GM's revival of the Hummer as an all-electric halo car is a stroke of marketing genius - 5 minutes read

A decade ago, the Hummer fell victim to the financial crisis and General Motors' 2009 federal bailout and subsequent bankruptcy. "New GM" decided that a hulking paramilitary brand that sold fewer than 100,000 vehicles in its best year wasn't worth continued manufacturing and marketing support.

At the time, I disagreed. I argued, romantically, that "GM desperately needs an obnoxious, attention-grabbing brand to keep from turning into a dreary shadow of its former self." And the country itself needed the Hummer, I wrote, "to remind us of what has always made our automobiles stand out, from the tail fin 1950s to the muscle car 1960s and '70s: swagger."

I concluded that "Americans don't just drive their cars — they proclaim something about themselves by driving them."

You can't win 'em all. Although as the reveal this past week of the new GMC Hummer all-electric truck demonstrated, some brands are actually, well, forever.

A powerful nameplate

The original Hummer H1 was based on the US military's HUMVEE. Getty Images

Such is the power of the Hummer nameplate. What was a stand-alone GM division in 2008, the result of GM buying the moniker from AM General Corp. in 1999 (AM General had created the US military's HUMVEE), is now a sub-brand of GMC, akin to the luxurious Denali and off-road AT4 designations.

The move was brilliant. Hummer had a basically terrible reputation among the environmentally-conscious crowd, and that was more than a decade before the Green New Deal and Tesla's takeover of the EV market.

The reputation wasn't entirely deserved. Yes, the Hummer was a rolling ad for American exceptionalism and chugged fuel like a thirsty bull in the desert. But in its more hardcore trim levels, it was an absurdly robust and well-built vehicle.

One could buy an H1 as a zombie-apocalypse conveyance and feel pretty confident that the money was well spent. A Hummer was possibly the last vehicle anyone would have to buy: Amortize the environmental impact over a few decades, maybe a century, and you could come out way ahead of a Prius.

That didn't matter to GM's leadership, post-Chapter 11. In those days, the company was streamlining itself to have just four brands: Chevy, GMC, Buick, and Cadillac — and Buick barely made the cut, with GM saving it mainly because of its long and successful history in China, the world's largest growth market, then as now.

In fact, GM tried to sell Hummer to the Chinese, but the deal fell through. So the brand went into limbo, awaiting its resurrection.

Hummer and rumors of Hummers

GM started teasing the new Hummer before the coronavirus pandemic struck. GMC

The rumors about an electric Hummer only started percolating about a year ago, but once the mill started churning, it started to look very good for Hummer 2.0. Why? Because GM had an utterly unique opportunity: revive a great brand that people were still interested in, but without the baggage of macho preening and sordid plumes of tailpipe emissions.

It worked like a charm. As soon as the GMC Hummer was teased, enthusiasm exploded. It helped that GM also saw the brand as a way to support, in dramatic fashion, the Ultium battery technology is unveiled in early 2020, not to mention beat the Tesla Cybertruck to market by years.

If anything, the GMC Hummer is even more over-the-top than its controversial predecessor. The powertrain is rated at a near-comical 1,000 horsepower, and torque is a claimed 11,500 pound-feet, which makes a striking headline for a pickup that dreams of towing locomotives but, it's a figure that under some debate. The 0-60 mph time is a supercar-quick three seconds. The truck can also execute groovy maneuvers, like a sideways "crab walk," useful when dueling with difficult offroad situations.

So who buys this thing, priced as it is for launch at north of $110,000?

Not your father's Hummer

The new Hummer's specs are staggering. GMC

Nobody, really. The new Hummer is what the old Hummer never quite managed to be: a halo vehicle for GM's transformation to an electric automaker. The old Hummer was for dudes (usually dudes) who, for whatever reason, wanted to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was, despite its combat lineage, a cartoon car.

But the new GMC Hummer is virtue amplified by the resonance of a brand deftly inverted. It isn't your father's Hummer, and how!

Few customers will buy it, even at lower prices (it starts at $80,000, a figure that most backwoods warriors would find excessive when they have many superb four-wheel-drive pickups to choose from that cost much less).

But who cares? The truck should be the star of the auto-show circuit, when and if auto shows ever come back, there are likely to be plenty of amped-up TV commercial sports during various Big Games (when those come back in force), and the vehicle is going to make little kids and grownups alike perform impromptu jigs when they spot it in the wild.

Prepare yourselves for the GMC Hummer owners club and for lots of YouTubed Hummer rallies (when rallies come back).

I can honestly say I sort of saw this coming, although I'd mostly consigned Hummer to the junkyard of automotive history until early this year. The electric-pickup action, I assumed, would wait for the Ford F-150 EV, and who wouldn't want to take a test drive in a Cybertruck?

Hummer lost its thunder in the late 2010s. But boy, does it ever have the lightning back!

Source: Business Insider

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