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  • (upbeat music)

  • Irene Kim: You know what car this is.

  • Matt DeBord: Everybody remembers the Hummer,

  • even though it's been gone for 10 years now.

  • Irene: Its tough look and military background

  • made it instantly cool, and everyone from Mike Tyson

  • to Britney Spears was driving one.

  • Hummers were seemingly everywhere in the early 2000s.

  • But in 2010, all manufacturing and sales came to a halt.

  • So, what happened?

  • Hummer's story begins with the U.S. military.

  • The military used the Jeep as its go-to vehicle

  • during the world wars and through the Vietnam War.

  • But around the '80s,

  • it started looking for something more heavy-duty.

  • Matt: The Jeep didn't have a lot of power.

  • Jeep couldn't pull a lot of stuff.

  • It couldn't carry a lot of people, it had no armor.

  • Irene: So the Pentagon gave AM General a billion-dollar

  • contract to develop a fleet of High Mobility

  • Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.

  • Eventually called Humvees, the bulky vehicles were designed

  • to transport troops and cargo.

  • Matt: The Humvee didn't have a lot of armor,

  • but it was at least a little bit more survivable

  • in terms of being shot at

  • or having something blow up next to it.

  • Irene: Humvees rose to fame after being seen in action

  • during the Gulf War.

  • They were also used in military processions,

  • which was how they caught Arnold Schwarzenegger's eye.

  • While filming his movie "Kindergarten Cop" in Oregon,

  • the actor saw Humvees rolling by and immediately wanted one.

  • In a 1991 Rolling Stone interview,

  • Schwarzenegger said they reminded him of his younger days

  • when he drove tanks while serving in the Austrian army.

  • So, he contacted AM General to try to get his hands on one.

  • When he was turned down,

  • the star pushed for a civilian version to be made.

  • And AM General listened.

  • Matt: Because, you know, everybody, I dunno,

  • was influenced by Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • at that point in time.

  • Irene: Schwarzenegger became the first civilian

  • to own a specially made humvee.

  • AM General even stenciled Terminator on the model.

  • In 1992, a civilian version of the Humvee

  • officially went on sale.

  • Named the Hummer, the boxy vehicle cost up to $100,000.

  • Matt: It was ridiculous to be rolling around in that thing

  • on the public roads.

  • I mean, the wheels were too high off the ground.

  • Yes, it had air-conditioning, yes, it had airbags,

  • but I mean, you know, to drive it, you're sort of, like,

  • you're sitting up like this and then you've got this big,

  • this big compartment sitting over.

  • I mean, not organized for comfort

  • or luxury or anything like that.

  • Irene: The Hummer averaged less than 10 miles a gallon

  • and weighed 10,000 pounds.

  • It was so heavy that owning one meant you could claim

  • a farm equipment tax credit with the IRS.

  • True to its military roots, the Hummer's original design

  • featured an engine button labeled Fire

  • until company lawyers intervened.

  • In 1999, General Motors bought the rights to market

  • and sell Hummers from AM General.

  • Thanks to the booming economy and low gas prices,

  • Hummer's sales took off, especially in Hollywood.

  • OG Hummer fan Schwarzenegger

  • quickly amassed a fleet of the war wagons.

  • From 1999 to 2000 alone, Hummers were featured in 32 movies,

  • which only increased the brand recognition

  • the vehicle already had thanks to its military pedigree.

  • And it was its association with the military

  • that really drove up the Hummer's popularity in the U.S.

  • Matt: People saw it in active use

  • during the first Gulf War for the first time.

  • And they thought, well, if that thing can handle,

  • you know, desert combat,

  • then it could certainly be used for weekend camping trips.

  • Irene: Many people also saw owning a Hummer

  • as an act of patriotism.

  • Matt: I don't really buy the argument

  • that it implied a sort of warlike mentality

  • or anything like that, but that was definitely

  • part of its overall DNA.

  • Irene: While the first Hummer model

  • was basically a carbon copy

  • of its bulky military predecessor,

  • the second model featured a slightly sleeker design

  • and cost about $50,000.

  • Named the H2, it quickly became Hummer's top-selling model,

  • and was followed by the H3,

  • which was further scaled down in size

  • and price to appeal to more consumers.

  • Hummer's overall sales peaked in 2006,

  • with a little over 70,000 units sold.

  • Matt: So that's pretty good.

  • That's not crazy popular.

  • It certainly pales by comparison

  • with some of the pickup trucks and other vehicles

  • that General Motors was selling

  • through its various divisions at the time.

