America just got the memo.
"GM killed the electric car and now skyrocketing gas prices have crushed the Hummer," said Arianna Huffington, who founded the Detroit Project, an effort to pressure automakers to make more fuel-efficient cars.
FOR THE RECORD:
GM Hummer: In this article, the last name of Keith Bradsher, the author of the 2002 book "High and Mighty," was spelled Brasher.
FOR THE RECORD:
Hummer sales: A chart that appeared with an article in Business on Saturday about declining sales of Hummers compared sales and mileage of 14 top-selling motor vehicles in May but erred in the way it referred to four of the vehicles. The chart showed sales of the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Honda Accord Hybrid at more than 40,000 each, Nissan Altima Hybrid sales at 30,000 to 40,000 and Ford Escape Hybrid sales at less than 20,000. Those figures were for all versions of those vehicles, not just the hybrids. Figures for the Honda Accord included sales of its hybrid version, discontinued in 2007, that were still on dealers' lots. Also, the fuel efficiency and price data for the four vehicles were based on the non-hybrid versions. —
"The Hummer embodied the worst impulses of the American auto industry," said Josh Donner, spokesman for the Sierra Club, which also created a shame-based campaign against the Hummer, including the satiric website Hummerdinger.com. "GM's move this week shows the absolute bankruptcy of GM's business model."
And yet, Hummer lovers are a resilient bunch, and, while the skirmish line has moved, it's clear many are not prepared to disarm in the automotive culture wars.
"Whatever the price of gas," said Glen Peck, director of the Hummer Club, a national organization of enthusiasts, "we'll drive them to hell and back."
The fate of the Hummer brand is up in the air. GM, which bought the brand from military contractor AM General in 1998, has plowed a load of capital into Hummer, including $250 million for a plant expansion in Shreveport, La.
It has a pickup truck version of the mid-size H3, the H3T, in the pipeline for a summer release. Meanwhile, product development is well along on a Jeep Wrangler-size 4x4 called the H4.
Hummer is a charismatic brand with its own merchandising, including fleece jackets and flashlights. Even if the division operated at a fraction of its historical volume, Hummer could be an attractive proposition to a potential buyer. India's Economic Times reported Thursday that India's Tata Motors and Mahindra have each made overtures to GM about Hummer.
If this is the end of Hummer, it would close the books on what will probably go down as the most controversial vehicle since the Chevrolet Corvair.
Hummer was always unavoidably political. The name began as a soldier's nickname for the "HMMWV" (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee), the mega-Jeep that drove into America's living rooms during news coverage of the Persian Gulf War. In the early 1990s, AM General, allegedly at the suggestion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, produced a civilian version of the enormous tractor-like truck. It was here that the brand's cultural DNA was fixed as a twin helix of oil and militarism.
The H1 didn't arouse much ire, however, because it was a relatively low-volume vehicle; at worst, an appalling curiosity. It was the H2, introduced in 2002, that became the lightning rod for criticism. A 6,614-pound, 6-foot-8 goliath, all armor and bolts and bumpers, with fenestration like gun slits and a grille like the bared teeth of a charging infantryman, the H2 set off a fury.
"It was just so over the top," said Michael Marsden, an auto culture historian at St. Norbert College. "It had excess written all over it, the SUV times 10. Everything about it suggested not practical, not reasonable. It was consumerism at its peak."
And fuel economy at its nadir. The H2 returned single-digit fuel economy at a time when the American body politic had largely squared off on matters of energy and the environment. "The eco movement needs a villain, and, unfortunately, the Hummer has been drafted to play the role," said Bryan Pullen, a Hummer owner from Davis, Okla.