El mito de la seguridad de las SUV

07.07.2008 @ 15:29 \03\Mon, 07 Jul 2008 15:29:28 +0000\28 +0000 UTC

Hoy me re-encontré con un famoso artículo, al menos en la prensa automotriz, acerca de la supuesta seguridad de las SUV. Les recomiendo bastante que lean el artículo completo. Es impresionante descubrir esos aspectos de la psicología humana.

En resumen (de verdad intenté resumirlo), el artículo comienza con lo que es el nacimiento del boom del mercado SUV:

In the summer of 1996, the Ford Motor Company began building the Expedition, its new, full-sized S.U.V., at the Michigan Truck Plant, in the Detroit suburb of Wayne.   The Expedition was essentially the F-150 pickup truck with an extra set of doors and two more rows of seats—and the fact that it was a truck was critical.   Cars have to meet stringent fuel-efficiency regulations.   Trucks don’t.   The handling and suspension and braking of cars have to be built to the demanding standards of drivers and passengers.   Trucks only have to handle like, well, trucks.

Prosigue explicando un poco las diferencias entre construir un auto y una SUV:

Cars are built with what is called unit-body construction.   To be light enough to meet fuel standards and safe enough to meet safety standards, they have expensive and elaborately engineered steel skeletons, with built-in crumple zones to absorb the impact of a crash.   Making a truck is a lot more rudimentary.   You build a rectangular steel frame.   The engine gets bolted to the front.   The seats get bolted to the middle.   The body gets lowered over the top.   The result is heavy and rigid and not particularly safe.   But it’s an awfully inexpensive way to build an automobile.

Después continua explicando que lo que Ford pensaba que iba a ser un nicho de mercado, se volvió producción en masa, llevando la planta que tenía Ford en Michigan a ser la planta de producción con más profit en la historia:

Before long, the Michigan Truck Plant was the most profitable of Ford’s fifty-three assembly plants.   By the late nineteen-nineties, it had become the most profitable factory of any industry in the world.   In 1998, the Michigan Truck Plant grossed eleven billion dollars, almost as much as McDonald’s made that year.   Profits were $3.  7 billion.   Some factory workers, with overtime, were making two hundred thousand dollars a year.   The demand for Expeditions and Navigators was so insatiable that even when a blizzard hit the Detroit region in January of 1999—burying the city in snow, paralyzing the airport, and stranding hundreds of cars on the freeway—Ford officials got on their radios and commandeered parts bound for other factories so that the Michigan Truck Plant assembly line wouldn’t slow for a moment.

Ahora, la pregunta es: De dónde vino esa demanda desmedida por SUV? La respuesta: seguridad percibida.

In the history of the automotive industry, few things have been quite as unexpected as the rise of the S.U.V. Detroit is a town of engineers, and engineers like to believe that there is some connection between the success of a vehicle and its technical merits.   But the S.U.V. boom was like Apple’s bringing back the Macintosh, dressing it up in colorful plastic, and suddenly creating a new market.   It made no sense to them.   Consumers said they liked four-wheel drive.   But the overwhelming majority of consumers don’t need four-wheel drive.   S.U.V. buyers said they liked the elevated driving position.

But when, in focus groups, industry marketers probed further, they heard things that left them rolling their eyes.   As Keith Bradsher writes in “High and Mighty”—perhaps the most important book about Detroit since Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed”—what consumers said was “If the vehicle is up high, it’s easier to see if something is hiding underneath or lurking behind it.  ” Bradsher brilliantly captures the mixture of bafflement and contempt that many auto executives feel toward the customers who buy their S.U.V.s.   Fred J.   Schaafsma, a top engineer for General Motors, says, “Sport-utility owners tend to be more like ‘I wonder how people view me,’ and are more willing to trade off flexibility or functionality to get that.  ” According to Bradsher, internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills.

