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Episode
299

The Rise of the SUV

Sep 20, 2022
How Stuff Works
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19
minutes

Over the course of the last 20 years, the Sports Utility Vehicle has taken over the car market.

In this episode, we'll explore the origins of this vehicle, and see how it transformed from a tool for soldiers, police officers and farmers to the most popular car on the planet.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the rise of the SUV, the “Sports Utility Vehicle”.

[00:00:30] SUVs have overtaken the car market. 

[00:00:33] With their off-road heritage they have become the heavyweight of roads across the globe, towering over traditional hatchbacks, and taking 4-wheel-drive from the American highway to the winding streets of Europe to the ring roads of Beijing.

[00:00:48] So, in this episode we are going to look at the story of how the SUV took over the world.

[00:00:57] OK then, the rise of the SUV.

[00:01:02] First off, what actually is a SUV, a Sports Utility Vehicle?

[00:01:08] The term SUV was first used in the U.S in the 1980s but it is not a strict category and includes various cars that have either four or two-wheel drive. 

[00:01:21] They are larger than saloon or sedan models with wider and taller bodies and their raised suspension leaves them higher off the ground, they are able to conquer all types of terrain if necessary. 

[00:01:34] And their ability to drive off-road is where it all began, for the origin of the SUV is in U.S military vehicles.

[00:01:44] Before the Second World War, the American army called for a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle that could transport soldiers over rough terrain.

[00:01:53] The company ‘Willys Overland’ responded to the army’s request and supplied it with a prototype, the ‘Jeep’, which became the standard military vehicle that we likely all recognise today. 

[00:02:07] 700,000 Jeeps were produced for World War II with the help of the Ford Motor company; and the vehicles played a vital role carrying soldiers, weapons and medical equipment over the battlefields.

[00:02:22] Clearly, in times of war, when you really do need to drive over difficult territory and you need to have a durable and reliable vehicle, this is exactly the sort of vehicle you want.

[00:02:36] After the war, the Jeep ‘CJ’, short for civilian Jeep, went on sale to the American public. The vehicle was still very influenced by its initial open-body military design, though, with no roof or no doors they would have looked more appropriate trudging through the battlefields than cruising along the American highway.

[00:02:58] Inspired by the innovations they saw across the Atlantic, British brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks also decided to put their engineering skills to the test and produce their own four-by-four vehicle. 

[00:03:12] Using a similar design to the Jeep, they produced the ‘Land Rover’, which debuted in 1948 and quickly became a popular vehicle for farmers.

[00:03:24] Clearly, for a farmer who needs to drive through fields and ditches, such a car simply made sense, if you’re a farmer you do literally need to rove across the land.

[00:03:36] Not long after, in 1950, the Korean war broke out and the U.S military based in Japan called for the manufacturer Toyota to develop a suitable vehicle for the battlefield. 

[00:03:49] However, the military were unimpressed by the prototype offered and stuck with their trusty American Jeep.

[00:03:57] Nonetheless, in 1953, Toyota produced the ‘Land Cruiser’ model, which quickly became the vehicle of choice for the Japanese police force. In the same year, Mitsubishi were given permission to reproduce the Jeep for themselves and bring it to the Japanese market.

[00:04:14] Back in America, the popularity of the Jeep CJ, the “civilian jeep”, had led to a newer, more comfortable, civilian model in 1955. 

[00:04:25] By this time, the manufacturer, now named Willys Motors, had become known as ‘the world’s largest maker of four-wheel drive vehicles’.

[00:04:36] It was not until 1963 though, that a more ‘car-like’ Jeep was produced with the release of the Wagoneer model. 

[00:04:44] This offered the luxury of doors and a roof, as well as more comfortable interior and less rigid suspension which gave it a smoother ride.

[00:04:55] Similarly, in 1967 Toyota adapted their Land Cruiser, transforming it from a police vehicle to a rival of the Jeep or Land Rover. It too was more luxurious than its predecessor, and brought the utility of a four-by-four in line with the more civilian friendly models taking over the market in the U.S. 

[00:05:19] The popularity of the Jeep in the United States saw many other manufacturers such as Dodge, Chevrolet and Land Rover continue to develop and expand their own models.

[00:05:31] Car production, however, was still somewhat of a wild west, it was still quite unregulated.

[00:05:38] This all changed in the 1960s, when there were massive improvements in safety regulations. 

[00:05:44] In the 1960s it became mandatory for cars to be produced with seatbelts; and in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S government issued mandates to reduce pollution from vehicles, increase fuel efficiency and improve car safety overall.

[00:06:02] While this was clearly good news for drivers, and–in the short term at least–for the environment, it wasn’t good news for car manufacturers.

[00:06:11] This period in American car history has become known as the ‘malaise era’, with the strict new list of regulations massively impacting car design as manufacturers were not prepared. There was no technology to continue producing these big muscle car engines that would abide by the new limits on emissions.

[00:06:32] But importantly, SUVs were, until 2004, not classified in the same way as normal cars, they were classified as a truck, not a car, which allowed them to be less fuel-efficient.

