- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

SUVs are the hottest vehicles on the road today. Twenty years ago, no one had ever heard of an SUV. Where did they come from, and why are they so prevalent today?

Freelance writer Richard A. Wright recently explored these questions in a story for the Detroit News. Here are a few of my own reflections.

Mr. Wright says people trace SUVs back to the depot hacks, or cabs, of the 1920s and 1930s. These were called station wagons, because they met you at the station and took your baggage — and you — to your destination.

A station wagon implied that you lived in the city and “sojourned” in the country, where you either rented a house for the summer, or owned one. These houses were large, three-story homes with servants on the top floor. Today, such 19th-century homes have been turned into bead & breakfast inns, or torn down, as few people want, or can afford, a six-to-eight-bedroom mansion.

With the democratization of America, the downsizing of families and the elimination of servants, station wagons then became a family vehicle. People could haul their own stuff (hardly ever from the station) when the need arose. At other times, they were great for packing groceries in the back, taking the kids to the pool, or even bringing the dog when you went to town.

Today’s true SUVs look quite different from the “traditional” station wagons, but have much the same purpose — to haul kids, dogs, groceries and everything else. Our SUVs are considerably bigger, have a much higher canopy, stand taller off the road and can go off-road, although seldom do.

However, an interesting phenomenon is occurring: SUVs are slowly morphing into the station wagons of old — canopies are getting squashed and the cars are being designed lower to the road. Current examples are the 2005 Cadillac SRX, the Audi Allroad and the Volvo Cross Country.

Whatever is true about the origin of the SUV, one thing seems to be true: The station wagon of yesteryear just may be the car of tomorrow.

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