SUV Owners Group Broadens Base

SUVs' Life-Saving Utility Underscored During Recent Blizzard

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 -- Responding to rising attacks against sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and their owners, Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (SUVOA) today announced steps that will increase its visibility and expand its grassroots support.

SUVOA was formed to give voice to the 22 million SUV owners whose rights are being trampled by special interests and activist groups, as well as to provide consumers with practical information about their SUVs. Founded in 1999, the group actively defends the rights of SUV owners and rebuts false charges regarding SUVs' safety and environmental record. A variety of new consumer features are planned for the group's web site, http://www.suvoa.com/ , in the coming months.

"Day after day, anti-SUV activists and others are stepping up their assault on SUV owners, outrageously suggesting that we are fellow travelers of terrorism, heartless highway marauders and selfish environmental criminals," said Bill Brouse, founder of SUVOA. "But the facts paint a completely different picture: SUVs are among the safest vehicles on the road, have vastly improved their environmental performance and fuel efficiency, and are a mainstay of America's quality of life at work, home and play."

SUVOA today expanded its reach by announcing initial members of a broad- based board of directors of groups representing millions of SUV users. The board includes Derrick Crandall, President, American Recreation Coalition; David Humphreys, President, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association; Larry Innis, Washington Representative, Marine Retailers Association of America, David Gorin, Washington Representative, National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (invited); Jason Vines, Principal, Strat@comm. The group will be expanding its board in the months ahead.

During last week's blizzard along the Eastern Seaboard as well as other snow episodes nationwide this winter, the community-spirited altruism shown by SUV owners offers a powerful rebuttal to a particularly egregious claim: that SUV owners "are self-centered and self-absorbed with little interest in their neighbors or communities" ("High and Mighty," by Keith Bradsher, Public Affairs Publishing, 2002).

Throughout the lengthy storm and its days-long aftereffects, thousands of hospitals and other essential services turned to owners of SUVs and other four-wheel drive vehicles to transport doctors and nurses stranded by the deep snow.

"Last week, SUVs delivered further proof why 'utility' is their middle name," said Brouse. "In state after state, SUV owners stepped up to serve their communities. By transporting emergency staff, 'SUV Samaritans' were essential to keeping crucial life-saving services operating.

"Anti-SUV critics claim that Americans don't 'need' SUVs and are selfish for buying them," Brouse continued. "But hospital administrators across America have a starkly different view of our vehicles and SUV owners. What's more, the argument that four-wheel drive is unnecessary because it is rarely employed makes little sense. By that logic, we should also remove air bags and other occupant protection from vehicles because they also are rarely called upon to save lives."

Fact sheets addressing key safety and environmental issues accompany this news release.

                                WHY SUVS?

  *  More and more Americans are turning to SUVs because they provide the
     utility they need at home, work or leisure.

  *  Americans buy vehicles based on what meets their peak needs.  While SUV
     owners may commute alone in their vehicle, at other times they are
     using their SUVs for jobs that cannot be done with a car -- carpooling
     large groups such as soccer teams; towing boats, campers and trailers;
     hauling bulky home improvement supplies; safely traveling in inclement
     weather.

  *  Americans own nearly 24 million boats, ATVs, horse trailers, towed RVs,
     snowmobiles and off-road motorcycles.  Fewer than 6% of 2003 model year
     passenger cars can tow more than 2,100 pounds.

  *  SUVs have replaced minivans two-to-one as the most often used vehicle
     to carpool kids.

  *  About half of SUV owners in a recent poll say they use their vehicles
     to haul tools, appliances and other large or unwieldy items that just
     won't fit into cars.

  *  It's not just about day-to-day utility and convenience -- sometimes
     it's about saving lives.  During heavy snows, hospitals and local
     governments regularly put out the call for four-wheel-drive volunteers
    (most of which are SUVs) to transport patients, doctors and nurses.

                    SUVs ARE SAFE FOR THEIR OCCUPANTS

  ALLEGATION

SUVs are rollover prone, creating greater risk of death and injury for SUV occupants.

  FACTS
  *  SUVs are more protective of their occupants than many other classes of
     vehicles, including most passenger cars.

  *  While SUV critics focus on one crash mode -- rollovers, which account
     for only 2.5% of crashes -- they fail to mention that SUVs are 2 to 3
     times more protective of their occupants in front, rear, and side
     collisions,(1) which account for 97.5% of crashes.

  *  Drivers cannot choose the type of crash in which they may be involved
     and they should not choose their vehicle based on its performance in
     one rare kind of collision.  Instead, a vehicle's overall safety
     performance should guide consumers' decisions.

