A Dinosaur Dodges Extinction
Geologically speaking, dinosaurs ruled the earth for a brief period. In automotive terms, the same holds true for the traditional sport utility vehicle. But while dinosaurs will never return, SUVs are attempting a comeback.
Autoblog readers all know the history of the American SUV; it started with the Suburban in 1936 when Chevrolet dropped a station wagon body over a truck chassis. Natural selection favored utilitarian characteristics, so the Suburban grew. Other forces were active in the land of Jeep. Their Wagoneer (1963) survived for decades thanks to genes that combined plushness with off-road capabilities. Another variation on the SUV was the unibody Jeep Cherokee XJ (1984), a new phylum that somehow mutated from body-on-frame parents.
Environmental influencers such as cheap gas and low lease rates caused an SUV Cambrian Explosion throughout the 1980s and 90s. Spontaneous parallel genesis occurred at other manufacturers yielding dozens of Darwinian finch-like variations. Then disaster struck. The entire range of SUVs nearly went extinct with the meteoric impact of 2008’s financial collapse and a spike in fuel prices. Does the 2011 Dodge Durango represent the rear-wheel drive SUV’s last gasp or its reemergence?
Gallery: 2011 Dodge Durango: First Drive