The Hummer's Dead End?

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reacting to growing consumer sentiment, General Motors chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. said yesterday that the world's biggest automaker will consider revamping or selling off some of the world's biggest passenger vehicles -- the Hummer line.

Is there any vehicle that so incites the ire, the anger, the reptile-brain rage of a group of people? Is there any other vehicle that has suffered as much defacement by eco-vandals?

Indeed, the Hummer has achieved greater success as a symbol, a cudgel and an in-your-face badge of defiance than as a statistically significant market. Hummers accounted for less than 1 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States last year.

Yesterday, Wagoner conceded what much of America has been thinking for some time: We want smaller vehicles. Gasoline at $4 per gallon (for now!) will do that to you.

Before GM's annual meeting yesterday in Wilmington, Del., Wagoner said the automaker is "undertaking a strategic review of the Hummer brand, to determine its fit with GM's evolving product portfolio."

High fuel costs are hurting sales of GM's high-profit trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Wagoner said yesterday that GM will close four production plants and start making more small vehicles, which the Hummer decidedly is not.

"At this point," Wagoner said, "we are considering all options for the Hummer brand . . . everything from a complete revamp of the product lineup to partial or complete sale of the brand."

Sell it? Like, to whom?

For sale: One vilified vehicle division. Makes four-ton SUVs that get 15 miles per gallon downhill with a tail wind. Comes with dental floss to pick Miatas out of grill.

Hummer hatred goes deep. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a product other than a handgun that so clearly splits the division between what some people perceive as a right and others perceive as social destruction.

And so the war has raged on, nearly since the Humvee (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) became a rock star of the first Persian Gulf War and was seen by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said: Must. Have. That. (He later tooled about in a specially built hydrogen-fueled Hummer, which just seems wrong on so many levels.)

AM General, a former AMC Jeep division, began manufacturing the first civilian Hummers in 1992. GM bought the line in 1999 and cranked out the H2 and H3 but stopped producing the H1 in 2006, as it had sold only 376 units the previous year.

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