  *  Data covering 1991-98 from the National Highway Traffic Safety
     Administration (NHTSA) shows SUVs had lower overall fatality rates than
     small cars, medium cars and small pickups.  And in frontal, side and
     rear crashes, SUVs had the second lowest fatality rate of all classes
     of vehicle -- better than all cars, minivans and pickups (so-called
     "standard vans" rated just slightly better).(2)

  *  Regarding injuries, the Highway Loss Data Institute reports that "very
     large SUVs" have the lowest injury rates of the 31 categories of
     vehicles they surveyed in 2001.  Two other SUV categories -- "Large 4WD
     SUVs" and "Large 2WD SUVs" -- also ranked in the top 10 of 31 rated
     categories.(3)

  *  While it is accurate that the higher center of gravity of some SUVs
     make them somewhat more likely to roll over, any type of vehicle can
     roll over.  In fact, rollovers kill more than twice as many passenger
     car occupants as SUV occupants.(4)  In total numbers, more small cars
     roll over than any other class of vehicle.

  *  Failure to wear safety belts is by far the main reason why rollovers
     result in fatalities and injuries.  Safety belts are particularly
     important during rollover crashes because they help prevent ejection or
     partial ejection.  Consequently, according to NHTSA, the simple act of
     buckling up is estimated to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 75%.
     Based on 2000 figures compiled by NHTSA, safety belts could have saved
     7,412 of the 9,882 lives lost in rollover crashes of all vehicles.

  *  Since 1990, annual SUV sales have surged more than three-fold
     (over 200%).(5)  Despite all these SUVs joining the vehicle fleet over
     the past decade-plus, rollover fatalities in the recent years
     (1997-2000) have remained relatively flat, increasing 3.6 percent.

            SUVS DO NOT POSE INORDINATE RISKS TO OTHER DRIVERS

  ALLEGATION

The increasing number of SUVs on the road poses a growing threat to drivers of automobiles.

  FACTS
  *  Differences in vehicle sizes and weights have existed ever since Henry
     Ford first adapted a Model T car into a delivery truck.  Indeed, in the
     late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a greater disparity in weight
     than there is currently, as then-new compacts were sharing the road
     with the existing fleet of cars that on average were twice as heavy.

  *  Data shows that SUVs have not been contributing to a large number of
     small car fatalities.  According to the latest available report, only
     4% of occupant deaths in small cars occurred in crashes with SUVs
     (1999 analysis of 1990-96 model years).  Similar figures hold true for
     crashes with virtually every class of passenger car.  By contrast, 38%
     of light car occupant deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes and
     23% occurred in crashes with other cars, totaling 61% of small car
     crashes -- 15 times more than fatal small car crashes with SUVs.(6)

  *  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had this to say about
     SUV-small car compatibility:  "The fact that single-vehicle crashes
     dominate passenger car occupant fatality statistics means
     incompatibility isn't a major contributor to the deaths ...   The high
     risk for occupants in light (and small) cars has more to do with the
     vulnerability of their own vehicles than the aggressivity of other
     vehicles."(7)

  *  A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found
     that removing the lightest cars on the road would have a much greater
     safety benefit than withdrawing the heaviest vehicles.  The report
     found that adding 100 pounds to small cars would have a seven-times
     greater safety benefit than removing 100 pounds in light trucks."(8)

  *  How do critics reconcile the fact that highway fatality rates continued
     to decline in the 1990s -- and currently are at the lowest point in
     history -- while sales of SUVs skyrocketed over the same period?
     Answer:  they cannot.

                        SUVS:  FAR LOWER EMISSIONS

  ALLEGATION
  SUVs are big polluters benefiting from clean-air loopholes.

  FACTS
  *  SUVs, which the federal government classifies as "light trucks" along
     with minivans and pickups have traveled a tremendous distance in
     cleaning their emissions.

  *  The difference between car and light truck emissions standards is now
     very small and will disappear altogether by 2008.

  *  Several 2003 midsize SUVs (the most popular size of SUV) have cleaner
     tailpipe emissions than the average passenger car built in 2000.

  *  To achieve the same emissions performance as cars, many SUVs and other
     light trucks must be equipped with substantially more emissions
     controls than cars to overcome the effects of larger engines, heavier
     bodies, four wheel-drive and other attributes their owners demand and
     use.

