Land of the gas-guzzling giants

By By Andy Thompson

By Andy Thompson

While walking through the University Bookstore parking lot under a blanket of the latest inversion, I watched a brand-new, shiny, hot-pink H2 with HOT-TE vanity plates barely squeeze into a spot. A perky blonde popped out of the 6,000-pound vehicle and rushed off to class.

The scene made me cringe; it was like being at McDonalds, watching an overtly obese individual stuff a Big Mac in his or her face. Forget about global warming or air-quality indexes-the diminishing supply of oil is enough discouragement by itself to give up the H2 and all the other luxury sport utility vehicles Americans push around at 10 miles to the gallon. Oil is not an infinite resource, and it doesn’t just fuel our vehicles. We need the black gold to produce plastics, rubber and other synthetics that make our shoes, computer chips and medical supplies.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil-a group that includes Ali Bahktiari, oil analyst for the National Iranian Oil Company, and Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker and one-time energy advisor to the Bush/Cheney administration-estimates that oil will reach its peak production by 2010. With a current depletion rate of more than 2 percent per year, the world’s oil supply could be tapped by the end of this century.

Now, I can understand owning a large vehicle that consumes seven gallons of gas driving from Layton to Provo, if that vehicle hauls brick and dry wall and is essential to the driver’s livelihood.

That is not the designed function for the luxury SUV, however, with its leather upholstery and sparkling rims. The H2, the Escalade and the Navigator-just to name three of the largest and flashiest perpetrators-all exude status. Rolling through MTV’s programming schedule, they have joined Mercedes, Porsche and BMW as signals-announcements, even -of one’s “arrival.”

The luxury SUV is a giant steel box, towering over all the other vehicles on the road, spilling over a lane’s width.

Clotaire Rapaille, a former child psychiatrist and now marketing consultant to dozens of Fortune 500 companies, including GM, offers an idea as to why buyers contemplating a $60,000 purchase would disregard any ramifications to the community. He told The Detroit News that “the Hummer is big, strong, powerful. It says, ‘I’m bigger than you are. If you bump into me, I’ll win.'”

Rapaille’s research stresses what he calls the “reptilian hot button.” Reptilian refers to an individual’s innermost desires and emotions. Rapaille contends that “the reptilian always wins.” When designing the SUV, Rapaille advised GM to make the vehicle bigger and bulkier. For the typical SUV owner, bigger means better-and badder.

Later the same day as the HOT-TE sighting, I spotted another Hummer on campus. This one was black with tinted windows, parked next to the Alumni House. Oh, did it look menacing. The sight should have humanity shaking.

If the Americans who are obsessed with big continue to think with their core emotions and not their intellects, the world will soon find itself in a very primitive state. Our children will ponder, “Why such excess back then?” as essential goods such as IV drips and additives to preserve food can no longer be taken for granted.