Guardian: How it Works

Today's SUVs are a major source of global warming pollution.

SUV Solution:
The Guardian SUV would decrease carbon emissions by 28 tons as compared to a Ford Explored over its lifetime.  The Guardian XSE would emit 49 less tons.


The SUV-TV Challenge

40,546 Actions Taken For Cleaner, Safer SUVs
Thank You!

In March and April of 2004, UCS challenged consumers to respond to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking on vehicle fuel economy.  We asked you make a statement for safer highways, cleaner air, and more oil security, and you responded by the tens-of-thousands. Thanks to your efforts, we have delivered over 40,000 comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demanding better SUVs-a tremendous statement at just the right time.

We received an enormous number of questions during the SUV-TV Challenge. We thought others might be interested in the answers to some of the most popular questions.

QU: Where can I buy a Guardian?
We wish you could, but the auto industry continues to hold back progress towards safer and more efficient SUVs. The UCS Guardian is a blueprint, laying out what automakers could and should provide consumers today. The safety and fuel economy benefits are estimates based on computer models and engineering analysis. With your help to show the consumer demand, however, we hope that forward-thinking members of the auto industry will be inspired to produce SUVs with the Guardian's improvements, and they will show up at your local showroom soon.

QU: If this Guardian SUV is such a great idea, why don't you go out and build it yourself?
With the resources they have in hand, the auto industry should be making these vehicles today. The Guardian blueprint and cost analysis are based on modifications and improvements to an existing SUV line, such as the Ford Explorer. These modifications are developed from cost-effective, off-the-shelf technologies. While it would cost us a lot of money to create a single vehicle by hand, the auto industry has the technology and resources to produce a vehicle like the Guardian that would save lives and money at the pump. The auto industry can make a choice to take advantage of the Guardian blueprint and deliver the consumer a real choice in their SUVs.

QU: Are there SUVs on the market that already get "car level" fuel economy? If so, why don't SUV owners just buy those?
The UCS Guardian lays out a blueprint for an SUV that provides superior safety and fuel economy while giving consumers the size and performance of a mid-sized SUV. Some of the small SUVs, such as the Toyota RAV4, Saturn Vue, and Honda CR-V meet or exceed the car fuel economy standard of 27.5 mpg. While good choices for some, these models would require consumers who want larger vehicles to give up size and performance, and they don't have the safety features of the Guardian. Most mid-sized SUVs, such as the most popular SUV model, the Ford Explorer, average between 18 and 23 mpg. What the UCS Guardian blueprint shows is that the American consumer is being given a false choice. For less than $750 added to the sticker price of an Explorer, the Guardian provides all the same room and performance with substantially improved safety and 27.8 mpg. The Guardian XSE would provide even more safety and 36.3 mpg for about a $3000 increase. With the continued safety problems of SUVs, their environmental impact, and today's skyrocketing gas prices, the value of putting the better SUV blueprint technologies to work in SUVs of all sizes is clear.

QU: Why doesn't everyone just buy a hybrid car?
We at UCS believe that consumers should buy the safest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets their particular needs. For some people, hybrid cars are a great choice. But hybrids are not available in all shapes and sizes, and are still only sold in limited volumes. The UCS Guardian highlights the technologies that can be used to make an SUV safer while meeting or exceeding the current federal fuel economy standard for cars. Having these vehicles on the road, along with hybrid cars, will mean real choice for consumers. That is why we designed the Guardian and why we asked you to take the SUV-TV Challenge whether you drive a Prius or a Hummer.

QU: Shouldn't we be pushing for Hybrid SUVs as the solution, or better yet zero emission SUVs?
In the long run, we are going to have to move to hybrids and then zero emission vehicles if we are to address our air quality, global warming and oil dependence problems. The technology for cost-effective zero emission vehicles that meet a wide set of consumer demands is not ready yet, but hybrid SUVs are starting to emerge. The Ford Escape Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Lexus RX 400h SUVs are all hybrid models due to hit showroom floors over the next year. These SUVs will likely get from the mid-30s to nearly 40mpg, however, the expense and limited volume of the hybrids will make it hard for some consumers to purchase them in the near term. The blueprint for the UCS Guardian shows that cost-effective changes make it possible for everyone in the market for a new SUV to have improved safety and fuel economy. So, in short, we need a comprehensive approach where the auto industry can, and should, be pursuing hybrid SUVs and zero emission vehicles for our future while making needed improvements to conventional SUVs today.

QU: I know your UCS Guardian saves drivers money at the pump and would protect occupants better in an accident or rollover, but how does your better SUV blueprint help those of us who never plan to own an SUV?
The UCS Guardian was designed with both SUV occupants and safety and the safety of other vehicles on the road. It incorporates reduced weight and improved crash absorption capabilities in the unibody construction, both of which decrease the SUV's accident aggressivity. The Guardian design also incorporates a lower bumper height and smoother front contour, reducing the likelihood of the SUV to ride up over other vehicles or harm pedestrians. And the reduced carbon dioxide emissions of the Guardian mean a lower threat of global warming.

QU: Couldn't diesel SUVs more simply solve the fuel economy issues?
While on the surface, diesel engines seem to have better oil savings and carbon dioxide emissions than conventional gasoline, the reality is not as simple. More efficient gasoline AND diesel vehicles could substantially improve fuel economy and save consumers money at the pump. However, UCS modeling suggests that the high up-front costs of diesel engines and emission controls allow improved gasoline vehicles to deliver energy security, air pollution, and global warming benefits at a lower cost. Go to the Union of Concerned Scientist's site for more information.

QU: How can we get the automobile manufacturers to understand that there really is a viable market for fuel efficient SUVs?
The most important thing you can do is to purchase the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs and let your dealer know they can do better than what is out there today. Making your voice heard in other ways is also vital. The auto industry monitors public comments, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fuel economy comment docket used for the SUV-TV Challenge. So, rest assured, industry will take note of your statement in the SUV-TV Challenge. Also, UCS will continue to generate specific actions to executives in the auto industry to give you continued opportunities to make your voice heard. So keep checking in at for more information and actions.

QU: Why not raise gas taxes to inspire consumer demand for more efficient SUVs?
Gas taxes can encourage people to drive less and to purchase vehicles with better fuel economy. Once fuel economy standards are successfully increased, increased gas taxes may have a role to play in reducing driving and keeping potholes filled and roads safe. However, additional federal taxation of gasoline is an extremely controversial issue, and is unlikely to see any progress due to a lack of political and public support. This makes advocating for higher gas taxes an easy diversionary tactic for the auto industry as they put the responsibility for low fuel economy on consumers instead of making better cars and trucks for us all. UCS focuses its energies on finding the most realistic technological and policy solutions for current vehicles issues, such as pushing NHTSA to make fuel-efficient choices in their CAFE standard revisions and to improve vehicle safety standards.

QU: I have had problems having my letters to the Federal Government delivered in the past. How are you guaranteeing that my letter is delivered?
We at UCS work very hard to ensure that the letters you send are delivered to the appropriate target. In the case of the SUV-TV Challenge, your letters to NHTSA were sent to the Department of Transportation electronic posting docket and also sent by mail as a backup.

QU: So what now?
In August 2005, NHTSA released their proposed rulemaking, responding to some of your demands but producing, in all, a woefully insufficient change to fuel economy regulations.  UCS has responded by seeking 50,000 comments to this rulemaking in order to prove that the chorus for better car, pickup, and SUV choices is only growing louder.  Please click here to take action and help spread the word.