[00:06:48] And while the archetypal American muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger weren’t able to abide by these stricter emissions requirements, SUVs, because they weren’t classified as cars, they were classified as trucks, they needed to make some adjustments but they could comply with the new regulations.

[00:07:11] By the 1980s, American car manufacturers were used to the regulations and they could produce a wider variety of models. 

[00:07:20] One of those models was the original SUV, the Jeep Cherokee XJ, which came out in 1984. 

[00:07:30] This model was more compact and lighter in comparison to the previous Jeep models which made it more fuel-efficient and consumer friendly. It was also far more comfortable and good for families. 

[00:07:43] This Cherokee bridged the gap between a four-by-four and a passenger car and it was a huge success. It was in the media celebration of this car that the term SUV, Sports Utility Vehicle, was originally used.

[00:08:01] When other car manufacturers realised that Jeep was taking away sales from classic sedan and hatchback models, they wanted their share of the success and throughout the 1990s more and more SUV models were released.

[00:08:16] By the mid-90s the SUV craze was well underway and by 1999 sales of SUV and pick-up trucks in the U.S exceeded regular passenger cars. 

[00:08:30] Eventually, the trend would spread worldwide and between 2010 and 2021, SUV sales increased by 178% globally. 

[00:08:41] This trend shows no signs of slowing down and in 2021 the number of SUVs on the road increased globally by over 35 million, with SUVs making up 49.7% of all car sales in Europe.

[00:08:59] And if you add “trucks and pickups” together with SUVs, this category makes up 72.9% of all new cars sold in the United States.

[00:09:11] And this phenomenon is, as you will well know, taking over the world. 

[00:09:16] Almost. Some SUVs are just simply too big for some urban environments.

[00:09:22] Boxy American SUVs like the popular Ford Expedition, for example, didn't quite make it to Europe. 

[00:09:29] At over 5 metres long and over 2 metres wide, the model is just not a good fit for the narrower and urban roads of Europe. 

[00:09:39] Instead, slightly more compact models such as the Peugeot 3008 have proved popular. 

[00:09:46] Asia, too, has championed slightly more compact models. 

[00:09:50] So how and why did SUVs get so popular?

[00:09:55] Well, perhaps you drive an SUV yourself, so you have your own reasons for choosing one over a smaller car.

[00:10:03] People, especially families, are attracted to the vehicle’s versatility, with its ability to go off-road, its larger cargo space, potential for more seats, and towing abilities, it seems like you get more for your money. 

[00:10:18] But one of the key things that people value, of course, is safety and these cars are often marketed on their ability to protect your family. 

[00:10:30] Many people believe an SUV is a safer choice, being bigger, bulkier and taller. 

[00:10:37] They have a better view over the road, their four-wheel drive gives a certain sense of security no matter the weather, and if you do hit something then it’s better to be hitting it in a massive truck than a small hatchback, a small car. 

[00:10:53] And of course, if, statistically, over half of the cars on the road are SUVs, from a safety point of view you’ll be safer in a crash if you too are in an SUV.

[00:11:05] Or at least that is the popular belief.

[00:11:08] There are, in fact, critics of SUVs who say that they may not actually be much safer than other cars. 

[00:11:15] And by “safer”, I don’t just mean safer for the people in the car.

[00:11:20] A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that their design makes them twice as likely to roll over in a crash; while their large size is more likely to kill pedestrians in comparison with sedan vehicles that typically impact the lower body.

[00:11:38] An article in Economics of Transportation reported that in the United States, pedestrian deaths increased by 30% between 2000 and 2019, a period when the number of SUVs tripled. These figures are alarming when we consider that these popular cars have begun to flood our cities, only increasing chances of collisions.

[00:12:03] In the UK, in fact, three quarters of SUVs are registered to urban areas, to towns and cities.

[00:12:11] This explains why they have become known as ‘Chelsea Tractors’, the term capturing how they plough through the middle-class streets, somewhat out of place. 

[00:12:22] They are so popular in British urban areas that in 2016, the UK’s largest car park operator had to widen, it had to enlarge its parking bays in the cities of London, Manchester and Bournemouth to make space for these cars.

[00:12:39] In America, the influx of SUVs in urban centres has been described as ‘truck bloat’, this reflects how uncomfortably these cars fit in the streets.

[00:12:52] Not all cities are accepting this sitting down.

[00:12:56] In a first for the United States, Washington D.C. has proposed requiring owners of vehicles weighing over 2.7 metric tonnes to pay an annual fee of $500. 

[00:13:08] It might not sound like a huge amount, especially to car owners in Europe, but this is nearly seven times the amount the city charges for a sedan model.

[00:13:18] In Berlin, the issue of SUVs in the city became painfully obvious when in 2019, a driver lost control of their SUV and mounted the pavement killing four people. 

[00:13:33] And clearly, it isn’t just a case of SUVs clogging up the road or being a danger to pedestrians

[00:13:39] They are terrible for the environment, producing 25% more CO2 than medium sized cars. 

