The older we get, the more convinced we are that the best way to make something happen is to say: “I would never…” So we should have known that saying that we would never buy an SUV was a sure sign that we would end up with one parked next to the hybrid minivan. How did we get that previously unimagined place?
In the suburbs, we managed quite nicely and somewhat smugly with one car—the hybrid minivan—and a couple of electric bikes. The first weeks living in the middle of nowhere were a quick lesson in the unintended consequences of moving to a place where distances were long and internet was non-existent (feel free to insert a rant here about the need for digital infrastructure as a common good).
While we were frantically searching for reliable and high speed coverage, Daniel still needed to work. His job has always been remote, which means that good internet is essential. If there was no internet at home, he would have to go to where the internet was: to a co-working office space a twenty minute car ride away. On a freeway. There was no way to take the electric bike and so Daniel drove the minivan off to work while Miranda stayed home with four kids, three cats, and twenty chickens. The one car option suddenly didn’t look virtuous. It looked and was dangerous.
Eventually we solved the internet problem and Daniel began to work from his home office again. That didn’t solve our distance problem. Because city distances are relatively short, many transportation choices are possible. Rural options, though, are limited to cars. Or trucks. Distance matters.
In that first week, it was obvious that one car supplemented with a couple of e-bikes was not going to work. While Daniel thought briefly about riding his e-bike to the co-working space, there were not real bike-lanes anywhere, the freeway was the shortest route to the office, and even without the danger, biking would simply have taken too long.
In fact, rural life magnified all travel time. In the suburbs, driving to the grocery store would take us five minutes, or fifteen by bike. In the country, it was a fifteen minute drive or a 45 minute bike ride. Those distances meant that, especially during a pandemic, there were no quick trips to get that one essential but forgotten item. Grocery store trips meant infrequent, massive, pantry-filling amounts of food that would be all but impossible to fit onto a bike and still get home unmelted. A second car was clearly the best option, both for safety and practicality.
So we did the research.
We knew twelve-person passenger vans could carry our family and pull a trailer, so we started there. Sadly, there are not yet any hybrid electric options for passenger vans, and their gas mileage was so low we wanted to cry. If your goal is to transport twelve people in a fuel efficient manner, you’re literally better off getting a couple of minivans. Then we looked at pick-up trucks. Also terrible fuel efficiency. There will be electric pick-up trucks soon, but none immediately available to us.
Which brought us to the dreaded SUV. We had a long standing grudge against SUVs as vehicles. They have been allowed to have terrible fuel efficiency by being classified as trucks, and they have the reputation of being much cooler than minivans, so people who don’t need them for any practical reason buy them to avoid being a minivan owner. We swallowed our objections to the societal push for suburbanites to own vehicles that have many functions that are unnecessary in the suburbs when we started comparing fuel economy. When SUVs went mainstream, their fuel efficiency went up. It’s still not as good as we would like it to be, but it’s better than most passenger vans or trucks, it’s capable of towing enough weight for us to move a cow or a small number of goats or a tractor, and it has passenger space. We believe in data over opinion.
Thus we became owners of a 2020 Ford Explorer, or as Daniel prefers, the 2020 Pragmatism, the compromise that does what we need it to do…and which is annoyingly fun to drive. Someday we’ll replace it with an electric vehicle that fills a similar function, but right now, our new SUV will literally allow us to move toward our goals.