The Rise and Fall of the Hummer: Short but Sweet
Some might say overkill. After all, navigating the average urban speed bump hardly requires the ground clearance necessary to dodge a landmine. The rise and fall of the commercial Hummer in just 20 years seems to lend credence to the claim.
But is the Hummer too much? Or just enough?
In the beginning… there was Arnold Schwarzenegger
The story goes that Arnold Schwarzenegger first laid eyes on a convoy of military Humvees when he was on a movie set in Oregon. Set on owning one, he personally lobbied AM General (the company responsible for supplying Humvees to the military) to produce a civilian version.
Not a company to pass up the prospect of free celebrity endorsement by the biggest action hero of the day, AM General set about producing a commercial Hummer.
In 1992, the first Hummer rolled of the production line and straight into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s garage. He drove it everywhere, including movie premiers, and sales of the Hummer soared.
It was, perhaps, the most impractical vehicle of the time – big, bulky, and hard to park. But it looked tough and it turned heads. It was immediately popular, especially in Hollywood. Stretch Hummers soon became a novelty.
Even today few people can pinpoint a Toyota Camry at a distance, but everyone knows a Hummer.
Not-so-fun-fact: Hummer drivers get the most tickets out of anyone for traffic-related offences; in fact, they get five times as many tickets as the average driver.
The military Humvee (or “High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle” aka HMMWV – try saying that in a hurry) was to the Gulf War what the Jeep was to World War II. Developed at a cost of $1 billion dollars, the humble Humvee entered the spotlight during the American military invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s. Much like the Jeep after the WWII, the Hummer captured public imagination (if not their wallets).
Design-wise the Hummer was – and largely still is – like nothing else on the market. Just like the Jeep, the commercial iteration of the Hummer doesn’t stray far from its military roots. Whilst for some this makes it impractical for an urban vehicle unlikely to navigate anything more challenging than a speed bump; for others therein lies the appeal.
The flat top was purpose-built to allow the Humvee to fit under military cargo plane wings. The reinforced bottom and ground clearance was designed to provide some measure of protection against harsh conditions, possible landmines, and big river crossings. The small high-set windows were designed to protect against bullets, sun, and shrapnel. If you want something that looks and feels tough (in the practical and emotional sense of the word), you can’t do much better than a vehicle rooted in American military folklore.
The end is nigh
At its peak, the Hummer sold about 50,000 units in a year, which doesn’t exactly make it a wildly popular vehicle. However, it did attract a disproportionate amount of criticism from environmentalists and, with the rising price of fuel, sales declined. After just three iterations and several failed buy-out attempts, the civilian Hummer was canned.
It was unfortunate for the Hummer because, while it looks big and imposing, it’s actually no wider than the average utility and no longer than a Toyota Camry. Fuel consumption in the later Hummer H3 was on par with other large SUVs. There was also a “flex-fuel” engine in development that would have run on 85 percent ethanol.
A Hummer concept vehicle even won an environmental sustainability award in 2006. It had algae-filled body panels that filtered carbon dioxide out of the air to produce oxygen, which was then released into the atmosphere. It was built entirely with recycled materials, ran on hydrogen fuel cells, and was called the “Hummer O2.”
The Hummer was perhaps a victim of timing – increasing environmental awareness combined with a global recession and rising fuel prices. However, the Hummer still has a loyal fanbase. There aren’t many vehicles around that everyone can immediately identify and name. Ferrari, Lamborghini, the ever-popular Beetle, and the not-so-humble Hummer.
The ethos of the Hummer is perhaps best captured by the slogan used to advertise the vehicle itself;
Now get lost.