[00:13:47] And because there are now so many SUVs on the road, if SUV drivers were a country, it would rank 7th in the world for its carbon emissions, worse than the U.K and the Netherlands combined. 

[00:14:02] In the UK in fact, SUVs have cancelled out the impact electric vehicles have had on emissions.

[00:14:09] And perhaps even more stunningly, the International Energy Agency found that the rise of the SUV is the second largest cause of the increase in global emissions across the last decade.

[00:14:22] As a result, there is an increasing backlash against SUV manufacturers.

[00:14:29] Some critics have called for a ban on adverts for SUVs, comparing the vehicles to tobacco for the threat they pose to public health, and claiming that SUV adverts have similarly misled the public with their safety claims. 

[00:14:46] The idea is, of course, that if SUV manufacturers can’t market their products to consumers, demand will fall off a cliff, it will drop dramatically, and so will SUV emissions.

[00:14:59] And all this is against a backdrop of global increasing hostility to all urban driving, not just SUVs.

[00:15:08] Paris, in France, plans to ban all private vehicles from the historical city centre by 2024. 

[00:15:16] By the same year, Rome will ban diesel cars in an attempt to preserve the historic sites from pollution damage. 

[00:15:24] And countless other cities across Europe plan on removing fossil-fuel cars from their centres over the next five years.

[00:15:32] Many more cities have similar bold plans, and countries across the globe are, at least nominally, in the process of phasing-out fossil fuel vehicles entirely. 

[00:15:44] The EU has the target of a 100% CO2 emissions reduction for new vehicles by 2035, while the U.S is aiming for 50% of new vehicles to be electric by 2030.

[00:15:58] Given their big, polluting engines, the fate of the SUV certainly sounds precarious, it looks dangerous. 

[00:16:07] That is until you discover that over 55% of electric car models on the market in 2021 were, in fact, SUVs and pickup trucks. 

[00:16:18] In anticipation of where public opinion and public policy is heading, car companies like Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes and Volvo have all declared they will be stopping their production of gas and diesel powered engines. 

[00:16:34] Instead, these companies will be producing only electric vehicles, with many of those electric vehicles SUVs.

[00:16:42] The futuristic Tesla 'Cyber Truck’ is also on the horizon, with production due to start after 2022. 

[00:16:50] This model claims it will have ‘better utility than a truck with more performance than a sports car’. 

[00:16:57] It’s certainly a bold claim, and the announcement of Tesla’s new truck has been so popular that it has had to suspend pre-orders.

[00:17:06] However, being electric does not completely eradicate concerns over SUVs. 

[00:17:12] Their large size still leads to problems as they require larger batteries and consume more energy in comparison to other electric vehicles. The batteries for electric vehicles themselves are not particularly eco-friendly, as the mining of the raw materials required has major environmental and human rights impacts.

[00:17:34] Despite all this, it's clear that SUVs, both electric and fossil-fuel powered, are the choice model for many drivers all over the world.

[00:17:44] It’s quite the journey from a car produced for the army that, just to remind you, when it was first released, didn’t even have any doors.

[00:17:55] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on the rise of the SUV.

[00:18:00] I hope it was an interesting one and you learned something new.

[00:18:04] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:18:07] What are your thoughts on SUVs, do you love them or do you loathe them?

[00:18:12] If you drive an SUV, what was it for you that made you make the switch from a smaller car?

[00:18:18] Do you think that SUVs are overcrowding our cities or do you think they’re just the same as a traditional car?

[00:18:24] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the rise of the SUV, the “Sports Utility Vehicle”.

[00:00:30] SUVs have overtaken the car market. 

[00:00:33] With their off-road heritage they have become the heavyweight of roads across the globe, towering over traditional hatchbacks, and taking 4-wheel-drive from the American highway to the winding streets of Europe to the ring roads of Beijing.

[00:00:48] So, in this episode we are going to look at the story of how the SUV took over the world.

[00:00:57] OK then, the rise of the SUV.

[00:01:02] First off, what actually is a SUV, a Sports Utility Vehicle?

[00:01:08] The term SUV was first used in the U.S in the 1980s but it is not a strict category and includes various cars that have either four or two-wheel drive. 

[00:01:21] They are larger than saloon or sedan models with wider and taller bodies and their raised suspension leaves them higher off the ground, they are able to conquer all types of terrain if necessary. 

[00:01:34] And their ability to drive off-road is where it all began, for the origin of the SUV is in U.S military vehicles.

[00:01:44] Before the Second World War, the American army called for a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle that could transport soldiers over rough terrain.

[00:01:53] The company ‘Willys Overland’ responded to the army’s request and supplied it with a prototype, the ‘Jeep’, which became the standard military vehicle that we likely all recognise today. 

[00:02:07] 700,000 Jeeps were produced for World War II with the help of the Ford Motor company; and the vehicles played a vital role carrying soldiers, weapons and medical equipment over the battlefields.

