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A Short History of the SUV

A popular automobile genre in contemporary times, the SUV or Sports Utility Vehicle evolved to reach its current form, borrowing from several prototypes. Tracing the historical journey of these vehicles, we go back to the beginning of the 20th century when the automobile industry was experiencing the influx of innovations and new designs.

The earliest SUVs were descendants of commercial and military vehicles that were required for transporting goods and people in rough terrains. In fact, it is widely held that the SUV took birth from the ancient ‘depot hack’ – a taxi-like vehicle which transported people and luggage from train stations to various locations. These depot hacks were also called carryalls or suburbans, the latter of which is nomenclature for the longest running SUV model – the Suburban by Chevrolet. Suburbans were popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s as vehicles of practical use having a truck-like structure, and many automotive brands launched models in this name.

The 1950s brought some change in the regular design of the suburbans. Many models favoring a car-frame over truck-like structure came into vogue. These new vehicles became popular amongst big families since they had a fuss-free interior, lots of space and a hardy exterior. These revamped suburbans also became parent to the modern-day station wagons.

It is in the 70s that the SUVs hit their lowest point. It is in this decade that fuel-efficiency, emission control, small engines and high mileage became important concerns for vehicle-owners. Thus, the concept of the mini-van emerged. These were similar to the old carryalls in terms of the purpose they served though they could not match the spaciousness and power of its predecessors. Nonetheless, it kept the concept of SUV-like vehicles alive till the 80s, which is when they came back into prominence.

With the dawn of the 1980s, automobiles began being considered as more than just a practical transport option even for the middle-classes of society. People began to expect a combination of style, elegance, utility as well as road-presence in their automobiles. This is when the lavishly large Sports Utility Vehicle came into vogue again.

The popularity of SUVs increased significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s, especially in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and India. By this time, the SUV design had diversified into variously sized models – Compact SUVs, Medium SUVs and Full Sized SUVs. While now SUVs are also produced by luxury automotive brands, they still find usage in rural societies in most parts of the world. Thus, though the Sports Utility Vehicle has undergone many modifications over the 20th century, it has become one of the most widely popular vehicle-types since the turn of the last century. Given their popularity and utility in the present day, one thing is for sure; SUVs are here to stay. Watch out for them on a road near you!

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