Yes, we've been frivolous in the US, yes we've wasted efforts. However I'm not sure that we all have just wanted SUVs. If you look back, there have been trends, times when certain types of cars have been very popular. Some of that is changing attitudes, some of marketing and everyone wanting to be like every one else. The tax changes at the beginning of this century encouraged Hummers and large SUVs. I'm not sure that was a good move.
You can see how passionate some people are about their cars from this thread, and I think that's great. I don't always agree with you, but I like the passion. Cars are a big part of US society, more than other countries it seems. We like them big and powerful.
The Prius get 45-50mpg, not 30. That's a big difference. Trading in old cars for newer ones makes some sense, but I'm not sure if that will work.
The Big 3 have made mistakes. They've relied, as have other manufacturers, on large, high profit cars, and an expanding market. In a capital intensive industry, with large lead times, that's a mistake. Toyota has done a better job of preparing itself for different markets. They've enhanced their Tundra, but they've also worked hard to make the Yaris, Matrix, Camry, and Venza. They've innovated with the FJ. I never liked Toyota much, but I have liked what they've done here. Ford has done a lot as well, working through a wide variety of new models, styles, and price points (escape, flex, fusion, focus). Dodge a little, but I see them pushing their larger models rather than the smaller ones. For every Matrix advertisement, I see 0 Caliber/Avenger ones. GM has done a great job of repackaging their SUV platform across all models.
It's not their cars though, all have done some work here. It's their business model. They haven't looked forward, and tried to build smaller cars that break new ground like the FJ, the Element, the CRV/Rav4. They've been lazy, stuck in the keep doing what has made profits and enriched management. Certainly haven't helped shareholders. They are too big, and not ready to move on to new ideas. They own Dialmer, Volvo, etc. They are still part of the issue. Toyota is working on being part of the problem as well. Too long they've relied on an emotional "sale" taking place when someone walks in the door, not proving a value that makes sense for the customer. Who doesn't have a bad car salesman story in the US?
I don't think that most people need to tow anything. I've had hundreds of friends with SUVs that have never towed anything. People with pristine cars full of junk they're carrying around that they don't want to clean out. I used to be that way, but it's a short sighted way of looking at things. I've love the space in a minivan, my wife mentioned that last week when we couldn't get the kids bike in the Prius. That's like 3x in the last year we've had a problem. That worth trading the Prius for a minivan/SUV? Don't think so.
Community cars might help. Lots of issues with this, liabilities, restrictions on what you can do, cleaning, etc., but it could help. Heck if I could easily rent an SUV for a day to go skiing, I'd do it. However now it's an hour out of my day because no matter how much information I plug into the Enterprise/Hertz/Dollar site, apparently they can't figure out how to get that to the agent.
We need a few new models of doing business, and I'm not sure that a huge company like GM/Toyota/Dialmer can do it. Toyota has shown more flexibility in the past, so I might bet on them, and Ford is really trying. It will be interesting, that's for sure.