[00:02:22] Clearly, in times of war, when you really do need to drive over difficult territory and you need to have a durable and reliable vehicle, this is exactly the sort of vehicle you want.

[00:02:36] After the war, the Jeep ‘CJ’, short for civilian Jeep, went on sale to the American public. The vehicle was still very influenced by its initial open-body military design, though, with no roof or no doors they would have looked more appropriate trudging through the battlefields than cruising along the American highway.

[00:02:58] Inspired by the innovations they saw across the Atlantic, British brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks also decided to put their engineering skills to the test and produce their own four-by-four vehicle. 

[00:03:12] Using a similar design to the Jeep, they produced the ‘Land Rover’, which debuted in 1948 and quickly became a popular vehicle for farmers.

[00:03:24] Clearly, for a farmer who needs to drive through fields and ditches, such a car simply made sense, if you’re a farmer you do literally need to rove across the land.

[00:03:36] Not long after, in 1950, the Korean war broke out and the U.S military based in Japan called for the manufacturer Toyota to develop a suitable vehicle for the battlefield. 

[00:03:49] However, the military were unimpressed by the prototype offered and stuck with their trusty American Jeep.

[00:03:57] Nonetheless, in 1953, Toyota produced the ‘Land Cruiser’ model, which quickly became the vehicle of choice for the Japanese police force. In the same year, Mitsubishi were given permission to reproduce the Jeep for themselves and bring it to the Japanese market.

[00:04:14] Back in America, the popularity of the Jeep CJ, the “civilian jeep”, had led to a newer, more comfortable, civilian model in 1955. 

[00:04:25] By this time, the manufacturer, now named Willys Motors, had become known as ‘the world’s largest maker of four-wheel drive vehicles’.

[00:04:36] It was not until 1963 though, that a more ‘car-like’ Jeep was produced with the release of the Wagoneer model. 

[00:04:44] This offered the luxury of doors and a roof, as well as more comfortable interior and less rigid suspension which gave it a smoother ride.

[00:04:55] Similarly, in 1967 Toyota adapted their Land Cruiser, transforming it from a police vehicle to a rival of the Jeep or Land Rover. It too was more luxurious than its predecessor, and brought the utility of a four-by-four in line with the more civilian friendly models taking over the market in the U.S. 

[00:05:19] The popularity of the Jeep in the United States saw many other manufacturers such as Dodge, Chevrolet and Land Rover continue to develop and expand their own models.

[00:05:31] Car production, however, was still somewhat of a wild west, it was still quite unregulated.

[00:05:38] This all changed in the 1960s, when there were massive improvements in safety regulations. 

[00:05:44] In the 1960s it became mandatory for cars to be produced with seatbelts; and in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S government issued mandates to reduce pollution from vehicles, increase fuel efficiency and improve car safety overall.

[00:06:02] While this was clearly good news for drivers, and–in the short term at least–for the environment, it wasn’t good news for car manufacturers.

[00:06:11] This period in American car history has become known as the ‘malaise era’, with the strict new list of regulations massively impacting car design as manufacturers were not prepared. There was no technology to continue producing these big muscle car engines that would abide by the new limits on emissions.

[00:06:32] But importantly, SUVs were, until 2004, not classified in the same way as normal cars, they were classified as a truck, not a car, which allowed them to be less fuel-efficient.

[00:06:48] And while the archetypal American muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger weren’t able to abide by these stricter emissions requirements, SUVs, because they weren’t classified as cars, they were classified as trucks, they needed to make some adjustments but they could comply with the new regulations.

[00:07:11] By the 1980s, American car manufacturers were used to the regulations and they could produce a wider variety of models. 

[00:07:20] One of those models was the original SUV, the Jeep Cherokee XJ, which came out in 1984. 

[00:07:30] This model was more compact and lighter in comparison to the previous Jeep models which made it more fuel-efficient and consumer friendly. It was also far more comfortable and good for families. 

[00:07:43] This Cherokee bridged the gap between a four-by-four and a passenger car and it was a huge success. It was in the media celebration of this car that the term SUV, Sports Utility Vehicle, was originally used.

[00:08:01] When other car manufacturers realised that Jeep was taking away sales from classic sedan and hatchback models, they wanted their share of the success and throughout the 1990s more and more SUV models were released.

[00:08:16] By the mid-90s the SUV craze was well underway and by 1999 sales of SUV and pick-up trucks in the U.S exceeded regular passenger cars. 

[00:08:30] Eventually, the trend would spread worldwide and between 2010 and 2021, SUV sales increased by 178% globally. 

[00:08:41] This trend shows no signs of slowing down and in 2021 the number of SUVs on the road increased globally by over 35 million, with SUVs making up 49.7% of all car sales in Europe.

[00:08:59] And if you add “trucks and pickups” together with SUVs, this category makes up 72.9% of all new cars sold in the United States.

[00:09:11] And this phenomenon is, as you will well know, taking over the world. 

[00:09:16] Almost. Some SUVs are just simply too big for some urban environments.

