Have you seen the new Kia Telluride?

Americans take for granted our many blessings, but perhaps most of all that we enjoy cheap gasoline. We do not think twice about driving large cars for long distances because it does not hurt our banks to do so.

SUVs have been a mainstay of American lifestyles for decades. Remember the iconic Eddie Bauer-branded Ford Explorer? The marketing employed photographs of families enjoying the great outdoors, camping right outside by their hunter green truck? Or what about the original Jeep Grand Cherokee with its rugged boxy shape and manly man’s image? It’s clear that Americans love to identify as active outdoors people, whether or not they actually are.

However, drilling down into the microcosm that is Telluride, the active outdoors person image does apply to 99 percent of us. We live in a rugged place, we enjoy intense outdoor activities and we are often camping right out back of our cars. Therefore, one could argue that SUVs make sense in a place like Telluride. After all, how else could we carry our skis, bikes, camping gear, climbing gear, SUPs, children and dogs?

With this in mind, we might be tempted to be flattered by Kia’s new 2020 Telluride “crossover” SUV. It represents everything Telluride is, right? Mountain loving, adventure seeking and backcountry accessible. But does it really? In 1996, Toyota revolutionized the SUV industry with the introduction of the RAV4, the first of its kind to be built on a car chassis, but still have the capacity of a sport utility vehicle. This meant better gas mileage while maintaining those rugged “sport” capabilities Americans hold so dear. This crossover SUV was new, it was cool, it was innovative.

The RAV4 allowed families to enjoy the capabilities of an SUV without sacrificing economy, and was considered compact in its day. The gas mileage for a four-door all-wheel drive RAV4 was 19 city/24 highway, and it was 162 inches long, 66.7 inches wide and weighed 3,815 pounds. Compare this to the ever-popular Eddie Bauer-branded 1991 Ford Explorer, which was considered a mid-size SUV in its time. It fetched 15 city/20 highway mpg, and was 184.3 inches long, 70.2 inches wide and weighed 4,233 lbs.

Today, crossover SUVs are a dime a dozen, but whether they maintain their original purpose to provide a more affordable and environmentally conscious outdoors-accessible experience is debatable. The Kia Telluride exemplifies this dichotomy. First, note the change in what is considered to be “mid-size” in 2019-20. Like everything else in America, cars are expanding and we barely notice. Where the mid-size 1991 Ford Explorer was 184.3 inches by 70.2 inches, this “mid-size” 2020 Kia Telluride is 196.9 inches by 78.3 inches. What’s worse, however, is that the gas mileage for this mid-size crossover is 19 city/24 highway.  That is barely a nudge better than the 1991 Ford Explorer and is the same as the 1996 Toyota RAV4. Admittedly, this Kia Telluride is larger than those two earlier SUVs, but it weighs nearly the same as the 1991 Explorer at 4,255 pounds, making the fuel economy question even more of a conundrum. Clearly, in 28 years, there have been developments in size-to-weight ratios, yet why not so in mpgs? Yes, car manufacturers have developed efficiency improvements and innovations in some areas, and generally speaking, fuel economy is better than in 1991. However, it is nowhere near where it should be, considering the kinds of innovations other industries have made in 25 years. How is it we can hold our entire lives in a smartphone the size of a wallet and yet our SUVs still can’t hit the 30 mpg threshold? While it is interesting to watch Tesla establish footing in the electric car market and see how other manufacturers are finally building products to compete, the reality is that we simply do not demand enough innovation from the car industry, at least while gas is cheap.

So how should we feel about an SUV being named after our unique town? In the words of telluride.com in the Telluride history section, “The Telluride National Historic District is a window into the town’s illustrious past and a showcase of spirited individualism and community pride. Telluride, Colorado, is a truly unique place.” If this is true, then Kia is grossly misrepresenting us with its Telluride SUV.  

Telluride throughout the ages has been associated with adventure, exploration and innovation. Ours was the first town to power up our streets (and mines) with Nikola Tesla’s revolutionary alternating current. That’s something special. As a community, we are values-driven and have a sense of the fragility of our environment. For these reasons alone we should be enraged by the audacity of Kia to name its uninventive and backwards SUV after our town. It represents the exact opposite of who we are and what we strive to be as a community: We should demand better.

It is discomfiting that Kia will be making outrageous profits from “Telluride” sales. Certainly, a significant percentage of purchases will be made due to the SUV’s name alone because Telluride is associated with everything Americans want to be, but most are not: outdoorsy, risk-taking, adventuresome and beautiful.

If we are truly proud of the history of Telluride, then we should challenge companies like Kia to live up to our innovative identity. If consumers do not vote with their dollars and demand better products and production, then change will not happen. Consumers do have the power to change the course of history, and have done so in demanding better working conditions, the end of child labor, and even today with the uproar around glyphosate turning up in our food supplies. Car manufacturers must be held to the same lofty standards. Telluride was never a place that was content with the status quo. An SUV that insults our identity is one that should be erased from existence. Kia, Telluride deserves and demands better.

Theresa Brown can be reached at tbcontrarian@gmail.com. No question or comment is too scary, difficult or offensive.