The Chevy Suburban used to rule the roads as the largest SUV (remember when that wasn’t even part of our vocabulary?) out there. It was eclipsed by the Ford Excursion (now no longer in production) which was, for a time, available with a 6.8 liter V-10. And the Hummer, don’t forget the Hummer, which, in original H1 guise (if not so much the H2 and H3 models) had it all over the Suburban for sheer size, and attitude – especially for attitude. Meanwhile, the Suburban has continued to do what it has always done best, haul people and their stuff, and lots of it.
Clearly, what with global warming and, at least in most corners (not here, clearly, or here, for that matter), a greater understanding of the effects of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the role played by internal-combustion engine powered vehicles (SUVs most of all), vehicles like our 1999 Suburban (just like the one pictured above) have become the targets of sneers, sarcasm, and outright hostility.
When we bought our Suburban, used, in 2003 our eldest daughter was horrified. She said she would not ride in it, that it was socially and environmentally irresponsible and, worst of all, ugly and there was NO WAY she was going to be seen in it. Tantrum overlooked, I told her that if auto manufacturers would make something that could transport the passengers and the gear we are frequently called upon to move from one place to another, that was all- or four-wheel drive, and got decent mileage, I would buy it. Since, at least at the time, no such thing existed, it was a pretty safe dodge (oh yeah, I forgot about Dodge, Toyota, Nissan, Land Rover, and every other manufacturer that wanted to get in on the craze).
There is some hope on the horizon for SUVs, however. The Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid have already begun to address my own complaints with this genre of vehicle, though there are some questions as to the overall environmental benefit of hybrids. Until now, hybrid SUVs have still been compromises, offering all- or four-wheel drive, some degree of off-road capability (not a high priority, in my case, anyway), but still lacking in passenger and cargo carrying capacity. The Highlander Hybrid does now offer third-row seating but, at least until now, smaller and more fuel-efficient SUVs have been a poor substitute for the family and camping gear hauling station wagons of my childhood. Don’t even talk to me about minivans – yes, I know there are (or were) a couple with available all-wheel drive but, but, but… they’re MINIVANS! My apologies to those of you who own, drive, swear by, or (heaven forbid) love your minivans.
Okay – sorry about that.
The good news and my, as usual, belabored point is that GM (and Chrysler, too, apparently) has incorporated two-mode hybrid technology into its Tahoe model line for 2008. Can the Suburban be far behind?
There are those who have described GM’s use of hybrid technology in its full-size SUVs as a cynical ploy, at best, but when you consider the size of the fleet out there, the promise of a 25% increase in fuel economy and the savings in both fuel and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, this is nothing to be laughed at. In my own case, a 25% increase in fuel economy would translate into about a $500 annual savings and about 3,500 fewer pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere. Multiply that by the millions of these things on the road, and you’ve got something. A 25% increase in fuel economy for something like the Toyota Prius is not only less likely, it would have a smaller impact and would rely on a change in driving habits and vehicle expectations not everyone is prepared to make.