Originally Posted by ynguldyn
...X vehicles are popular because most people are afraid of driving, not because they have better utility.
I don't know that I believe that to be so.
SUVs aren't a new thing. I can recall my neighbors in the 1970s having a Chevy Suburban which first appeared prior to WW II.
What I do know is that SUVs typically were based on light-truck platforms. (Some folks here may recall that until the mind 2000s' SUV license plates said "truck" in most states.
SUVs gained massive popularity in the 1990s when the US auto industry needed a way to boost profits in light of higher fuel prices and better made and more efficient car-sized products coming from Europe and Japan, eroding standard car sales among the Detroit Big 3. As the 20th century was coming to a close Detroit was producing crap for cars, but they dominated and made the best trucks going, and they made huge profits on trucks and took losses, or broke even, on most cars they sold. Detroit car makers needed to reduce car sales and increase truck sales.
Now, reason would tell anyone that the typical family won't want a pickup truck, but a pickup truck platform outfitted with seats and a full body roof, resembling thus an elevated station wagon was something Americans could go for. So, GM, Ford and Chrysler capitalized on their dominance in the truck space and heavily promoted SUVs to the extent that they all but brought about the extinction of station wagons. Plus, whereas four wheel drive was largely unheard of on a car, it was quite natural to be found on a truck. So, you could buy a truck and not get stuck in the mud or snow, have room for your stuff. At the time, too, trucks were subject to far fewer regulations (due to their light truck classification). Some of you may recall that back in the day, when you got tags for an SUV, they said "truck" on them.
Now we all have witnessed what this really did for Detroit's car makers. First and foremost, it kept them alive and kicking until 2008/2009 when we had to bail them out. The Big 3 were producing crappy cars in the 1980s and 1990s and the emergence of the SUV and it's immense profitability also allowed GM, Ford and Chrysler to largely ignore advancing and improving their traditional car products, and that's exactly what they did, invest nearly nothing into car development. That is why we saw one platform and body style modestly tweaked and at once branded as a Caddy, Chevy, Pontiac, Olds, and Buick. Indeed, the Chevy Corvette was among the very few cars, it may have been the only one, Detroit made that had a unique identity.
So, the point is that SUVs are now popular because enough folks have yet to come to their senses and realize that they are driving trucks not cars. Even though the government put SUVs under the same regulations as cars, thus they don't get truck tags, they are still trucks at heart. SUVs are also popular because people want and need the utility of a station wagon, but because station wagons weren't profitable and SUVs were, the Big 3 by and large just stopped making station wagons and forced the SUV as the replacement for them. At the time of their advent, the SUV was new and different (thus cool/nifty) in the eyes of most folks, the ride was tuned to be closer to that of a car and the interior was essentially car-like but bigger.
And you know Americans: if it's bigger, it must be better.
And you know Americans: if some big corporation tells us that such and such is what we want/need and it's better, they wouldn't say that out of their own self interest and with no regard for yours and mine, or our collective benefit.
Is the SUV better for road safety? No. It dramatically reduces visibility of other drivers on the road.
Is the SUV safer to be in? Sometimes. If you respect that it's a truck and drive it like one, sure. If you think it's a car and drive it like one, not at all.
Has the SUV been better economically? No. We still had to bail out the Big 3, even after they made huge profits on SUV sales. (Huge is no understatement here-- 3 to 5 times the profit on a profitable car sold.) They use more resources than cars: more rubber, more fuel, more metal, more plastic, more oil, and cost more to buy in most cases (BMW being one of those exceptions).
Side note: It still amazes me that not one US car maker took the tack of sticking with wagons and simply investing to improve them and competing head to head with the foreign car makers. All three took exactly the same strategy at exactly the same time. Oligopolistic competition, based on that alone seems more like collusion than competition. And then what happened next, all three under took to purchase or merge with their European and Japanese competitors where possible, thus reducing the competition and driving down the quality of the competitors' products. You may recall that the quality of MB cars, during the period of its merger with Chrysler, dropped significantly; they were still solid and decent cars, but not nearly so much better as they had been before the merger.