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The Evolution Of The SUV

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On: Thu, May 27, 2010 at 11:53AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

The Evolution Of The SUV

During the depression, farmers borrowed money from local banks to purchase their work trucks for use on the farm, but bankers would not loan them the money needed to purchase personal family vehicles. Subsequently, an Australian farmer’s wife once made a suggestion that Ford Motor Company design a vehicle that would be able to function to work on the farm and then transport the family on the week-ends in an automobile that was more stylish and comfortable than a truck.

Ford responded to the request from the farmer’s wife, and hired designer, Lewis Bandt who created a prototype of such a vehicle, and in 1934, a Ford plant in Geelong, Australia produced the first 500 models of an automobile that would eventually evolved into the Sports Utility Vehicle or SUV. Historically automakers attempted to design new four-wheel drive vehicles in a variety of different manifestation since the inception of gasoline powered engines.

The development of early SUV vehicles started to evolve much faster than any other prototype of the four-wheel drive. Light, fully enclosed "panel" trucks started to become common, but they were still, for the most part, considered work trucks, until the 50s. In 1948, Willy’s Jeep Wagon, the Land Rover Series II, and the International Harvester Scout were examples of vehicles that combined a passenger vehicle with station wagon features. Automakers started to produce several different variations such as the Ford Ranch, Chevrolet Nomad, and Chrysler Town and Country.

By the end of the 60s most major automobile manufacturers in the country had added four-wheel drive passenger vehicles built on light-weight truck chasses to their line-ups. In the early 70s, when American Motors Corp. still manufactured the Jeep, the company petitioned the U.S. Environmental Agency asking to classify the Jeep Cherokee as a light truck (hoping to bypass some of the stringent emissions and fuel standards cars had to comply with).

The door was now open for other manufacturers who soon jumped on board designing all types of 4X4 vehicles with luxury interior and exterior features built on a light truck chassis—and hence—the SUV was officially conceived! The SUV rage took hold; women who wanted a more stylish image than the mini-van, but still had to haul around a baseball team of kids and their gear, loved the new SUVs; businessmen loved the roominess and comfort; and families couldn’t live without the security and spaciousness (not to mention the endless list of options available) that only an SUV could provide. Eventually the all-wheel drive option replaced the 4X4 models in many SUVs, but by that time it really didn’t matter as they weren’t actually used for off-road most of the time, anyhow.

Today, many classic SUVs, such as the Jeep Cherokee and the Ford Explorer, are being redesigned as fuel saving crossovers, built on a car chassis—just as they began. It was a great era in car history and those of us who were privileged enough to drive one know there will never be any time that compares to the days when the road belonged to SUVs!

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