The Humvee, most commonly (and mistakenly) known as the Hummer, was brought to the civilian market by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. This happened mainly because Arnold loved the vehicle that, according to his agent (Lou Pitts) was something unique, big, and also larger than the beefy man, so to say.
Given his passion for the military-grade Humvee, Arnold contacted AM General and stated that this type of vehicle must be brought to the civilian market. As such, the Hummer was introduced for purchase in 1992. It had a rough start, but it had become more than just a cultural phenomenon shortly after.
In its glory days, the Hummer was seen as a symbol of militarist aesthetic, as well as of excess. However, despite the love that the vehicle/brand was enjoying, it was crushed by the recession. The result: May 2010 signaled the production of the final Hummer M3 until possibly the next EV model as some may have seen in the Superbowl.
A Rocky Start
When they were first introduced, the Hummers lacked a lot of things that could ease their entry into the civilian market. In short, the vehicle was not very practical and, on top of that, AM General didn’t do much to improve this aspect.
For example, the most they did, in the beginning, was to equip the Hummer with a radio and an air conditioning unit. As many car salesmen pointed out at the time, the Hummer was rough around the edges and truly designed to be nothing more but a military truck. They were expensive – but they were not refined.
However, although such features should’ve made car buyers stay away from the Hummer, there are plenty who remember that seeing such a car drive down the street was a sight to behold – a huge sight.
Moreover, there were a couple of other flaws that could be noticed by anyone who purchased the Hummer – lack of airbags, a rather dinky steering wheel that didn’t provide the feeling that you’re actually driving a car, as well as massive hooks on the hood.
The Main Selling Point
Obviously, the main selling point of the vehicle was its off-roading ability! Naturally, this particular ability was provided, in great part, by Hummer’s design. On the other hand, if you wanted such a feature and performance in a vehicle, you had to give up the comfort standards that came with an everyday car.
Then, the Hummer brand was bought from AM General by the infamous General Motors. As such, the latter became responsible for the vehicle’s promotion. Believe it or not, this was a very easy job!
In order to properly market the Hummer, General Motors had to simply benefit from the men’s fear of being emasculated. Given that the traditional masculinity was endangered, men all over the country wanted to own a Hummer.
The Masculinity Issue
As mentioned above, General Motors relied on men that were afraid they were not masculine enough to purchase the Hummer – in order to reclaim their masculinity. Naturally, one of the ads that specified just that was quickly met with backlash.
As such, the infamous tofu ad for the Hummer said restore the balance instead of reclaim your masculinity. The marketing strategy was still pretty obvious, despite the change.
Sometime later, even if masculinity was the pivot of the Hummer, General Motors released the Hummer H2. Unlike its predecessor, H1, the new Hummer came with rounder and shinier shapes, and with an overall hospitable look – both in terms of aesthetics and comfort.
After the release of the H2, 18,000 vehicles were sold in one year only. In comparison, the H1 model managed to sell roughly 12,000 vehicles between 1992 and 2006!
The Real Issue
Naturally, masculinity was not the real issue that brought Hummer’s downfall. This is because, as you’ve noticed above, the alpha males didn’t care that the new Hummer looked less rugged – they bought it anyway.
The real issue was the fact that the Hummer was actively hurting the environment – as it was bad on gas. Reportedly, many owners of the Hummer cared about the environment but lacked the knowledge to realize that a Prius, for example, doesn’t hurt the air as bad as a Hummer.
Both the H1 and H2 models were not affected by the Environmental Protection Agency testing, mainly due to their weight. Many people claimed that the two models are too big and too heavy – not to mention the way they eat gas. As such, an anti-Hummer sentiment grew – body panels were keyed, tires slashed, windows were broken, and the car was also used as a canvas for pro-green messages.
Following the backlash and the rage of the anti-Hummer league, General Motors tried to reclaim itself. The H2H model arrived on the market in 2004 and featured a hydrogen-powered variant of the classic 6.0-liter V8 engine.
However, the carmaker knew that they needed a much smaller model so that the Hummer would become accessible to the large audience. The H3 was made in 2005 and used a modified GMT355 body and featured a 3.5-liter engine.
The latter model helped the Hummer become the fastest-growing brand in the US – and, on top of that, the vehicle also entered a couple of new markets in Europe.
The Collapse of Hummer
From 2005 to 2009, General Motors tried to revive the Hummer with a couple of rather successful models. However, the sales would drop again in 2009, as other suppliers – most notably Raser and FEV – would develop friendlier and better cars based on the Hummer.
In fact, Raser – the one to prove that making an eco-friendly SUV was possible – offered to buy the Hummer brand from GM. Naturally, General Motors didn’t want to sell, despite the fact that they were on the brink of bankruptcy, as they managed to sell only nine thousand units in 2009.
Shortly after, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. However, one day later, it announced that it will sell the Hummer to the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, a young company that specialized in construction equipment. Leaked documents revealed that the Chinese company would pay $150 million for the Hummer brand.
A Failed Transaction
Still, in order to buy the Hummer, the Chinese company had to make the government agree with the vehicle. At the time, Chinese officials were more worried about the air quality of the country, so they were reluctant to approve a car such as the Hummer.
In the end, Beijing opposed the purchase and, despite a desperate try from Sichuan to buy the Hummer through an offshore company, General Motors had to do something else.
As such, GM announced that they’ll shut down the Hummer brand in the following year, 2010. Its inventories were cleared with massive rebates. However, GM promised to honor warranties and supply spare parts to any owners.
The End of the Hummer
This was the end of the Hummer brand as we know it. Naturally, the production of military Humvees is still going on pretty strong. AM General released a new model in 2018, fitted with an upgraded armor package, taller suspension, bigger brakes, and electronic driving aids.
Still, the civilian Hummer is nowhere to be seen. But what was the main cause of its downfall?
Well, as mentioned above, it first tried to reap on the fear of men – that of lacking masculinity. Naturally, this couldn’t keep up for long, as other manufacturers came up with better, stronger cars – the alpha male’s views on the ideal car changed as well.
On top of that, the environmental issues that the Hummer came with were of great concern. Even though General Motors tried to make some changes, it was already too late.
For example, the Tesla Roadster entered the market in 2008. It was a fully electric vehicle that didn’t affect the environment at all. Moreover, it was also a sports car – as such, the Humvee lost a lot of its customers in its favor.
The Bottom Line
Most people think that the ideology behind the Hummer was the thing that brought its downfall. For example, while Tesla aimed for innovation and sustainability, the Hummer had the exact opposite in mind.
Overall, the Hummer focused on traditional values only – it didn’t care about fuel efficiency, noise, aesthetics, and all that. It had to be a man’s vehicle and that was it!
Last but not least, even though some believe that the Hummer will make an unexpected return, most of them think of the Cybertruck revealed by Tesla and of its off-road capabilities.
On the other hand, as some researchers suggest, it’s worth mentioning that the recession also had an effect on men and on how they defined themselves. This change in ideology also contributed to the downfall of the Hummer, as men would no longer see themselves as the breadwinners and they diversified their masculinity away from the Hummer.
In short, the Hummer failed to adapt to the everchanging human condition and society and focused too much on traditional values. Will the latest revival of the Hummer EV do well? It’s an electric model, so not what most think of when ‘tough’ comes to mind. Let’s see how they adapt and learn from their previous failures.