  • But for an offbeat vehicle like that,

  • that's kind of incredible.

  • Irene: Hummers eventually came to embody

  • America's supersized lifestyle

  • and the people who aspired to it.

  • Matt: You know, they gotta come,

  • they gotta roll large everywhere they go.

  • You know, the G-Wagen, Mercedes G-Wagen-type people.

  • And for them the Hummer was just that turned up to 11

  • or maybe 11,000, you know, it's like, the biggest,

  • baddest, stupidest, most obnoxious,

  • it was completely inappropriate,

  • most impractical in a lot of ways.

  • Irene: But while Hummer's in-your-face quality

  • initially drew consumers in, it soon led to its downfall.

  • Hummers became a symbol of wasteful consumption.

  • Matt: People just saw it as a symbol

  • of everything that was wrong with Detroit.

  • Everything that was wrong with our American attitude

  • about cars, everything was wrong with patriotism.

  • Everything was wrong with, like,

  • the militarization of American society.

  • Everything that was wrong about the way we treat the planet.

  • Irene: Hummer owners found themselves fending off critics

  • and protestors who saw Hummers as pollution machines.

  • Some owners reported finding their Hummers keyed,

  • and others said they got dirty looks in parking lots.

  • Eco-vandals took things even further,

  • breaking windows and slashing tires.

  • Throughout 2003, protestors set fire to Hummers

  • at a number of dealerships in Los Angeles.

  • And ironically, while one war helped make Hummers popular,

  • another would bring it down:

  • the war in Iraq shot up gas prices,

  • which made owning a Hummer seem even more impractical.

  • Then, in 2007, the financial recession hit.

  • And Hummer's parent brand,

  • General Motors, was in big trouble.

  • Matt: So, General Motors, prior to the financial crisis,

  • had become a big mess.

  • It had too many brands.

  • It had stopped making money.

  • Irene: In 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy

  • and discontinued a number of its brands.

  • Matt: At that point, they had a bunch of brands,

  • much more than they have now.

  • And each of those brands needs marketing support.

  • Each of those brands need manufacturing support.

  • Each of those brands needs research and development.

  • So they had to look at what they had, and they said,

  • "Well, you know, Hummer is kind of a marginal brand."

  • Irene: In 2010, GM attempted to sell the Hummer brand

  • to Tengzhong, a Chinese manufacturer.

  • But the deal fell through,

  • and GM shut down all manufacturing and sales of Hummer.

  • Effectively ending the life of its once beloved brand.

  • Today, Hummers are seen more as relics of a bygone era.

  • New models haven't been manufactured in nearly a decade.

  • But should General Motors bring Hummer back?

  • Matt: So, Americans like big cars;

  • they've always liked big cars.

  • They're always gonna like big cars.

  • People in Detroit at the time,

  • because of how dire the situation

  • got around the financial crisis,

  • were completely freaked out about their futures.

  • And they forgot this.

  • Irene: But since 2013, the market for big SUVs

  • and large pickup trucks has made a robust recovery.

  • And in response to consumer demand,

  • luxury car brands like Rolls-Royce to Lamborghini

  • to Aston Martin have all released SUVs.

  • Matt: Pretty soon we're gonna have a Ferrari SUV.

  • So for Hummer to come back

  • as kind of a really rough-and-tumble luxury platform

  • would probably be a halfway decent idea.

  • Irene: General Motors is also looking

  • to expand its presence in the electric-vehicle market,

  • and there's been talk that it might be considering

  • resurrecting Hummer to do just that.

  • Matt: The business case for it is strong

  • because it's an iconic brand.

  • Everybody already knows about it.

  • Irene: Arnold Schwarzenegger has already converted

  • one of his original Hummers to run on electricity.

  • Perhaps paving the way for Hummer once again.

  • Matt: The beauty of the brand is if they could get rid

  • of all the bad baggage and transplant goodness in it,

  • you know, you still have one of the toughest

  • and possibly long-lasting vehicles ever.

  • You might be able to operate that thing

  • with regular battery changes for decades

  • and decades and decades.

  • We're fighting global warming right here.

  • Look at this thing, you know,

  • so it's not just fighting wars,

  • it's fighting global warming too.

  • Irene: So while people

  • may have once associated Hummers

  • with everything that was wrong with America,

  • it could be time for a second chance.

  • (upbeat music)

(upbeat music)

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The Rise And Fall Of Hummer

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/25
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