[00:09:22] Boxy American SUVs like the popular Ford Expedition, for example, didn't quite make it to Europe. 

[00:09:29] At over 5 metres long and over 2 metres wide, the model is just not a good fit for the narrower and urban roads of Europe. 

[00:09:39] Instead, slightly more compact models such as the Peugeot 3008 have proved popular. 

[00:09:46] Asia, too, has championed slightly more compact models. 

[00:09:50] So how and why did SUVs get so popular?

[00:09:55] Well, perhaps you drive an SUV yourself, so you have your own reasons for choosing one over a smaller car.

[00:10:03] People, especially families, are attracted to the vehicle’s versatility, with its ability to go off-road, its larger cargo space, potential for more seats, and towing abilities, it seems like you get more for your money. 

[00:10:18] But one of the key things that people value, of course, is safety and these cars are often marketed on their ability to protect your family. 

[00:10:30] Many people believe an SUV is a safer choice, being bigger, bulkier and taller. 

[00:10:37] They have a better view over the road, their four-wheel drive gives a certain sense of security no matter the weather, and if you do hit something then it’s better to be hitting it in a massive truck than a small hatchback, a small car. 

[00:10:53] And of course, if, statistically, over half of the cars on the road are SUVs, from a safety point of view you’ll be safer in a crash if you too are in an SUV.

[00:11:05] Or at least that is the popular belief.

[00:11:08] There are, in fact, critics of SUVs who say that they may not actually be much safer than other cars. 

[00:11:15] And by “safer”, I don’t just mean safer for the people in the car.

[00:11:20] A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that their design makes them twice as likely to roll over in a crash; while their large size is more likely to kill pedestrians in comparison with sedan vehicles that typically impact the lower body.

[00:11:38] An article in Economics of Transportation reported that in the United States, pedestrian deaths increased by 30% between 2000 and 2019, a period when the number of SUVs tripled. These figures are alarming when we consider that these popular cars have begun to flood our cities, only increasing chances of collisions.

[00:12:03] In the UK, in fact, three quarters of SUVs are registered to urban areas, to towns and cities.

[00:12:11] This explains why they have become known as ‘Chelsea Tractors’, the term capturing how they plough through the middle-class streets, somewhat out of place. 

[00:12:22] They are so popular in British urban areas that in 2016, the UK’s largest car park operator had to widen, it had to enlarge its parking bays in the cities of London, Manchester and Bournemouth to make space for these cars.

[00:12:39] In America, the influx of SUVs in urban centres has been described as ‘truck bloat’, this reflects how uncomfortably these cars fit in the streets.

[00:12:52] Not all cities are accepting this sitting down.

[00:12:56] In a first for the United States, Washington D.C. has proposed requiring owners of vehicles weighing over 2.7 metric tonnes to pay an annual fee of $500. 

[00:13:08] It might not sound like a huge amount, especially to car owners in Europe, but this is nearly seven times the amount the city charges for a sedan model.

[00:13:18] In Berlin, the issue of SUVs in the city became painfully obvious when in 2019, a driver lost control of their SUV and mounted the pavement killing four people. 

[00:13:33] And clearly, it isn’t just a case of SUVs clogging up the road or being a danger to pedestrians

[00:13:39] They are terrible for the environment, producing 25% more CO2 than medium sized cars. 

[00:13:47] And because there are now so many SUVs on the road, if SUV drivers were a country, it would rank 7th in the world for its carbon emissions, worse than the U.K and the Netherlands combined. 

[00:14:02] In the UK in fact, SUVs have cancelled out the impact electric vehicles have had on emissions.

[00:14:09] And perhaps even more stunningly, the International Energy Agency found that the rise of the SUV is the second largest cause of the increase in global emissions across the last decade.

[00:14:22] As a result, there is an increasing backlash against SUV manufacturers.

[00:14:29] Some critics have called for a ban on adverts for SUVs, comparing the vehicles to tobacco for the threat they pose to public health, and claiming that SUV adverts have similarly misled the public with their safety claims. 

[00:14:46] The idea is, of course, that if SUV manufacturers can’t market their products to consumers, demand will fall off a cliff, it will drop dramatically, and so will SUV emissions.

[00:14:59] And all this is against a backdrop of global increasing hostility to all urban driving, not just SUVs.

[00:15:08] Paris, in France, plans to ban all private vehicles from the historical city centre by 2024. 

[00:15:16] By the same year, Rome will ban diesel cars in an attempt to preserve the historic sites from pollution damage. 

[00:15:24] And countless other cities across Europe plan on removing fossil-fuel cars from their centres over the next five years.

[00:15:32] Many more cities have similar bold plans, and countries across the globe are, at least nominally, in the process of phasing-out fossil fuel vehicles entirely. 

[00:15:44] The EU has the target of a 100% CO2 emissions reduction for new vehicles by 2035, while the U.S is aiming for 50% of new vehicles to be electric by 2030.

[00:15:58] Given their big, polluting engines, the fate of the SUV certainly sounds precarious, it looks dangerous. 