Y ciertamente se refieren a las famosas “yummie-mamies”:

Ford’s S.U.V. designers took their cues from seeing “fashionably dressed women wearing hiking boots or even work boots while walking through expensive malls.  ” Toyota’s top marketing executive in the United States, Bradsher writes, loves to tell the story of how at a focus group in Los Angeles “an elegant woman in the group said that she needed her full-sized Lexus LX 470 to drive up over the curb and onto lawns to park at large parties in Beverly Hills.  ” One of Ford’s senior marketing executives was even blunter: “The only time those S.U.V.s are going to be off-road is when they miss the driveway at 3 a.  m.  “

Y aquí viene la psicología del asunto:

Over the past decade, a number of major automakers in America have relied on the services of a French-born cultural anthropologist, G.   Clotaire Rapaille, whose speciality is getting beyond the rational—what he calls “cortex”—impressions of consumers and tapping into their deeper, “reptilian” responses.   And what Rapaille concluded from countless, intensive sessions with car buyers was that when S.U.V. buyers thought about safety they were thinking about something that reached into their deepest unconscious.   “The No.   1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give,”

There should be air bags everywhere.   Then there’s this notion that you need to be up high.   That’s a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover.   But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I’m safer.   You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down.   That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion.

Y POR FIN una explicación del por qué el enorme número de portavasos en autos gringos:

And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid.   That’s why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety.   If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe.   If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it’s soft, and if I’m high, then I feel safe.   It’s amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has.  “

Después, el autor cuenta una anécdota en un centro de pruebas de seguridad automotriz. Un tal David Champion y él probaron una SUV (TrailBlazer) y un Porsche Boxster:

The facility has two skid pads to measure cornering, a long straightaway for braking tests, a meandering “handling” course that winds around the back side of the track, and an accident-avoidance obstacle course made out of a row of orange cones.   It is headed by a trim, white-haired Englishman named David Champion, who previously worked as an engineer with Land Rover and with Nissan.   On the day of my visit, Champion set aside two vehicles: a silver 2003 Chevrolet TrailBlazer—an enormous five-thousand-pound S.U.V.—and a shiny blue two-seater Porsche Boxster convertible.

Parece ser una prueba en la que la Trailblazer está en suma desventaja, pero de esa forma se enfatiza mejor el punto de que la seguridad de un vehículo radica en qué tan fácil el vehículo en cuestión te permite evitar un accidente:

Measuring accident avoidance is a key part of the Consumers Union evaluation.   It’s a simple setup.   The driver has to navigate his vehicle through two rows of cones eight feet wide and sixty feet long.   Then he has to steer hard to the left, guiding the vehicle through a gate set off to the side, and immediately swerve hard back to the right, and enter a second sixty-foot corridor of cones that are parallel to the first set.   The idea is to see how fast you can drive through the course without knocking over any cones.   “It’s like you’re driving down a road in suburbia,” Champion said.   “Suddenly, a kid on a bicycle veers out in front of you.   You have to do whatever it takes to avoid the kid.   But there’s a tractor-trailer coming toward you in the other lane, so you’ve got to swing back into your own lane as quickly as possible.   That’s the scenario.  “

Esto son los resutlados de la TrailBlazer:

Champion entered the first row of cones.   His arms tensed.   He jerked the car to the left.   The TrailBlazer’s tires squealed.   I was thrown toward the passenger-side door as the truck’s body rolled, then thrown toward Champion as he jerked the TrailBlazer back to the right.   My tape recorder went skittering across the cabin.   The whole maneuver had taken no more than a few seconds, but it felt as if we had been sailing into a squall.   Champion brought the car to a stop.   We both looked back: the TrailBlazer had hit the cone at the gate.   The kid on the bicycle was probably dead.   Champion shook his head.   “It’s very rubbery.   It slides a lot.   I’m not getting much communication back from the steering wheel.   It feels really ponderous, clumsy.   I felt a little bit of tail swing.  ”

drove the obstacle course next.   I started at the conservative speed of thirty-five m.p.h. I got through cleanly.   I tried again, this time at thirty-eight m.p.h., and that small increment of speed made a dramatic difference.   I made the first left, avoiding the kid on the bicycle.   But, when it came time to swerve back to avoid the hypothetical oncoming eighteen-wheeler, I found that I was wrestling with the car.   The protests of the tires were jarring.   I stopped, shaken.   “It wasn’t going where you wanted it to go, was it?” Champion said.   “Did you feel the weight pulling you sideways? That’s what the extra weight that S.U.V.s have tends to do.   It pulls you in the wrong direction.  ” Behind us was a string of toppled cones.   Getting the TrailBlazer to travel in a straight line, after that sudden diversion, hadn’t been easy.   “I think you took out a few pedestrians,” Champion said with a faint smile.

