The Common Good
September 2004

SUV, You're Fired!

by Jim Ball | September 2004

You are what you drive.

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I’ve never watched one of these Survivor shows, but as I understand it, people get voted off the island. They seem to have come up with almost every conceivable variation on this theme—or so they think! But I’ve got a new one. Instead of voting people off, what if the U.S. consumer voted particular types of cars, trucks, and SUVs off our U.S. "island"?

What would win? By what rationale? Popularity? Fuel efficiency? Style and color? Safety? Morality? These considerations are not mutually exclusive, of course. But which would dominate?

With the recent spike in gas prices, more people seem to be voting for fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids. For the first four months of the year, sales of the Toyota Prius were up 80 percent from 2003.

At the same time sales of behemoths like the Hummer have taken a nosedive, according to The New York Times. "G.M. has resorted to rebates and financing deals, which have become standard for every Detroit brand but Hummer. Inventories [have] piled up…and G.M. is also now using leases, which are less lucrative than sales, to move a quarter of its volume…." So it’s safe to say that the Hummer would have been voted off the island on our show.

While there are waiting lists for hybrids, they are certainly not the best-selling vehicles on the lot. At the same time, a good number of trend setters (e.g. Hollywood actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz) are being seen in hybrid cars, and the Toyota Prius won Motor Trend’s 2004 Car of the Year award. And according to The Washington Post, "Ford has seen far more interest than expected in its new Escape gas-electric hybrid, a small SUV that will go on sale late this summer. While Ford plans to build only 20,000 Escape hybrids per year, more than 34,000 people have already signed up for an e-mail newsletter about the vehicle, which is expected to get 35 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving, a marked improvement over the 20 mpg of the conventional Escape." Furthering this fuel-efficient trend, the Post also reports that auto-industry analysts project that sales of fuel-efficient "CUVs" ("crossover utility vehicles" built on a car frame instead of a truck frame like SUVs) will grow by at least 30 percent, while "Sales of large SUVs…are expected to stay flat or even decline."

So a fuel-efficient hybrid could be a dark horse candidate on our show.

BUT WHAT RATIONALE do people actually use when casting their vote on what type of vehicle to drive? We created a little ruckus awhile back by organizing an educational campaign focused on the question "What Would Jesus Drive?" After the chuckles, we wanted people to begin to reflect on the idea that our transportation choices are moral choices. The gunk that comes out of our tailpipes harms human health and contributes to global warming, and driving gas guzzlers increases our dependence on foreign oil—pretty important things to consider from an ethical perspective. People die from air pollution. Millions will die because of global warming in the coming century. And what has our oil dependence wrought?

Of course, for Christians, the question of our campaign really is, "Jesus, what would you have me drive?" What would happen if everyone on our U.S. "island" were to cast their vote for what vehicle to drive or how to get around based on the Lordship of Christ and the ethics that come from discipleship?

While Survivor might be a TV show, our transportation choices as a society actually have life-and-death consequences. As for my wife and me, we "voted" for a Prius and take public transportation to work.

Jim Ball, an ordained Baptist minister, is executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and publisher of Creation Care magazine (www.creationcare.org).

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