General Motors’ military adventure was fated to end badly.
Now in control of the Hummer marque and its product planning and marketing, General Motors was keen to maximise the sales potential of its newly acquired off-road specialist. Its ambition was to rival and even displace Jeep as the leading US marque in this space. To do so, it needed a full range of models that were more suitable for on-road use than the uncompromising and unwieldy H1(1).
Hummer’s second model, the H2, was launched in 2002. It was based on a GMT800 series full-size truck and SUV platform and was powered by a 366 cu.in. (6.0-litre) V8 petrol engine, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine produced maximum power of 325bhp (242kW) and torque of 385 lb ft (522Nm). The H2’s off-road statistics were more modest than those of the H1, but still impressive. Ground clearance was 10” (254mm). Wading depth was 20″ (508mm) and the H2 could climb a 16″ (406mm) step. Approach and departure angles were 40.8° and 39.6° respectively. The quoted kerb weight was 6,400lbs (2.90 metric tonnes), representing only a modest reduction over that of the H1.
The well-equipped interior was largely lifted from the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. Although it was broadly similar in size to (and much more spacious inside than) the H1, the use of mainstream GM hardware allowed it to be priced at around half the $110k GM was then asking for the H1. This, and its much better practicality, opened up a much wider market for the H2 and in 2003, its first full year on sale, around 35,000 were sold in the US.
Car and Driver magazine published its road test of the H2 in the August 2002 issue of the magazine. Regarding its modestly reduced off-road capabilities compared to the H1, the reviewer concluded that, in all real-world situations, the H2 was “no more likely to suffer butt burn than the H1”. That said, the replacement of the H1’s independent rear suspension with a live axle and coil springs did cause some “skittering” over ridged surfaces and a noticeable hop when a rear wheel hit a bump. The H2’s recirculating ball steering was heavier but more direct than that of the H1, and “quick enough to play dodgem”.
The ride and handling compromise was commended. The former was “surprisingly comfortable” and “GM engineers did an impressive job of balancing everything from impact harshness to control over body motions.” 0 to 60mph (97km/h) took 10.7 seconds but, despite the four-wheel disc brakes and Bosch ABS, the stopping distance from 70mph (113km/h) was 244 feet (74 metres), barely improved over the H1. EPA official fuel economy was 10mpg city and 13mpg highway(2).
Overall, the reviewer liked the H2. He summarised it as follows: “golly-gee easy and reassuring to drive, but it is not a Hummer poseur. It handles serious off-road chores with ho-hum ease.” However, a colleague of his was troubled by the H2’s image, commenting that it was “a shameless appeal to latent male adolescence, with exterior styling that cries out for camo paint and machine-gun mounts. Although far more civilized than the original H1, it has few other redeeming virtues, aside from plentiful ground clearance.” His girlfriend had nailed the H2 by describing it as “the male equivalent of a push-up bra.”
Despite those misgivings and an image that many found repellent, the H2 initially proved to be a strong seller, so GM set about designing a third, smaller model, the H3. Whereas the H1 and H2 had been broadly similar in size, the H3 was a significant step downwards. It was 188” (4,775mm) long(3), 74¾” (1,899mm) wide, 73¾” (1,873mm) high, and stood on a wheelbase of 112” (2,845mm). That made it 15½” (394mm) shorter, 6½” (165mm) narrower and 4” (102mm) lower than the H2. The H3 was also a massive 1,800 lbs (816kg) lighter than its larger sibling.
The H3 was wholly a GM product in design and manufacture. It was based on the GMT355 chassis that underpinned the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pick-up trucks. The launch engine was a 3.5-litre inline five-cylinder petrol unit, mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission with permanent 4WD, a locking centre differential and electronically controlled low-range mode. The engine produced maximum power of 220bhp (164kW) and torque of 225 lb ft (305Nm). EPA official fuel economy was 14mpg city and 18mpg highway(4). The entry price for the H3 at launch was $29.5k, roughly half that of the H2.
The H3 was launched in 2005. Car and Driver magazine published its first road test in August of that year. Serious off-roaders would require the manual gearbox version for optimum control, because the automatic transmission version required “exaggerated throttle openings to climb an obstacle and then gives zilch engine braking down the other side.”
The more compact size made the H3 arguably even better over rough terrain than its larger siblings because it was more manoeuvrable and easier to see out of. The ground clearance was an inch (25mm) less than the H2’s at 9” (229mm) but still more than adequate. On the road, the H3 “steers sharply and hustles through turns when necessary”, although it suffered from a “bouncy ride as a byproduct of off-road prowess”.
The H3 reprised all the signature Hummer exterior styling motifs, including “the absurdly vertical windshield, round headlights in square holes, seven-slot grille(5), simulated tire-pressure inflators on the wheels, and spare hanging off the back”. Inside, however, it was very much a well specified and trimmed conventional SUV, with “not a socket-head fastener in sight”.
The H3 was certainly a better and more useable SUV in real-world conditions than its larger stablemates, but its image remained a problem. In the words of one of the reviewers, “playing GI Joe in a pseudo Jeep is just uncomfortable while real soldiers are dying in the real thing.”
Issues of image notwithstanding, the H3 would go on to be the best selling of the three models, despite its curtailed five-year lifespan. US Sales for the Hummer range were as follows:
|Year||Hummer H1||Hummer H2||Hummer H3|
The controversial and polarising image of Hummer would prove to be its undoing when GM was bankrupted by the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008. In the words of Robert A (Bob) Lutz(6), GM Vice-Chairman from 2001 to 2010, Hummer “had become a lightning rod for the enviro-left and was taxing GM’s credibility as a creator of fuel-efficient vehicles”. The H2 in particular had become “the poster child for upper-class greed, insouciance and environmental irresponsibility, poisoning the whole brand”. The immediate termination of Hummer was one of the conditions of the 2009 US Government bailout of GM.
The Hummer marque is, however, set to rise again. In possibly the most extreme and audacious exercise in corporate brand repositioning ever, GM announced in January 2020 that Hummer will be revived as an all-electric sub-brand of GMC. The resurrected Hummer has been unveiled, first as a pickup truck, with an SUV to follow. Whether the positive brand associations can outweigh and shake off its considerable baggage remains to be seen.
(1) The Hummer H1 was extraordinarily wide, but its exceptional ground clearance necessitated a very wide central tunnel bisecting the cabin to accommodate the drivetrain, forcing occupants to sit far apart in narrow footwells.
(2) U.S. gallons, which equates to approximately 12 and 15mpg imperial (23.5 and 18.1 L/100km).
(3) With an externally mounted spare wheel.
(4) U.S. gallons, which equates to approximately 17 and 22 mpg imperial (16.8 and 13.1 L/100km).
(5) Much to Jeep’s annoyance, as they regarded this detail as their own. However, there was nothing Jeep could do about it, as AM General had continued to use the seven-slot grille on the Humvee military vehicle after the split with Jeep.
(6) Quotes from ‘Car guys vs Bean Counters’, written by Robert A Lutz and published in 2011.