Whatever Happened to the Hummer?

Updated on September 20, 2018
Ken Burgess profile image

Grew up on Cape Cod, Mass, Army Vet., Fmr. Director of Energy Conservation programs, RE Agent, current residence the Space Coast, FL

I can still remember the days when I would turn on the TV to watch a playoff game or big event and there would be this ‘Conquer the World’ Humvee advertisement. It seemed overnight the 'Humvee' went from world recognized military vehicle to commercialized sensation that was taking the country by storm.

There was the H1 which was indeed a military grade vehicle, which first rolled out for commercial consumption in 1992, followed a decade later by the H2, that some felt was little more than a high end SUV or a standard 4x4 truck that had the boxed Hummer look thrown onto it.

Lastly came the even smaller H3, which entered the scene for the start of 2006, looking even more like any other standard though glorified SUV.

But many of those who owned the H2 or H3 would tell you these vehicles were a far cry from your 'standard' SUV or 4X4 vehicle. One person who has owned both the H2 and H3 and still drives one today had this to say:

"The H3 was very capable. I could do [with it] things most Jeeps couldn't do. I can tell you that I've taken [the H2] "super SUV" far more places than most would ever dare. I think most would agree that the H2 and H3 both had capabilities far beyond most vehicles of the day."

Still, it seemed as if the Hummer was only beginning to reach the consciousness of the mainstream, when suddenly it was gone, never to be reintroduced to the market again, like the 'Bo Knows' commercials that were everywhere one day, and gone the next, so what happened?

Way back in 1979, AM General began preliminary design work on the M998 Series High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, pronounced Humvee); a 1.25-ton truck intended to replace the M151 and other light tactical vehicles.

The U.S. Army awarded AM General a prototype contract in 1981, in March 1983 AM General won an initial $1.2 billion contract to produce 55,000 Humvees to be delivered over a five-year period.

Humvees feature full-time four-wheel drive, independent suspension, steep approach and departure angles, 60 percent gradeability and 16 inches of ground clearance. Even to this day Humvees are the primary means of tactical transportation in use by the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy at locations throughout the United States and overseas.

In 1992, AM General began production of versions of the Humvee, called the HUMMER for civilian use. Known as "the world's most serious 4x4," the vehicle found favor with commercial users who appreciated the value of HUMMER's long life and amazing performance, and with individuals who sought the ultimate in toughness and mobility.

This concept according to Hollywood lore and legend was first pitched to GM corporate heavyweights by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. The world’s most famous body builder, and at that time premier box office actor, prior to his becoming Governor of California.

The story goes that Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted a Humvee of his own, but Humvees weren't street legal. the concern was that AM General might be sued if the Terminator mowed down some civilian as he drove to the grocery store in Pacific Palisades.

In his typical larger than life way, Schwarzenegger met with AM General executives to push the idea of making them for public use. Schwarzenegger wanted a military Humvee, with a camouflage paint job and a gun turret. Company officials balked. Eventually Arnold got his way, the star bought a sand-colored Humvee that had been customized in Michigan to make it safe enough for L.A.'s boulevards.

Schwarzenegger wasn't done there, he worked for months to convince AM General to redesign the vehicle for the civilian market. In October 1992, the first civilian Hummers were introduced. Schwarzenegger flew to South Bend, Indiana to buy the first two off the assembly line.

Arnold was nearing the peak of his fame and renown at that time, which helped the big Humvee gain attention, and the vehicle's popularity demonstrated the value of Schwarzenegger's judgment. Schwarzenegger and Hummer extended grew in popularity almost side by side.

In December 1999, AM General and General Motors Corporation finalized an agreement to jointly pursue product, marketing and distribution opportunities for HUMMER. GM acquired the exclusive ownership of the HUMMER brand name worldwide. In 2002, AM General began assembling the HUMMER H2, a new "next generation" sport utility vehicle designed by GM, at a new factory in Mishawaka.

The relationship continued between General Motors and Arnold, GM donated millions to Schwarzenegger's charitable foundation, which supported after-school programs in urban neighborhoods across the country. And Arnold continued to throw his support behind the Humvee products

Schwarzenegger won the California governorship and Hummer sales grew rapidly, from about 20,000 in 2002 to more than 71,000 globally in 2006. But the pressures of political life strained the relationship between Hummer and mega-movie star turned high profile politician.

The governor, seeking the votes of green-minded Californians, championed fuel efficiency and began converting his Hummers to run on alternative fuels. Arnold pushed for GM to convert to alternative and eco-friendly sources of fuel for the Humvee, but as the major American car companies always were in those times, they were reluctant.

GM created its Hydrogen fueled H2, and then just as quickly forgot about it. Unfortunately, the economy took a turn for the worse, and gas prices spiked to all time highs between 2007 and 2009 and just as soon as the Humvee began to become a recognized brand in North American households, the ride was over.

Hummer, who only just started rolling out the H3 (and its 16 miles per gallon), its smallest model, in 2006, saw its popularity decline as fuel prices began to rise. In 2009 the combined Hummer sales was under 10,000, half what it had been in 2002.

GM was in bankruptcy protection during the summer of 2009 and had received about $50 billion in U.S. government aid, GM was selling off everything it could, and that included the Hummer brand to a Chinese company.

Hummer, the off-road vehicle that once was a symbol of America’s military might as well as the macho star persona embodied by Arnold, was in the hands of a Chinese company.

General Motors Co. and Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. signed the deal. Financial terms were not disclosed, although a person briefed on the deal said the sale price was around a mere $150 million. The image of America’s strength in the 90s and early 00s would have been sold for literal pennies to the taxpayer’s bailout dollar.

However the deal never went through. Sichuan Tengzhong said in a statement that it had withdrawn its bid because it was unable to receive approval from the Chinese government. According to reports the reason given was that China was putting a new emphasis on limiting it’s dependence on imported oil and wanted to do more to protect the environment, and the one thing Hummer was not known for, was fuel economy.

GM had been trying to sell Hummer for nearly two years, when the deal fell through, GM decided to pull the plug on all three versions of the Hummer shutting down production and sales for good.

“It is a great, great vehicle that really does anything you want it to do,” One GM Sales Manager said. “It had a great concept to it. It’s a real shame that it’s going away, because the people who own Hummers, they just love them.”

Would you like to see the Hummer make a Comeback?

See results

Hummer HX Concept

Could the Hummer make a comeback?

Rumors abound of a possible return as a version of the Hummer HX or H4 a concept that was in design for 2008/9. There is no current information on if they could update and put the HX into production, but there has been plenty of speculation recently that it could happen.

If you enjoyed this article, or are a Hummer enthusiast, I suggest checking out the book Hummer: How the Little Truck Company Hit the Big Time, Thanks to Saddam, Schwarzenegger, and GM.

© 2017 Ken Burgess

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      10 months ago

      Good article, I never knew Arnold had such a key role in getting Hummers public.

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