[00:16:07] That is until you discover that over 55% of electric car models on the market in 2021 were, in fact, SUVs and pickup trucks. 

[00:16:18] In anticipation of where public opinion and public policy is heading, car companies like Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes and Volvo have all declared they will be stopping their production of gas and diesel powered engines. 

[00:16:34] Instead, these companies will be producing only electric vehicles, with many of those electric vehicles SUVs.

[00:16:42] The futuristic Tesla 'Cyber Truck’ is also on the horizon, with production due to start after 2022. 

[00:16:50] This model claims it will have ‘better utility than a truck with more performance than a sports car’. 

[00:16:57] It’s certainly a bold claim, and the announcement of Tesla’s new truck has been so popular that it has had to suspend pre-orders.

[00:17:06] However, being electric does not completely eradicate concerns over SUVs. 

[00:17:12] Their large size still leads to problems as they require larger batteries and consume more energy in comparison to other electric vehicles. The batteries for electric vehicles themselves are not particularly eco-friendly, as the mining of the raw materials required has major environmental and human rights impacts.

[00:17:34] Despite all this, it's clear that SUVs, both electric and fossil-fuel powered, are the choice model for many drivers all over the world.

[00:17:44] It’s quite the journey from a car produced for the army that, just to remind you, when it was first released, didn’t even have any doors.

[00:17:55] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on the rise of the SUV.

[00:18:00] I hope it was an interesting one and you learned something new.

[00:18:04] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:18:07] What are your thoughts on SUVs, do you love them or do you loathe them?

[00:18:12] If you drive an SUV, what was it for you that made you make the switch from a smaller car?

[00:18:18] Do you think that SUVs are overcrowding our cities or do you think they’re just the same as a traditional car?

[00:18:24] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the rise of the SUV, the “Sports Utility Vehicle”.

[00:00:30] SUVs have overtaken the car market. 

[00:00:33] With their off-road heritage they have become the heavyweight of roads across the globe, towering over traditional hatchbacks, and taking 4-wheel-drive from the American highway to the winding streets of Europe to the ring roads of Beijing.

[00:00:48] So, in this episode we are going to look at the story of how the SUV took over the world.

[00:00:57] OK then, the rise of the SUV.

[00:01:02] First off, what actually is a SUV, a Sports Utility Vehicle?

[00:01:08] The term SUV was first used in the U.S in the 1980s but it is not a strict category and includes various cars that have either four or two-wheel drive. 

[00:01:21] They are larger than saloon or sedan models with wider and taller bodies and their raised suspension leaves them higher off the ground, they are able to conquer all types of terrain if necessary. 

[00:01:34] And their ability to drive off-road is where it all began, for the origin of the SUV is in U.S military vehicles.

[00:01:44] Before the Second World War, the American army called for a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle that could transport soldiers over rough terrain.

[00:01:53] The company ‘Willys Overland’ responded to the army’s request and supplied it with a prototype, the ‘Jeep’, which became the standard military vehicle that we likely all recognise today. 

[00:02:07] 700,000 Jeeps were produced for World War II with the help of the Ford Motor company; and the vehicles played a vital role carrying soldiers, weapons and medical equipment over the battlefields.

[00:02:22] Clearly, in times of war, when you really do need to drive over difficult territory and you need to have a durable and reliable vehicle, this is exactly the sort of vehicle you want.

[00:02:36] After the war, the Jeep ‘CJ’, short for civilian Jeep, went on sale to the American public. The vehicle was still very influenced by its initial open-body military design, though, with no roof or no doors they would have looked more appropriate trudging through the battlefields than cruising along the American highway.

[00:02:58] Inspired by the innovations they saw across the Atlantic, British brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks also decided to put their engineering skills to the test and produce their own four-by-four vehicle. 

[00:03:12] Using a similar design to the Jeep, they produced the ‘Land Rover’, which debuted in 1948 and quickly became a popular vehicle for farmers.

[00:03:24] Clearly, for a farmer who needs to drive through fields and ditches, such a car simply made sense, if you’re a farmer you do literally need to rove across the land.

[00:03:36] Not long after, in 1950, the Korean war broke out and the U.S military based in Japan called for the manufacturer Toyota to develop a suitable vehicle for the battlefield. 

[00:03:49] However, the military were unimpressed by the prototype offered and stuck with their trusty American Jeep.

[00:03:57] Nonetheless, in 1953, Toyota produced the ‘Land Cruiser’ model, which quickly became the vehicle of choice for the Japanese police force. In the same year, Mitsubishi were given permission to reproduce the Jeep for themselves and bring it to the Japanese market.

[00:04:14] Back in America, the popularity of the Jeep CJ, the “civilian jeep”, had led to a newer, more comfortable, civilian model in 1955. 

[00:04:25] By this time, the manufacturer, now named Willys Motors, had become known as ‘the world’s largest maker of four-wheel drive vehicles’.

[00:04:36] It was not until 1963 though, that a more ‘car-like’ Jeep was produced with the release of the Wagoneer model. 

