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It's Time for America to Forgive Hummer

David Tracy May 09, 2019. 24 comments

It’s been nearly a decade since the death of General Motors’ off-road brand, Hummer, and while many of you are probably thinking “good riddance,” I’m here to tell you that Hummer was good, and America should forgive it.

In the spirit of Redemption Garage, Jalopnik’s weekly feature devoted to lifting certain cars from the sad part of the human psyche that processes disdain and apathy, I propose a full pardon to the Hummer brand. In fact, I’ll go a step further: Not only should America forgive Hummer, I think, in some ways, America yearns for its return.

Today’s America Loves Everything That Hummer Stood For

I’ll begin by pointing out the obvious: The economy is good and gas is cheap, so America is obsessed with trucks and SUVs right now. Particularly, off-road-ish looking ones, with automakers slapping lift kits and plastic cladding on their vehicles to make them look “rugged” enough to suit buyers’ tastes. The pseudo off-road-ish Honda Passport and new Toyota Rav4 come to mind.

To quench this thirst for truckiness, Ford offers the desert-running F-150-based Raptor , a new mid-size Ranger pickup , and there’s a new version of the rough-and-tumble Bronco in the works. Fiat Chrysler has been selling absurd quantities of Wranglers for a while now, and the expensive new Gladiator pickup will undoubtedly steal a huge chunk of sales from the mid-size truck market.

Toyota’s Tacoma and 4Runner have been selling extremely well for years now (Toyota says it sold nearly a quarter million Tacos last year)and I could go on and on mentioning other off-road-ish trucks and SUVs that are flying off dealer lots. Even GM, purveyors of the Hummer brand, are currently playing in the off-road world with the Colorado ZR2.

And if you look at that truck, you’ll notice that it’s really not too different from a Hummer H3T. The H3T was a mid-size truck based loosely on the old Colorado truck platform. It was body-on-frame, it offered big off-road tires, had independent front suspension (though it used a torsion bar versus the current ZR2's coilovers) and a solid leaf-sprung rear axle, and could be had with front and rear lockers and skid plates.

And in fact, though Hummer marketed its truck as “bigger than a midsize truck and smaller than a full-size truck ,” the H3T’s dimensions line up almost exactly with the new Colorado ZR2’s. The new Colorado is 212.4 inches long while the H3T was 212.7 inches. As for width, the Colorado comes in at 74.3 inches, whereas the H3T was just seven tenths wider. Even in height, with the H3T’s bigger tires, it was still within a single tenth of of the ZR2.

The H2 and the H3, the SUV on which the H3T is based, aren’t really fundamentally different from many modern SUV offerings, either. The point, here, is that at its core, the formula that Hummer offered last decade is the same one that’s being gobbled up by millions of Americans these days, leaving no doubt that—if Hummer hadn’t died as part of GM’s bankruptcy—the brand would be thriving.

Of course, I’m not the only one who believes this. Richard Truett from Automotive News wrote about this very topic, discussing what Hummer might have been had it survived. From the story:

As Hummer’s heartbeat faded in 2010, several new vehicles that were under development and supposedly signed off for launch never had a chance to kick up any off-road dust. One such vehicle, the beefy, pumped up HX concept, would have rendered Land Rover’s aging Defender immediately obsolete, stunted the global growth of the Jeep Wrangler and likely would have forced Ford to bring back the Bronco a decade sooner.

[...]

Had the Hummer brand lived, it’s not hard to imagine it today as sort of American Land Rover. That is, Hummers would have a modicum of luxury features, and they’d be nearly invincible off-road. Hummer would probably have a few crossovers, too. And they would be hugely profitable.

I recently had a chance to drive some Hummers off-road, and I’ll be writing all about that experience soon. In short, though, what I learned is that these trucks, while laden with some very recession-era interiors, are off-road monsters even by today’s standards, and they’re actually quite comfortable. Most importantly, they’re interesting and soulful, and they can be had with V8s, unlike darn near any mid-size off-roader today. V8s are good, generally.

What’s With the Hate?

Contrary to what I sometimes hear, I don’t think the general public’s perception of Hummer went down the drain because H2s became “played out” as the go-to blingmobile in darn-near every music video.

No, I think there are a few reasons. One is that the vehicle that really set the tone for the brand—the one that really brought it to the mass market—was the H2, and frankly, some find that vehicle to be aesthetically hideous. The distance between rocker panel and roof is so large, it just makes the truck look fat. I don’t think the vehicle looks terrible, but I respect others’ tastes.

I also hear the “The H2 is just a Tahoe” and “The H3 is just a Colorado,” and frankly, those arguments make no sense to me, because really, I see nothing wrong with sharing some basic architectural bits with another basic, body-on-frame vehicle.

The biggest factor, I think, was timing. Though Hummer made its debut near the beginning of this millennium, it was still a young brand by the time the Great Recession hit. With jobs dwindling and fuel prices soaring, gas-sucking SUVs became objects of ridicule, and with Hummer in the limelight, crosshairs turned toward it. Ever since, the brand has become viewed as one of excess and indulgence, even if it’s not really that much more of a perpetrator than many modern brands.

The economy and fuel prices have recovered since, and so has the love for trucks and SUVs. So, too, I believe, should America’s views towards Hummer: a brand that built what American yearns for today, but at the wrong time.


Special Guest Andrew Collins’ Take

Hummer had American military pedigree, decent capability and a strong aura of ruggedness that as David said, is extremely In. Good ingredients, but the soup stunk.

While Jeep enjoys the heroic army associations of saving the world from Nazi scum, WWII was long enough ago to be an abstraction in the minds of most car buyers. Hummer, on the other hand, became the poster car of controversial conflicts in the Middle East. People who might have been Hummer’s target market could have been suffering from PTSD after driving them in the line of duty.

Meanwhile, by the second half of the 2000s, environmentalism as pop culture was spiking right along with gas prices, and suddenly having a big carbon footprint for its own sake became very gauche, very quickly. That whole thing about the U.S. government bailing GM out didn’t exactly support Hummer’s vibe of invincibility, either.

I might be bold enough to say that if Hummer had released the H3 and H3T, but not the H2, it’s possible the brand might have survived. But the H2 looks so egregiously large, so preposterously ostentatious, that it’s impossible to claim anything but attention-whoring as a reason to roll around in one. Even in 2019, the few remaining H2s look immense.

Hummer took a swing and whiffed. It existed in the wrong time, but the brand made some major mistakes. I can forgive GM for trying, though mostly I just wish the V8 H3T had been badged as literally anything else and beaten the Jeep Gladiator to market by a decade.

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