Requiem for Hummer

The Garage reported earlier today that the deal to sell Hummer to Tengzhong had fallen through, and General Motors has started to shut down the brand. While this is an official nail in the coffin for Hummer, the reality is this is a brand that has been in decline for some time. In the short history of Hummer, this was a brand whose star shone too brightly for it last long-term. Circumstances beyond Hummer’s control would conspire against them. Click continue for a walk down Hummer’s death row.

In an era of cheap gas, and a public hungry for brawny SUV’s, the introduction of the civilian friendly Hummer H2 in 2002 was perfectly timed. With the looks of the military H1 married to a chassis that was actually bearable for daily use, the H2 was a hit, with US sales of 34,861 peaking in 2003. Hummer’s success continued with the 2005 introduction of the smaller H3, with US sales peaking 54,052 in 2006. Hummer erected lavish dealerships, along with a line of clothing and lifestyle products.

With sweet profit margins, GM had the mentality that the party at Hummer was simply going to continue forever. As we now know, it didn’t. The price of gas spiked in North America, and all of a sudden the bad-ass Tonka truck looks of the Hummer became a luxury very few buyers were willing to pay for anymore. There was a backlash against Hummer owners in general-getting cursed at, getting flipped off, threats of bodily injury, and even victims of vandalism-broken windows, keyed cars, slashed tires. Who wants to run out and buy a car that causes so much grief to own? Hummer aired commercials of their vehicles helping others, and doing good in the community, but no one cared.

Hummer, already caught in a perfect storm, met it’s final test in the form of a global recession. When you have two model lines that start around $31,000 and $62,000, you are not a brand that is prepared to withstand an economy such as this one. When the tide turned against Hummer, the company had no answer, and was simply lost to sea. In 2009, Hummer sold 1,513 H2’s. Compare that to 2006, when it took Hummer 2-1/2 weeks to sell the same number of cars.

In the car business, you evolve or die. Hummer, for all its personality and off-road prowess was racing to extinction whether they knew it or not. As a car guy, I hate to see any brand go. I take no joy in seeing Hummer euthanized, especially for the 3,000 Hummer employees losing their jobs. There are many lessons to be learned from the unraveling of Hummer, so we can only hope GM has learned something here.

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