I found this comment at TTAC, and the more I looked at it, the more sense it seemed to make:
I believe one of the biggest reasons for SUV and crossover buying is this era’s subliminal fear of crime.
I compare it to the sense of peace we feel when we’re at the water’s edge. I’ve heard it suggested that we feel that peace because it’s biologically programmed into our simian ancestors to relax near the water because there’s only 180 degrees from which we could be attacked by a predator, not 360 as in the woods or tall grass. In fact, the water presents its own set of hazards, from drowning to waves to undersea predators, but we feel safer.
Similarly, we’ve been bombarded with media telling us we’re under siege. Statistics say there’s actually less violent crime per capita in most parts of American than decades ago, but whether that’s true or not, we FEEL besieged, so we’re reassured by the sensation of a commanding position seated safely above the fray, whether that “fray” is motorists hitting us or pedestrians assaulting us. Like the sea, the tall vehicle in fact brings its own hazard — in this case, greater risk of one-car accidents — but the psyche trumps the rational. And we’re all generally much more irrational buyers than we think.
I definitely believe that last sentence. In 2006, the last time I went car shopping, I wound up with something almost too big for my garage that got 3 mpg less than its predecessor and cost quite a bit more to maintain, mostly because the interior was so incredibly coddling compared to what I was used to. (And it still looks pretty good today, though the leather on the driver’s seat is starting to wrinkle a bit.) This is, I suspect, the experience of a lot of people: due diligence before hitting the lots, and then buying something that steals away the heart, facts and figures notwithstanding.
And siege mentality is all around us, due in no small part, I think, to the omnipresence of TV news, the heir to the old newspaper adage that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Lots of bleeding going on out there, and if it’s not actually in your neighborhood, as it’s not in mine, it’s still too close for comfort.