[extropy-chat] Real Extropians don't drive SUVs

Greg Burch gregburch at gregburch.net
Wed Aug 18 13:15:07 UTC 2004

> From: David Lubkin
> In February, here in New England, driving a different class of vehicle in 
> other years has meant leaving my vehicle a mile from home because 
> the road 
> was impassible, sliding uncontrollably down an icy hill into traffic, 
> skidding into a snowbank, or simply having to go the long way around 
> because I knew my car wouldn't make it up a hill.
> More generally for extropians, a suitably chosen and outfitted 
> SUV, *with* 
> the experience to use it effectively, can be a life-saver in a variety of 
> natural or man-made circumstances, either in getting away from a 
> hazard or 
> to a medical facility.
> By the way, if you are concerned about fuel economy, SUV hybrids are now 
> becoming available, such as the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid.

One of the things that galls me about the SUV craze is that in a sense it has spoiled it for people who really need and/or use SUVs for what they are good at.  I don't aim my car-guy sneers at folks in that category, and I acknowledge that that there is a relatively narrow category of driver/utily for which an SUV is basically the perfect car.

I also welcome the development of more sensible SUVs.  The new breed of vehicles that are basically "jacked-up, 4wd station wagons" get my thumbs up (for instance, I think the Infiniti F35/45 is way, way cool looking and not too far over the top.  I almost bought one recently, which would have required writing a zillion words of explanation at my anti-SUV page.  My wife saved me that chore by deciding that she wanted a P/T Cruiser, which is basically precisely what I've been saying most people who drive SUVs should have (in the process helping to explain why we've been together for 25 years...)  

I've actually devoted way too much drive-time thought to the problems involved in designing a "rational SUV."  With the exception of the raw mass of the current crop of truck-derived SUVs, there's nothing inherently wrong with the basic platform.  So I've developed a list of design concepts for such an "extropian SUV:"

** Materials.  Replacing the acres of sheet steel in the body work of SUVs with composites would save hundreds of pounds of mass.
** Frame design.  By replacing the heavy, old-fashioned ladder frame with a spidery space frame, more mass could be shaved.  With modern robotic fabrication techniques, it's much easier to employ space frames than it used to be.  Major manufacturers can do this so that a technology that used to be the sole reserve of custom race cars could be brought to the mass market.  Good design could recapture the supposed safety benefits of the massive traditional SUV's crashworthiness with crush zones.
** Hybird Motors.  As you point out, this is happening and, ironically, the greater space available in the SUV platform makes them a natural for hybrid technology.
** Suspension.  Again with modern manufacturing technology the greater number and complexity of parts required to use a real independent rear suspension (IRS) isn't a problem.  I've noted that more and more small and mid-size SUVs are starting to have IRS.  The benefits in improved handling are significant, and the loss in gross pulling power in getting rid of the heavy, inflexible solid rear axle isn't felt by the soccer moms who never need to tow a mobile ICBM.
** Center of Gravity.  The first three factors above will naturally lower the center of gravity (the hybrids' placement of their batteries down low in the frame, for instance).  Further employment of a little thought to move as many components to the bottom of the design as possible can do this.  Even more smarts employed to make an actively-controlled suspension that raises and lowers the vehicle for various modes finishes the C/G problem.

Greg Burch
The Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse

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