Like any consumer product, the SUV's popularity and the attitude that is associated with them has as much to do with marketing as it does the psychology of its owners.
The auto companies could make just about any car look cool if they wanted to. Consider the way Pontiac and Toyota are marketing the Vibe/Matrix line. Both of these cars are essentially just minivan-station wagon hybrids, but with flashy bodywork, and appearing in commercials with lots of drum 'n bass music. A similar approach was taken by Chrysler with the PT Cruiser and Mazda and Lexus's "sport wagons".
Although drum 'n bass music is sometimes involved, SUV marketing campaigns usually focus on brainwashing people into thinking that they're going to be driving on rugged mountain roads, tearing around on snowfields, and fording streams with all of their boys onboard. If real life was like this, SUV's wouldn't be a bad thing- in off-road conditions, they're safer than normal cars, and if their seating capacity is full, they get better per-person gas mileage than a Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of SUV owners find themselves using their vehicle to commute to work on the interstate with an empty cargo hold.
Auto manufacturers are also very good at using P.R. to influence the thinking of consumers. One very good example of this is the things that happened in the 2000 Firestone tire recall. Firestone was a smaller company than Ford, and since tires are far less likely than cars to become items of political controversy, Firestone lacked the lobbying infrastructure that Ford had needed for decades. During the lawsuits, Ford was able to successfully divert fault away from the fundamental cause of the rollover accidents- that SUV's are not safe on high-friction surfaces such as paved roads- instead tossing the blame on a minor defect in Firestone tires that causes them to blow out under extreme conditions.
This public relations machine is also put into use whenever a bill is proposed that would tighten up the CAFE requirements for fuel efficiency. Every time, the auto companies claim that increasing the average gas mileage of their vehicles would compromise safety. This could not be farther from the truth. Cars have bad gas mileage for two primary reasons:
- They are big.
- They are powerful.
There is only one time one of these characteristics can actually improve the safety of the driver: If you are driving a big car and hit another car, you will suffer less impact. Of course, all of that reduction of impact happens at the expense of the safety of the person you just hit.
But why do the car manufacturers spend so much time marketing SUV's if they could just as easily make any car look like libido on wheels? The bottom line, of course. SUV's and other light trucks generate profit margins to match their tons of steel- oftentimes over 12,000 $US a vehicle. So they're going to keep marketing these things like they are primary components of badmotherfuckerdom until consumers come to their senses, or regulations are passed that make them harder to make money off of.