularity of the wagon comes from Chrysler's discovery from the success of the PT Cruiser and its running boards—which played such an important role in 1930s Chicago gangster movies (mobsters would fire their tommy-guns at the coppers while clinging to the outside of the getaway car)—that there was a market for evil-looking station wagons. Thus, the introduction in 2004 of the trendsetting Dodge Magnum wagon, with its dark-tinted windows and high beltline, making it look like what a 21st Century version of Capone's gang would drive to a rubout.