Don’t believe the hype. Hummer isn’t back.
America’s brawniest automaker closed in 2010 after the Chinese government decided it didn’t want the vehicle within its borders, and it will remain in the pantheon of automotive history for the foreseeable future. It’s the nameplate that’s making an electrifying comeback in 2021 as a GMC vehicle, and that’s the best strategy General Motors could have adopted.
GM needs to firmly plant its flag in the electric pickup world to keep up with rivals like Ford, Tesla, and Rivian. There is not a single battery-powered truck available in 2020, but the niche will balloon in the coming years, and the stakes are high. In 2019, the three bestselling vehicles in America were the Ford F-Series (which has led the chart for 43 consecutive years), the Ram pickup, and the Chevrolet Silverado. Sales totaled 2.1 million units.
EVs are a rounding error in a market that hit the 17-million mark for the fifth straight year in 2019, and while standing at the intersection of battery-powered cars and pickups looks like a fool’s errand, General Motors is playing the long game.
The Hummer won’t outsell the Silverado – it won’t even come close – but the firm needs to be ready to deliver when these two segments merge to help future-proof its business. Pickups are profit machines for American automakers, and every one sold in the United States will eventually run on electricity, though whether that will happen in 10 or 100 years remains open to debate. Still, executives know they can’t afford to miss a 90-degree turn.
An image problem plagued Hummer during most of its existence. Its decline started shortly after wealthy Hollywood types decided it was cooler to drive a Toyota Prius than a mammoth SUV powered by an ozone-reaming V8 engine, and self-appointed activists fueled the anti-Hummer sentiment by vandalizing hundreds of vehicles across the U.S. In 2003, for example, arsonists destroyed 40 new Hummers by setting a dealership in West Covina, California, on fire.
Say what you will about the H2’s design, but it was a force to reckon with off the beaten path.
While bringing the name back (has anyone told 50 Cent yet?) sounds completely counter-intuitive, General Motors recognizes there’s still a lot of equity in it. Hummer wasn’t around long enough to venture into the car-based crossover segment that’s hugely popular in 2020. Even Jeep fumbled with the original Compass. Viewed in this light, its image is untainted because it has only ever made true, no-nonsense SUVs. Say what you will about the H2’s design, but it was a force to reckon with off the beaten path. Even the smaller H3 was shockingly capable.
This narrow focus created trucks aimed at adventurers, not contractors. I don’t remember ever seeing my local utility company rolling up to fix a power line in an H1. Putting the Hummer name on an electric pickup suggests the model will arrive as an off-road-capable toy with a suitably rugged design. Think of it as a Jeep Gladiator for the EV crowd.
And yet, Hummer won’t return as a stand-alone brand with its own range of models. The born-again truck will slot in — and, very likely, near the top of — the GMC lineup. Here again, this approach makes sense.
Establishing a new automaker is terrifically expensive on every level. General Motors would need to create a division with its own product development and public relations team, and dealers would have to either divide their floor space or create a new showroom. All for a single model. It’s difficult for an automaker to survive on one nameplate, which is why Lexus rushed the original, Toyota Camry-based ES to the market in 1989 to bolster the first-generation LS.
Pegging the next Hummer onto an existing brand suggests General Motors doesn’t have a full portfolio in mind, and assigning it to GMC speaks volumes about its positioning. With few exceptions, like the segment-bending Envoy XUV, the firm has spent decades selling gussied-up Chevrolet models for a premium. It’s recently taken steps to distance itself from its sister company, but the Sierra remains nearly identical to the Silverado, yet it’s more expensive.
Cost is key, because electric technology is still jaw-droppingly expensive. If Chevrolet sold the Hummer, it would need to market it as a mainstream model and price it accordingly. GMC will be able to charge more, which will help General Motors recoup its investment. And, as my colleague Digital Trends’ contributor Stephen Edelstein pointed out, the Hummer will help GMC stand out by offering a model not based on a Chevrolet, and that doesn’t have a cheaper equivalent in the Bow Tie’s range.
Key details like the Hummer’s size and price remain under wraps. If I ran GMC, I’d have asked for a truck no bigger than a Canyon (so, a size smaller than America’s bestsellers) loaded with off-road goodies and priced in the vicinity of $50,000. Not everyone can afford the Rivian R1T, which starts at about $70,000 before incentives, and not every driver wants to commute in a leviathan of a pickup like the Tesla Cybertruck, which will be more closely aligned with Ford’s bigger Super Duty models than the F-150. The midsize truck segment grew by 22% in 2019 and no one is seriously committed to electrifying it yet. We won’t have to wait long to find out if GMC will be the first.
Besides, admit it. You’d rather see Hummer reborn as an electric car than Oldsmobile.
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