- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

PHILADELPHIA — Engineers opposed to gas-guzzling SUVs say they have developed a safer, more fuel-efficient version using off-the-shelf technology.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says the SUV, dubbed the “UCS Guardian,” uses the same amount of gas as a car and is significantly safer than current SUVs, while maintaining the power and size that motorists covet.

Don’t look for this SUV at your nearest dealership — it exists in concept form only.

However, the Guardian’s designers say the vehicle could be produced now because the safety features and fuel-efficient engine in the Guardian already exist.

“Families deserve to know that they can get a better SUV, one that is safer, saves lives and saves them money at the gas pump,” David Friedman, an engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists and co-designer of the Guardian, told a news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

SUVs are notorious gas guzzlers and critics have claimed for years that they’re unsafe.

In January, Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that SUVs’ rollover fatality rate is triple that for passenger cars.

But automakers insist sport utility vehicles are safer than passenger cars in the vast majority of crashes.

And the SUVs’ popularity hasn’t been dented a bit by the critics: They now account for up to 25 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales.

Industry spokesman Eron Shosteck derided the Guardian concept as a one-size-fits-all approach, saying that some consumers want an SUV with safety features and are willing to pay for them, while others prefer less-expensive models.

“If they can build this Guardian, why don’t they do it?” asked Mr. Shosteck, a spokes-man for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

“It’s nice to put something in blueprint form, but we have to build vehicles that go on pavement.”

The Guardian comes with a unibody steel frame, a stronger, crumple-resistant roof, seat belts that cinch automatically in a rollover, lower bumpers to protect other drivers in a crash, and a seat-belt reminder that emits a noise until all passengers are belted.

It also has a six-cylinder, fuel-efficient engine.

A more expensive model, the Guardian XSE, has electronic stability control to reduce the threat of rollovers and side curtain air bags for all of the passengers.

A six-speed automatic transmission helps the engine run more efficiently.

At $29,935, the base Guardian would be $735 more expensive than the 2002 Ford Explorer XLT, the model on which the Guardian was based, and the Guardian XSE would cost nearly $3,000 more than the Explorer.

However, designers say that both Guardian models would be less expensive than the Explorer in the long run because of their superior gas mileage.

The fuel economy of the base Guardian is estimated at 27.8 miles per gallon.

The upscale XSE model’s mileage is estimated at 36.3 mpg, while the Explorer is rated at 21.2 mpg.

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