Y estos del Porsche Boxster:

Standing still, the Boxster didn’t feel safe: I could have been sitting in a go-cart.   But when I ran it through the handling course I felt that I was in perfect control.   On the straightaway, I steadied the Boxster at forty-five m.p.h., and ran it through the obstacle course.

El comentario british no podía faltar:

I could have balanced a teacup on my knee.

Y el final de la preuba del Porsche:

I navigated the left and right turns with what seemed like a twitch of the steering wheel.   The tires didn’t squeal.   The car stayed level.   I pushed the Porsche up into the mid-fifties.   Every cone was untouched.   “Walk in the park!” Champion exclaimed as we pulled to a stop.

Conclusión de la prueba:

Most of us think that S.U.V.s are much safer than sports cars.   If you asked the young parents of America whether they would rather strap their infant child in the back seat of the TrailBlazer or the passenger seat of the Boxster, they would choose the TrailBlazer.   We feel that way because in the TrailBlazer our chances of surviving a collision with a hypothetical tractor-trailer in the other lane are greater than they are in the Porsche.   What we forget, though, is that in the TrailBlazer you’re also much more likely to hit the tractor-trailer because you can’t get out of the way in time.   In the parlance of the automobile world, the TrailBlazer is better at “passive safety.  ” The Boxster is better when it comes to “active safety,” which is every bit as important.

Luego vienen unas estadísticas de números de accidentes fatales por millón de automóviles:

consider the extraordinary performance of some subcompacts, like the Volkswagen Jetta.   Drivers of the tiny Jetta die at a rate of just forty-seven per million, which is in the same range as drivers of the five-thousand-pound Chevrolet Suburban and almost half that of popular S.U.V. models like the Ford Explorer or the GMC Jimmy.   In a head-on crash, an Explorer or a Suburban would crush a Jetta or a Camry.   But, clearly, the drivers of Camrys and Jettas are finding a way to avoid head-on crashes with Explorers and Suburbans.

“The metric that people use is size,” says Stephen Popiel, a vice-president of Millward Brown Goldfarb, in Toronto, one of the leading automotive market-research firms.   “The bigger something is, the safer it is.   In the consumer’s mind, the basic equation is, If I were to take this vehicle and drive it into this brick wall, the more metal there is in front of me the better off I’ll be.  ” This is a new idea, and one largely confined to North America.   In Europe and Japan, people think of a safe car as a nimble car.   That’s why they build cars like the Jetta and the Camry, which are designed to carry out the driver’s wishes as directly and efficiently as possible.   In the Jetta, the engine is clearly audible.   The steering is light and precise.   The brakes are crisp.   The wheelbase is short enough that the car picks up the undulations of the road.   The car is so small and close to the ground, and so dwarfed by other cars on the road, that an intelligent driver is constantly reminded of the necessity of driving safely and defensively.   An S.U.V. embodies the opposite logic.

Even four-wheel drive, seemingly the most beneficial feature of the S.U.V., serves to reinforce this isolation.   Having the engine provide power to all four wheels, safety experts point out, does nothing to improve braking, although many S.U.V. owners erroneously believe this to be the case.   Nor does the feature necessarily make it safer to turn across a slippery surface: that is largely a function of how much friction is generated by the vehicle’s tires.   All it really does is improve what engineers call tracking—that is, the ability to accelerate without slipping in perilous conditions or in deep snow or mud.

Pues bien, al menos hay una explicación para todo este comportamiento consumista de los gringos. No quiere decir tampoco que todas las SUVs sean inseguras. Si están realmente bien diseniadas y tienen buena tecnología pueden ser muy seguras también. Chequen este video que el incienso una vez mandó por mail:

El punto importante de todo esto es que más que escoger el carro más grande y equipado con bolsas de aire hasta en el techo, es importante saber conducir. Digo, hay varios casos como aquel jugador del Chaflas que tuvo un accidente en un Porsche Cayman y su copiloto perdió las piernas. Los Porsches son excelentes autos pero tampoco pueden desafiar las leyes más elementales de la física.

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