[00:04:44] This offered the luxury of doors and a roof, as well as more comfortable interior and less rigid suspension which gave it a smoother ride.

[00:04:55] Similarly, in 1967 Toyota adapted their Land Cruiser, transforming it from a police vehicle to a rival of the Jeep or Land Rover. It too was more luxurious than its predecessor, and brought the utility of a four-by-four in line with the more civilian friendly models taking over the market in the U.S. 

[00:05:19] The popularity of the Jeep in the United States saw many other manufacturers such as Dodge, Chevrolet and Land Rover continue to develop and expand their own models.

[00:05:31] Car production, however, was still somewhat of a wild west, it was still quite unregulated.

[00:05:38] This all changed in the 1960s, when there were massive improvements in safety regulations. 

[00:05:44] In the 1960s it became mandatory for cars to be produced with seatbelts; and in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S government issued mandates to reduce pollution from vehicles, increase fuel efficiency and improve car safety overall.

[00:06:02] While this was clearly good news for drivers, and–in the short term at least–for the environment, it wasn’t good news for car manufacturers.

[00:06:11] This period in American car history has become known as the ‘malaise era’, with the strict new list of regulations massively impacting car design as manufacturers were not prepared. There was no technology to continue producing these big muscle car engines that would abide by the new limits on emissions.

[00:06:32] But importantly, SUVs were, until 2004, not classified in the same way as normal cars, they were classified as a truck, not a car, which allowed them to be less fuel-efficient.

[00:06:48] And while the archetypal American muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger weren’t able to abide by these stricter emissions requirements, SUVs, because they weren’t classified as cars, they were classified as trucks, they needed to make some adjustments but they could comply with the new regulations.

[00:07:11] By the 1980s, American car manufacturers were used to the regulations and they could produce a wider variety of models. 

[00:07:20] One of those models was the original SUV, the Jeep Cherokee XJ, which came out in 1984. 

[00:07:30] This model was more compact and lighter in comparison to the previous Jeep models which made it more fuel-efficient and consumer friendly. It was also far more comfortable and good for families. 

[00:07:43] This Cherokee bridged the gap between a four-by-four and a passenger car and it was a huge success. It was in the media celebration of this car that the term SUV, Sports Utility Vehicle, was originally used.

[00:08:01] When other car manufacturers realised that Jeep was taking away sales from classic sedan and hatchback models, they wanted their share of the success and throughout the 1990s more and more SUV models were released.

[00:08:16] By the mid-90s the SUV craze was well underway and by 1999 sales of SUV and pick-up trucks in the U.S exceeded regular passenger cars. 

[00:08:30] Eventually, the trend would spread worldwide and between 2010 and 2021, SUV sales increased by 178% globally. 

[00:08:41] This trend shows no signs of slowing down and in 2021 the number of SUVs on the road increased globally by over 35 million, with SUVs making up 49.7% of all car sales in Europe.

[00:08:59] And if you add “trucks and pickups” together with SUVs, this category makes up 72.9% of all new cars sold in the United States.

[00:09:11] And this phenomenon is, as you will well know, taking over the world. 

[00:09:16] Almost. Some SUVs are just simply too big for some urban environments.

[00:09:22] Boxy American SUVs like the popular Ford Expedition, for example, didn't quite make it to Europe. 

[00:09:29] At over 5 metres long and over 2 metres wide, the model is just not a good fit for the narrower and urban roads of Europe. 

[00:09:39] Instead, slightly more compact models such as the Peugeot 3008 have proved popular. 

[00:09:46] Asia, too, has championed slightly more compact models. 

[00:09:50] So how and why did SUVs get so popular?

[00:09:55] Well, perhaps you drive an SUV yourself, so you have your own reasons for choosing one over a smaller car.

[00:10:03] People, especially families, are attracted to the vehicle’s versatility, with its ability to go off-road, its larger cargo space, potential for more seats, and towing abilities, it seems like you get more for your money. 

[00:10:18] But one of the key things that people value, of course, is safety and these cars are often marketed on their ability to protect your family. 

[00:10:30] Many people believe an SUV is a safer choice, being bigger, bulkier and taller. 

[00:10:37] They have a better view over the road, their four-wheel drive gives a certain sense of security no matter the weather, and if you do hit something then it’s better to be hitting it in a massive truck than a small hatchback, a small car. 

[00:10:53] And of course, if, statistically, over half of the cars on the road are SUVs, from a safety point of view you’ll be safer in a crash if you too are in an SUV.

[00:11:05] Or at least that is the popular belief.

[00:11:08] There are, in fact, critics of SUVs who say that they may not actually be much safer than other cars. 

[00:11:15] And by “safer”, I don’t just mean safer for the people in the car.

[00:11:20] A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that their design makes them twice as likely to roll over in a crash; while their large size is more likely to kill pedestrians in comparison with sedan vehicles that typically impact the lower body.

