Multi-utility or sports utility vehicles: the power or powerlessenss on road?

The automobile industry has been undergoing a subtle transformation. In the June quarter of 2012 MUVs outsold sedans for the first time. Two of the recent launches by M&M and Maruti Suzuki have created excitement to a segment which always trailed behind regular sedans. M&M’s XUV 500 and Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga have received overwhelming response from the market.

Consider some statistics. XUV sold about 9000 units which is a figure higher than combined sales of brands such as Corolla Altis, Cruze, Honda Civic, Skoda Laura, VW Jetta (6500 units). Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga enjoys a waiting line and is grossing sales of about 6000 units.

Structurally a MUV or SUV is vehicle built on chassis of light truck which makes it bigger, sturdier, powerful (two and four wheel), and spacious capable of a comfortable on and off road drive. The unique blending of internal and external dimensions makes SUVs or MUVs irresistible to many. That is the reason why they are flying off the showrooms fast.

Around the world, especially in rich cities SUVs are a common sight driven by a single person. This stands quite opposite to the ‘reason’ built in the vehicle in terms of space and sturdiness. The city roads hardly provide space for ‘playing round’ and riding the beast beneath the bonnet. The physics of SUVs remain grossly underutilized. The congestion on roads adds to driving and parking discomfort. The unused space and gas consumption combine to make them environmentally unfriendly. Then how they make sense?

The connections probably go deeper. Consider the brand names that these vehicles sport:  Duster, Safari, Fortuner, Thar, Endeavor, Captiva, Pajero, Range Rover, Yeti, Land Cruiser, Outlander, X Trail, Discovery and Scorpio. These words have nothing to do with neatly laid smooth city roads. These roads rob the ‘Outlander’ or ‘Cruiser’ to be a ‘Rover’ of ‘Thar’ or ‘Safari’ to show the bite of ‘Scorpio’ or power of ‘Yeti’. Further take a close look at the frontal façade of these vehicles and keep staring at them. It may take a while to observe the ferocity of a prying big cat.

Urban cities are great levelers. These are democratized spaces where the unevenness of class, creed and status and power become invisible. Consider long queues of cars line up at a traffic signal or people crowding around a mall on a weekend. All become children of the god, made of same matter and chosen to thread on the same path. In such a situation a SUV become an instrument to reverse the identity robbing effect of urban existence. Baudrillard observed that in its concrete function the objects solve a practical problem but in its inessential aspects they solve a social or psychological conflict. The The  subliminated meaning of a SUV make is an object of male fantasy. By the very construction a SUV is a heavy projectile capable of fast movement. Travel is a necessity but speed is a thrill, excitement and enjoyment. In its structural muscled up oversize construction SUV cannot escape the phallic symbolism as a male thing. It is a play thing, a sporting device. A SUV is an easy filler of the gap left by the subjugated city life. SUV is an extension of home with all its protective walls and grills designed to protect from the aggression of the outside world.


One thought on “Multi-utility or sports utility vehicles: the power or powerlessenss on road?

  1. SUV serve as proxy for power, money, heroism, macho-ism & some times even unfulfilled male fantasy !! SUVs can act as a symbolic tool of social dominance over others which is basic human tendency, perhaps another clue supporting “survival of the fittest” theory. While SUV serves no real purpose in urban landscape, they are seldom used to transport no. of persons they are capable of, and even less driven off-roads, their rising popularity in emerging markets through-out world markets clearly shows a gradual, but persistent shift in consumer preference as per rising aspirations supported by socio-economic growth.

    I am sure that in coming years, we shall see many SUV s fighting it out in India to prove themselves as the ultimate male fantasy !!

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