Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Owners of America
Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (SUVOA) is an industry-funded group started in 1999.
In 2003, the group announced a major membership push and a revamping of its website to become a source of pro-SUV information that the media can turn to. As part of the campaign, Stratacomm, a PR firm that counts Detroit's big three auto makers as well as transportation and alcohol industry trade groups and associations as clients, contacted about 120 journalists about the organization.
PR Week writes: "Stratacomm plans to relaunch the association's website this month, and seeks to expand membership to 50,000 by the end of this year. The group, founded by SUV owner Bill Brouse, now has only a few hundred members."
In 2003 the group's board of directors included Stratacomm's Jason Vines, who served as the board president and is a former vice president of communications for Ford Motor Co., and representatives from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association and the Marine Retailers Association of America. . SUVOA's shares Stratacomm's offices.
PR commentator Paul Holmes has called SUVOA, while not technically "dishonest or unethical," an example of deceptive PR. "What is clear is that SUVOA is a front for SUV manufacturers. Its board of directors consists largely of industry reps and public affairs execs with ties to the industry," Holmes wrote. "It's hard to believe that there isn't an attempt to deceive here. It seems likely that SUVOA gets most of its funding - directly or indirectly - from the auto industry rather than from individual owners and that its true purpose is to represent their interests. ... At the very least, the group's funding is opaque: It's certainly not explained on SUVOA's website or in its press releases. And that's my problem with front groups." 
In July 2003, responding to a Christian-sponsored anti-SUV campaign that asked "What Would Jesus Drive?" SUVOA created a $17,000 ad that asks, "What Would Jesus (Rivera) Drive?" According to the ad, Rivera drives an SUV because it gets him through the snow in winter, and his wife likes it because she can easily transport their grandchildren. "It's all about safety, utility and versatility. Maybe that's why they call them SUVs," the ad says. The pro-SUV group's president Jason Vines says the ad is part of SUVOA's membership drive.
SUVOA's website calls on SUV owners to sign a petition "asking anti-SUV extremists to stop their venomous attacks against SUVs and their owner." SUVOA's ads ran to counter the anti-SUV group Evangelical Environmental Network wrap up their 11-city "On the Road with What Would Jesus Drive" tour in Washington D.C. with meetings with lawmakers to discuss the "moral issues" surrounding SUVs.
In September 2004, Ron DeFore, communications director for SUV Owners of America, complained to PR Week that "we have been wrongfully labelled as an auto industry front group". SUVOA is running a campaign opposing proposed regulations in California to limit truck and SUV emissions. Defore is also a principal at Stratacom, a PR firm that counts the auto industry as one of its biggest clients. Defore also told PR Week that Stratacomm had created the non-profit status of the SUV group two years ago after buying the name and other assets from its founder. "There was a tremendous need in the public-policy arena, as well as the media, for some balance to be brought to the coverage on SUVs," Defore said. California represents 10% of the US auto market. 
When a Peppercom PR campaign to raise SUV safety issues - funded by settlement money from the Ford Firestone tyre case - unveiled its 10-foot tall hairy mascot (dubbed "Esuvee") Defore objected. "What we object to that we've seen so far is the icon that they've chosen for this campaign, this huge beast ... It perpetuates the myth that the largest of the SUV's are somehow these very dangerous vehicles," he told PR Week.
Board of Directors
- Barry McCahill President, (President ofMcCahill Communications).
- Larry Innis, Chairman (Washington Representative, Marine Retailers Association of America)
- Derrick Crandall, Secretary and Treasurer (President, American Recreation Coalition)
- David Humphreys (President, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association)
- Linda Profaizer (President, National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds)
- Ron DeFore, Communications Director
SUV Owners of America
One Thomas Circle, NW
10th Floor Washington, DC 20005
- John N. Frank, "SUV owners group drives at offering media information", PR Week, April 7, 2003.
- "SUV group answers 'What Would Jesus Drive?' campaign: New ads defend vehicles against charges that they're environmentally unfriendly", The Holland Sentinel(Michigan), July 14, 2003.
- "Public Affairs Veteran McCahill to Head SUV Lobbying Group", The Holmes Report, January 26, 2004. page 14.
- Miguel Bustillo, "Ad Firm Targets Emissions Proposal," Los Angeles Times, August 26, 2004.
- Anita Chabria, "Critics call nonprofit tied to Stratacomm 'front group' for carmakers", PR Week, September 6 2004.
- Paul Holmes, "At minimum, front groups must be open about funding to legitimize claims of ethical practice," PR Week, September 13, 2004.
- Hamilton Nolan, "Esuvee campaign draws coverage, critics", PR Week, February 2, 2005. (Sub req'd).
- "SUV Owners Group Spent $440,000 Lobbying", Associated Press, October 18, 2007.