Blood (Boils) On The Highway: SUV-ersize Me

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:48 pm

Happy New Year, everyone! I thought I’d start 2007 out in a very natural and familiar way for me: in a state of mild piss-off. šŸ˜›

I’ve been hearing a lot commercials for the Land Rover LR3 on the AM portion of the radio spectrum, where I tend to spend a lot of my work time. The ad that really struck home for me was the one that features a “letter” written to Land Rover by a voice actress purporting to be a mother and a Land Rover LR3 owner.

I know she’s supposed to be a mother because she mentions her children in the ad. I know she’s supposed to be the owner of a Land Rover LR3 because she mentions that in the ad….far more often than she mentions her kids, interestingly enough.

This “mother” has at least two children, about whom, ostensibly, she is writing the company (as you will see below). But she never once mentions their names. Only the name of her car. And always by the full make and model, as in, “Thank goodness I was driving my Land Rover LR3” or, “Later I came out to take a look at my Land Rover LR3.” Never, “My Rover” or even the mild truncation, “my Land Rover”; always the full, complete product title, as if she were reading it right out of the brochure. Or more to the point, off the script. Very real, very natural sounding, that. Nice work, anonymous ad-agency copy writer!

I wish, with all my heart, that I had been able to locate a transcript of the ad somewhere, or had my act sufficiently together to have recorded it myself before writing this post. I’ll just have to quote it from memory as best I can:

“The road over the mountain is tricky on the best of nights, and this was hardly the best of nights. The rain was coming down hard and I knew there was trouble ahead when I noticed so few other cars out on the road, but I had to get my kids home. Thanks goodness I was in my Land Rover LR3, with its Terrain Responseā„¢ feature. I set my Land Rover LR3 Terrain Responseā„¢ to ‘Mud’ and kept on going. We got home safely that night, thanks to my Land RoverLR3. Later, I went back out to the garage to check on my Land Rover LR3, and you know what? The mud came up all the way to the top of the tires. I just wanted to let you know how lucky I feel that I, and my children, have our Land Rover LR3.”

That’s it in a nutshell.

I think I have had my fill of watching automobile manufacturers encourage their customers to drive in unsafe ways under hazardous conditions. The Beemer rocketing blindly down the narrow, winding coastal highway. The four-wheel-drive pickup bashing its way through a snow bank. The ferchrissakes minivan passing a school bus while traveling around a bend, uphill, on a wet, narrow road, in the rain. (This is not hyperbole on my part: I saw this very commercial for a Nissan Quest back in the mid-90’s. It made me want to scream. In fact, if memory serves me, I’m pretty sure I did.)

That 5-point Helvetica type at the bottom of the screen reading, “Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt” does nothing for me, either. If you are never supposed to do with the car the very thing the ad is showing someone do with the car, why are they allowed to show it at all? Or conversely, why not allow manufacturers of other products that are dangerous when misused to show people having lots of fun misusing the product in their ads? I’m sure the folks at, oh, say, Liquid Paper would like to have equal opportunity to showcase their product’s other exciting properties. (“Professional huffer on closed course. Do not attempt.”)

Add to this trend the rise to preeminence of the Sport Utility Vehicle, with its intimations of ruggedness and almost apocalyptic Darwinian superiority, and you end up with a disturbing new wrinkle in a time-honored advertising strategy. Many American motorists do not excel at the driving tactics required during adverse road conditions. Hell, a growing number of drivers don’t even have a decent grip on proper driving behavior for normal road conditions. Things like braking distance, use of signals and even stopping at a red light have become elective rather than compulsory components of the average driver’s repertoire. When you throw a land yacht like the Ford Expedition or a midlife-crisis mobile like the BMW X5 into the mix, road safety takes yet another hit (most likely sideswiped by a Nissan Armada spinning hopelessly out of control through an intersection because the driver did not realize that All-Mode 4-Wheel Driveā„¢ will not stop a 5,500-pound vehicle traveling at 40 miles an hour from sliding on an icy road when you stand on the brakes).

Consumers are encouraged to purchase SUVs by the manufacturers not merely because they are supposedly safer to drive in inclement weather conditions. No, just as importantly, the consumer is made to feel that in the event of an accident, unless they have the biggest piece of rolling iron (or plastic, in the case of the Hummer H2 and H3) on the road, they will be naught but putty in the hands–or grills–of other, larger vehicles. Not only is the prospective customer encouraged to drive like a maniac under conditions that are completely unsafe; now (s)he does it in a jacked-up, three-ton Luxury Urban Assault Vehicle.

Okay, so drivers can be morons and oversized, overpowered vehicles pimped by their manufacturers don’t help. This is certainly nothing new. But this particular ad really caught my ear because it portrays an exciting new level of this bizarre Safety Mom behavior. If I may be allowed some poetic license:

“Dear Land Rover: I knew it was a bad idea to set out for home that night, even before I hit the mudslides. Most of the other motorists were smart enough to stay the hell off the road, but I was already a quarter of the way home, and Dancing With The Stars was set to start in less than an hour. I could have perhaps taken the kids to a hotel instead [Lord knows someone who can afford a $45,000.00 car should be able to come up with the scratch for a double at the Motel 6], and waited for news that the pass was safe to cross.

“But this is America, and here in America we don’t hole up in some fleabag in the low-rent district, cowering like Third World refugees, while our 9,500-square-foot mountaintop McMansion lies waiting for us only a lahar away. I mean, like, what did I buy this ridiculous car for, anyway? So I decided to set my Land Rover LR3 Terrain Responseā„¢ to ‘Mud’, crank up the heated leather seats, throw in a DVD of Monster House for the kids and go for it. And by some miracle, we made it home alive.

“Later I went out to check on my car, and found an entire Hyundai Accent lodged in the front passenger-side wheel well.

“I just wanted to let you know how lucky I feel that I, and my children, have our Land Rover LR3. Without it, we would never have been able to even consider making the suicidal journey across those treacherous mountain roads. With it, we lived to try killing ourselves some other day.”

I’m being harsh, of course. Boorish, even. Naturally there are plenty of legitimate uses for four- and all-wheel drive vehicles of every shape, size and configuration. Heck, I drive a Subaru Forester and my wife an Impreza, both AWD. We both love the feeling of being Velcroed to the road on rainy days, and all-wheel does wonders on compact snow and ice (of course, we also keep a safe distance from other drivers, obey all traffic signals and adapt our driving to road conditions; three safety features that come free with every car, if you’ve got the sense to use them).

Others live or work in environments where the special properties of a four-wheel-drive Suburban or an F-350 are very helpful, even a necessity. Living in the mountains of Colorado or running a taro farm in Waipio Valley pretty much demands a vehicle with enhanced power, torque and clearance. However, my guess is that people living and working under those sorts of conditions are exactly the kind of sensible folks who would refuse to get into a car with you if you were insane enough to suggest driving through a fresh mudslide across a mountain road on a stormy night. They might even try to forcibly remove your children from the car before you made the attempt.

Perpetrating acts of insane recklessness upon–and in defense of–our precious precious children. Isn’t that what contemporary life in America, the Sport-Utility Vehicle of nations, is all about?

*cough* Iraq *cough*

You can really tell that the no-nonsense, utilitarian, British Land Rover was bought by the Ford Motor Company.

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