HIGHTOWER: The Unimog Road Hog

Time for another trip into the Far, Far, Far-out Frontiers of free Enterprise.

Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the nightmarish world of ever-bigger Sports Utility Vehicles. These road hogs have been steadily expanding in size and silliness, but DaimlerChrysler has now come out with a gargantuan monster of a machine: The "Unimog!"

Unimog is three feet taller than any other SUV. It's so tall that it takes a 3-step ladder to climb up to the driver's seat. Unimog is more than seven feet wide -- so wide that federal rules require it to have truck marker lights across the top of its front and back. Unimog weighs 12,500 pounds -- more than four Toyota Camrys weigh.

The vehicle's promotional material gloats: "You don't need roads when you can make your own." What we have here is a ludicrous escalation of the mine-is-bigger-than-yours mentality, a mobile image-builder for the testosterone challenged. While the Unimog is promoted as a rugged, go-anywhere, off-road vehicle, DaimlerChrysler says it will be sold mainly in suburban markets, and one company promoter enthuses that "moms will want to take it to the grocery store. It's a head turning vehicle."

Well, some moms, maybe, but most moms might balk a bit at the $84,000 price tag on the Unimog. As for its tough-guy exterior, the Unimog interior is strictly for softies -- cushy leather seats, walnut trim, mood lighting, a high-end stereo system, and a computerized navigation system to keep one from getting lost on the way to the grocery store. "Wanting to conquer the great outdoors," says a promotional brochure," is simply not a good reason to give up leather and air-conditioning."

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Sadly, the Unimog road hog will "conquer the great outdoors" in more ways than one -- it gets only 10 miles per gallon, burns high polluting diesel fuel, and is exempt from most air pollution rules. Plus . . . try parking this sucker.

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