[00:11:38] An article in Economics of Transportation reported that in the United States, pedestrian deaths increased by 30% between 2000 and 2019, a period when the number of SUVs tripled. These figures are alarming when we consider that these popular cars have begun to flood our cities, only increasing chances of collisions.

[00:12:03] In the UK, in fact, three quarters of SUVs are registered to urban areas, to towns and cities.

[00:12:11] This explains why they have become known as ‘Chelsea Tractors’, the term capturing how they plough through the middle-class streets, somewhat out of place. 

[00:12:22] They are so popular in British urban areas that in 2016, the UK’s largest car park operator had to widen, it had to enlarge its parking bays in the cities of London, Manchester and Bournemouth to make space for these cars.

[00:12:39] In America, the influx of SUVs in urban centres has been described as ‘truck bloat’, this reflects how uncomfortably these cars fit in the streets.

[00:12:52] Not all cities are accepting this sitting down.

[00:12:56] In a first for the United States, Washington D.C. has proposed requiring owners of vehicles weighing over 2.7 metric tonnes to pay an annual fee of $500. 

[00:13:08] It might not sound like a huge amount, especially to car owners in Europe, but this is nearly seven times the amount the city charges for a sedan model.

[00:13:18] In Berlin, the issue of SUVs in the city became painfully obvious when in 2019, a driver lost control of their SUV and mounted the pavement killing four people. 

[00:13:33] And clearly, it isn’t just a case of SUVs clogging up the road or being a danger to pedestrians

[00:13:39] They are terrible for the environment, producing 25% more CO2 than medium sized cars. 

[00:13:47] And because there are now so many SUVs on the road, if SUV drivers were a country, it would rank 7th in the world for its carbon emissions, worse than the U.K and the Netherlands combined. 

[00:14:02] In the UK in fact, SUVs have cancelled out the impact electric vehicles have had on emissions.

[00:14:09] And perhaps even more stunningly, the International Energy Agency found that the rise of the SUV is the second largest cause of the increase in global emissions across the last decade.

[00:14:22] As a result, there is an increasing backlash against SUV manufacturers.

[00:14:29] Some critics have called for a ban on adverts for SUVs, comparing the vehicles to tobacco for the threat they pose to public health, and claiming that SUV adverts have similarly misled the public with their safety claims. 

[00:14:46] The idea is, of course, that if SUV manufacturers can’t market their products to consumers, demand will fall off a cliff, it will drop dramatically, and so will SUV emissions.

[00:14:59] And all this is against a backdrop of global increasing hostility to all urban driving, not just SUVs.

[00:15:08] Paris, in France, plans to ban all private vehicles from the historical city centre by 2024. 

[00:15:16] By the same year, Rome will ban diesel cars in an attempt to preserve the historic sites from pollution damage. 

[00:15:24] And countless other cities across Europe plan on removing fossil-fuel cars from their centres over the next five years.

[00:15:32] Many more cities have similar bold plans, and countries across the globe are, at least nominally, in the process of phasing-out fossil fuel vehicles entirely. 

[00:15:44] The EU has the target of a 100% CO2 emissions reduction for new vehicles by 2035, while the U.S is aiming for 50% of new vehicles to be electric by 2030.

[00:15:58] Given their big, polluting engines, the fate of the SUV certainly sounds precarious, it looks dangerous. 

[00:16:07] That is until you discover that over 55% of electric car models on the market in 2021 were, in fact, SUVs and pickup trucks. 

[00:16:18] In anticipation of where public opinion and public policy is heading, car companies like Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes and Volvo have all declared they will be stopping their production of gas and diesel powered engines. 

[00:16:34] Instead, these companies will be producing only electric vehicles, with many of those electric vehicles SUVs.

[00:16:42] The futuristic Tesla 'Cyber Truck’ is also on the horizon, with production due to start after 2022. 

[00:16:50] This model claims it will have ‘better utility than a truck with more performance than a sports car’. 

[00:16:57] It’s certainly a bold claim, and the announcement of Tesla’s new truck has been so popular that it has had to suspend pre-orders.

[00:17:06] However, being electric does not completely eradicate concerns over SUVs. 

[00:17:12] Their large size still leads to problems as they require larger batteries and consume more energy in comparison to other electric vehicles. The batteries for electric vehicles themselves are not particularly eco-friendly, as the mining of the raw materials required has major environmental and human rights impacts.

[00:17:34] Despite all this, it's clear that SUVs, both electric and fossil-fuel powered, are the choice model for many drivers all over the world.

[00:17:44] It’s quite the journey from a car produced for the army that, just to remind you, when it was first released, didn’t even have any doors.

[00:17:55] Ok then, that is it for today’s episode on the rise of the SUV.

[00:18:00] I hope it was an interesting one and you learned something new.

[00:18:04] As always I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:18:07] What are your thoughts on SUVs, do you love them or do you loathe them?

[00:18:12] If you drive an SUV, what was it for you that made you make the switch from a smaller car?

[00:18:18] Do you think that SUVs are overcrowding our cities or do you think they’re just the same as a traditional car?

[00:18:24] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:42] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]