GM Set to Kill the Hummer H2: Requiem for a Heavyweight

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Was the Hummer brand really born four years ago? The Army-inspired H2 now occupies a fading mindspace. It’s a relic from a time when America’s foreign policy problems were out there, somewhere. When gasoline was like Gatorade: a cheap, endless commodity that hydrated the hopes and dreams of a nation. Post-911, post-Katrina, post-Iraq, the H2 somehow remains. But not for long. According to our spies, GM has slated the gas-gargling mondo-SUV for termination. What’s THAT all about?

Disappearing buyers. Since its debut in 2003, H2 sales have fallen faster than George W’s approval rating (if only just). The macho model’s popularity peaked in its first year, sinking not-so-slowly but entirely predictably thereafter.

In 2006, GM sold less than half as many H2’s as it did in 2003. If the trend from the first four months of this year carries through to its gruesome conclusion, the H2 will rack-up just 12K annual sales, down 65% from its debut. Unless the 2008 makeover– upgraded interior, six-speed gearbox, 6.2-liter V8– rekindles faded ardor, it will be the model's last hurrah. Or raspberry.

On a deeper level, the Hummer’s decline reflects the political temper of our times. While the H2 is no less fuel efficient than any other gi-normous SUV (e.g. the now discontinued Ford Excursion), its inherently impolite dimensions and unabashedly militaristic demeanor made it a lightning rod for environmentalists and anti-war protesters alike. For these left-leaning activists, the H2 was/is the automotive equivalent of the ugly American.

H2 owners know the drill. Even before the Iraq war lost momentum, driving an H2 in a blue state urban area meant running a gauntlet of middle finger-flashing anger. Like a crew cut on a Vietnam-era conservative, trip-wire liberals clock an H2 and immediately assume its owner possesses a right wing political perspective and supports America’s foreign military operations.

It’s an entirely understandable if simplistic assumption that puts H2 owners on the defensive from the git-go. The model’s decline is at least partially attributable to the fact that only so many SUV drivers are ready, willing and able to run an endless gauntlet of unabashed antipathy.

No question: the H2’s rugged military persona was the key its downfall. It provided detractors with plenty of ammunition (so to speak) for self-righteous feelings of revulsion and disgust.

For example, while anti-SUV campaigners could almost forgive the cataclysmic damage wrought by a full-size SUV on a smaller vehicle as an unintended consequence of its owner’s understandable (if selfish) desire to protect their progeny, they viewed the Hummer as a four-wheeled metaphor for unbridled arrogance: “F.U. and the compact car you drove into me on.”

Contrary to popular belief, very few Hummer H2 buyers were motivated by a desire to make a political statement. While there’s no escaping the H2’s GI Joe fantasy factor, a large number of consumers chose the Hummer based on its off-road capabilities. And it’s true: plenty of H2 owners deploy their machine as government contractor AM General intended. While the 6400 lbs. SUV is a bit jumbo-sized for many off-road trails, in the main, she can “git ‘er done.”

Yet many Hummeristas remained oblivious to the fact that the H2’s exterior places the off-roader's terrain traversing chops into a distinctly sinister context. Most full-size SUV’s seem to say “One day, I may take my family off-road to commune with nature.” At best, the Hummer’s take-no-prisoner exterior proclaims “Survivalist on board.” At worst, worse.

Now that the Hummer H2 is on its way out, environmentalists/peace campaigners will have a hard time finding an equally obvious and (let’s face it) easy target. This despite the fact that the Hummer isn’t really dead; the model was replaced by the smaller, more frugal, cheaper-to-produce and less aggressive-looking H3.

In its first year of production (2005), the H3 accounted for 58 percent of Hummer’s sales. By 2006, the figure rose to 74 percent. So far this year, GM has sold 13k H3’s— more than the entire anticipated annual run of H2’s.

Even so, the total number of Hummers due to be sold in ‘07 is significantly less than that of a single Chevy model– which hardly seems sufficient to sustain an entire GM brand. As the H2 leaves the battlefield, one wonders if there will still be a Hummer to kick around four years hence.

I reckon the Hummer brand’s survival depends on two factors. First, GM must avoid bankruptcy. Second, Hummer must develop products that sell military prowess without projecting military arrogance or aggression. Either that or America’s armed forces’ fortunes must change abroad, to the point where it’s once again OK to drive a vehicle that celebrates our troops’ mucho macho can-do spirit. None of these possibilities seem likely.

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Institution should find an early H2 to place into their permanent collection. No other machine so perfectly captured and distilled the gestalt of its time as the H2. Loved or loathed, GM’s lumbering leviathan deserves to be remembered for what it was: a uniquely American icon.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 88 comments
  • Fallout11 Fallout11 on Jun 01, 2007

    This website really says it all regarding the entire Hummer line: http://www.hummerh8.com/ An entire line of vehicles intended for Viagra-chugging Neanderthals with severe inferiority complexes, desperate for something to visibly enhance their tiny manhoods. The H2 is a joke offroad, no serious off-roader, mud bogger, or rock crawler would give them a second glance. Too heavy, too large, often high-centered, poorly guarded drivetrain components, terrible visibility, and handles like a 8-ton truck, yet totally lacking in all that makes the HMWWV a useful military vehicle (yet another ex-soldier here). Rather, most are blinged up, detailed out, and driven poorly on suburban commutes to the local gas station and soccer practice, usually by drivers unaware of the gaping blind spots in the vehicle's arc of visibility. I've seen several locally with honest to God bullet holes in them from what I presume to be other peeved off drivers (and this down in the Red State gun owning Deep South). Some have become rolling billboards, with 3-sided LCD advertisement displays mounted on top, no doubt an attempt to mitigate the inordinate cost of actually operating one of these overcompensating wanna-be poser clownmobiles. As with many of GM's other brands, The End cannot come to soon. Bag it and toe tag it.

  • Sharn Sharn on Jun 04, 2007

    After looking at numerous SUV’s my wife and I decided on the Hummer H3. It wasn’t much different than other mid size SUV’s and basically the 0 interest and 2g cash back sold us.

    We also own a Corvette and a Toyota Prius. For winter we wanted something safe to drive and also needed a vehicle to transport 2 15ft sea kayaks, mountain bikes as well as our 2 Irish Wolfhounds.

    Who are we? My wife’s a grade school teacher, myself an IT manager. I see that we have been profiled as rich businesses folk, driving a billboard and feeding the Middle East’s oil devils. And now I have to look for people giving me the finger too?

    I should be able to drive what I want without someone making assumptions of who I am or what I think because of my transportation. Plenty of other vehicles to pick on, but why stop there. What about big houses? Big Boats? Where does it stop?

    I mean really, other than the look, what does the H3 have that numerous other SUV’s don’t – Nothing. Gets roughly the same gas mileage as half the other cars I see one the road. I don’t even know why I justify myself.

  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
Next