Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Mor­ley has a theory about SUVs; Keen has an idea for board game de­sign­ers

BASED ON MY PRE­VI­OUS GRUMBLINGS, you could be for­given for think­ing I didn’t have much time for the oxy-mo­ron­i­cally named SUV con­cept. Not so. In fact, hav­ing given some COVID-19 quiet-time to the sub­ject, I now re­alise that the cult of the SUV is what will drive au­to­mo­tive ex­cel­lence go­ing for­ward. No, re­ally – the ad­vance­ment of au­to­mo­tive design, the very fu­ture of proper cars, re­lies on it. How? Al­low me to ex­plain.

It’s been said many times that en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers work best when some­body is fir­ing live rounds at them. And on that ba­sis, SUVs will need to get bet­ter. At some point, we’ll work out how to make these high-rid­ing block­houses work bet­ter than they do now, as a re­sponse to a cou­ple of things.

The first of those is that pun­ters will even­tu­ally tire of a roly-poly (but still hard-rid­ing) pogo-stick of a thing, just as they will tire of poorer-than-ex­pected fuel econ­omy and ac­cel­er­a­tion that sug­gests a car with a pack-a-day habit. Sec­ondly, the au­thor­i­ties will also soon stop see­ing the funny side of crash trauma, a nat­u­ral by-prod­uct of re­plac­ing ath­letic pas­sen­ger cars with lum­ber­ing, heavy, un­nec­es­sar­ily tall SUVs. At the point at which those two curves in­ter­sect, car-mak­ers are go­ing to have to come up with an SUV that works prop­erly. And once one man­u­fac­turer does, the rest will se­cretly buy one, pull it apart and re­verse en­gi­neer the bug­ger, us­ing the prin­ci­ples of Chi­nese copy­right law. Ref: We re­serve the right to copy any­thing we like the look of.

Of course, just be­cause it sud­denly han­dles, stops and goes like a bought one, doesn’t mean I’ll be rush­ing out to buy a new-age SUV. They’ll still be ugly, for in­stance. So how does that help those of us who still yearn for V8 coupes, hot-hatches, utes that drive like cars and con­ven­tional sta­tion-wag­ons for the breed­ers out there?

Well, take a look at what’s hap­pen­ing with Ford’s Fi­esta range. In Aus­tralia right now, the only Fi­esta you can buy is the rather ex­cel­lent ST. There are no mid-spec­cers, fleet mod­els or My-First-Car ver­sions. You want a lit­tle Ford for trans­port? You need to buy some­thing from the small-SUV end of the show­room. This has led to a sim­ple trend: As de­mand for SUVs in­creases, all the developmen­t dol­lars will be chan­nelled that way. It’s the first sign of how the in­dus­try is mor­ph­ing the chain of com­mand in the way it de­vel­ops new prod­uct. That’s not a new ob­ser­va­tion, but sim­ply the car in­dus­try do­ing what it does best and fol­low­ing the money. But even­tu­ally it will work for peo­ple like us.

See, in the past, car-mak­ers have spun SUVs off ex­ist­ing pas­sen­ger­car plat­forms. But, as the SUV be­comes dom­i­nant and be­gins to gob­ble up all the developmen­t pe­sos, the sit­u­a­tion will flip. At which point you’ll find hatches and sedans and coupes and wag­ons be­ing spun off SUV plat­forms. This is in­evitable, but an im­por­tant cul­tural shift.

Thing is, once we have ar­rived at a de­cent driv­ing SUV, we can start to spin proper cars off it. Imag­ine a plat­form (the new, not-so-shite SUV) that gives birth to, say, a hatch that is lighter, has less driv­e­line drag and a lower cen­tre of grav­ity. As a di­rect re­sult it goes harder, han­dles and rides bet­ter and uses less fuel. Oh, and it’s cheaper to buy!

It is, of course, the ex­act op­po­site of what hap­pens now when a sen­si­bly-priced, wor­thy hatch or sedan gets the SUV treat­ment and emerges as the 10-grand-dearer Famo-turd 3000.

Who’d have though the SUV would be saviour of proper cars?

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