  *  Regarding smog emissions, all SUVs since 1996 have been at least 96%
     cleaner than their 1960s counterparts in hydrocarbons and most have
     been 83% cleaner in nitrogen oxides.(9)

  *  Many of today's small and midsize SUVs already meet car standards,
     ahead of 2004, when a requirement to meet car standards starts to phase
     in.

  *  In 2004, additional SUVs and other light trucks will meet car emission
     standards for both hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, a transition that
     will be complete in 2008 when all SUVs will pollute no more than the
     super-stringent standards cars must meet.(10)

  *  Compared with their early counterparts, today's SUVs and other light
     trucks emit 55% less CO2, a main greenhouse gas.  This is a function of
     today's light trucks being 55% more fuel efficient than their mid-1970s
     counterparts.

  *  So, what do all the numbers represent?  The huge reduction in SUV
     emissions means that a 2002 Ford Explorer driven from Washington, D.C.
     to Albuquerque, New Mexico and back to Washington, D.C. will pollute
     less than a 1969 Chevy Blazer driven one-way to Baltimore, Maryland.

  *  SUV, light truck and car emissions improvements have and will continue
     to make enormous clean air contributions -- far surpassing progress
     from any other source of air pollution.

  *  By 2005, in 25 major U.S. cities facing air quality challenges, SUVs
     and other light trucks are projected to account for only 8% of
     hydrocarbon and 9% of nitrogen oxide emissions.(11)

  *  Because SUVs will represent approximately one-third of in-use light
     trucks by 2005,(12) SUVs will account for only about 3% of total smog
     emissions in major US metropolitan areas by 2005.

                     SUVS:  MUCH BETTER FUEL ECONOMY

  ALLEGATION

SUVs guzzle gas, increasing our reliance on foreign oil. Simple changes can be made to boost fuel economy.

  FACTS
  *  SUVs and other light trucks average 55% better fuel efficiency than mid
     1970s counterparts and almost 50% better efficiency than cars of that
     era.

  *  A 1998 4WD Chevy Blazer SUV goes farther on a gallon of gas than a 1978
     Chevy Nova.

  *  U.S. reliance on foreign oil has little to do with vehicle fuel
     efficiency and everything to do with world oil prices.  Since the mid
     1970s, auto efficiency has more than doubled and light truck efficiency
     has surged more by 55%.  Yet, the U.S. now imports 56% of its oil from
     foreign nations compared with 35% in the mid 1970s.

  *  Survey after survey shows that when Americans shop for a new vehicle,
     they look for comfort, safety, performance, cargo capacity, passenger
     room, off road/inclement weather capability, towing ability far more
     than fuel efficiency.  These attributes inherently work against fuel
     efficiency.

  *  Fuel economy is not free.  It fundamentally requires downsizing and/or
     eliminating attributes.

  *  With regard to safety, the immutable laws of physics hold that when
     vehicles are downsized, they become less able to survive crashes, all
     other factors held constant.  A 1999 investigation by USA Today using
     insurance industry analysis showed that federal fuel economy standards
     came factory-equipped with a deadly side-effect:  For every mile per
     gallon fuel economy standards have been raised since the mid-1970s, the
     study estimates roughly 7,700 deaths occurred.

  *  The best long-term way to achieve efficiency and energy independence is
     to wean our vehicles off fossil fuels.  President Bush's State of the
     Union Address harkened to fuel cell vehicles being widely available
     within a generation.  Until fuel cells are readily available, hybrid
     gas-electric vehicles hold major promise.  SUVOA is excited about the
     large number of hybrid SUVs poised to come on the market in the next
     few years.

  *  From SUVOA's perspective, the key issue that will determine whether
     these technologies leave the laboratory for our driveways in large
     numbers is whether utility and affordability can be maintained with the
     new propulsion systems.

  (1)  NHTSA information in January 12, 2001 Federal Register Notice

  (2)  Ibid

(3) "Injury, Collision & Theft Losses, by Made and Model, 1998-2000 Models," Highway Loss Data Institute, September 2001.

(4) NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System Data for Calendar Years 1997-2000.

(5) Wards Automotive Reports, 1975-2001.

(6) "Putting the Crash Compatibility Issue Into Perspective," IIHS Status Report, Vol. 34, No. 9, October 30, 1999.

(7) Ibid

(8) "Relationship of Vehicle Weight to Fatality and Injury Risk in Model Year 1985-1993 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks," NHTSA Study DOT HS 808 569, April 1997.

(9) EPA standards for light trucks and automobiles, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, February 2003.

(10) Ibid

(11) "Clearing the Air," An Updated Report on Emission Trends in Selected U.S. Cities, AAA, September 199

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