GM’s electric Hummer will be a monster hit

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Um, 1,000 horsepower? What?

General Motors says the electric Hummer it plans to start selling in two years will have 1,000 horsepower and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds. That’s more than twice the power of a Porsche Carerra 911 S, with the same quickness.

Why? Oh, right. Bragging rights.

GM (GM) has been working on electric vehicles since the 1990s, yet Tesla (TSLA) is the industry darling, with all the EV plaudits and a market value of $116 billion, nearly three times that of GM. Tesla sells three models and they’re all electric, while GM has just one EV, the proficient but bland Chevy Bolt, among its several dozen models.

So to grab some electric cred, GM plans to revive the Hummer, the loved and reviled megatruck from the early 2000s, and replace the old 10-mile-per gallon diesel engine with an electric powertrain fueled off the grid. GM will tease the truck with a Super Bowl ad featuring LeBron James on Feb. 2, though it won’t show the design. The automaker plans to provide more details and perhaps show a prototype in May.

It sounds like a smart move. The Hummer gained fame as a jeep on steroids during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and its manufacturer, AM General, began selling civilian versions in 1992. Arnold Schwarzenegger bought one as his personal vehicle. As SUVs began hogging the roads in the 1990s, GM licensed the name and began selling the gargantuan beast as the Hummer H1 in 1999. Slightly smaller H2 and H3 models came a few years later.

GMC HUMMER EV brings bold design and remarkable capability to the electrified vehicle space. (Source: General Motors)

Off-roaders loved the Hummer. Environmentalists despised it. As gas prices crept toward $4 per gallon in 2008, Hummer hit the skids. Then the twin housing and financial crashes relegated the Hummer to icon of excess. GM killed the lineup while declaring bankruptcy in 2009. All told, GM sold more than 300,000 Hummers from 2000 onward, with peak sales in 2006.

Yet everybody interested in cars knows what a Hummer is, and the vehicles’ haters may actually boost the loyalty of its fans. And now, replacing needless carbon emissions makes the truck less hateable. That would leave GM with one of the most notable vehicles of the last 30 years and no trail of pollution to rile up the opposition.

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GM needs a vehicle like this for a couple of reasons. First, for all its research into electric powertrains, GM offers nothing with the excitement Tesla (TSLA) has generated with just about every model in its lineup. GM would probably say it cares more about profitability than excitement, but GM execs also know excitement sells cars and builds brand loyalty. Proof: the Corvette.

A radical battery-powered truck will demonstrate GM has something to show for its EV investments—something critics and buyers can get fired up about. A zero-emission Hummer will also solve a problem for potential buyers who love the muscle but don’t want to be ostracized for belching pollution. An electric Hummer might even be more virtuous than a gas-powered subcompact. What the heck, throw the Corolla in the back.

GM also needs some new armature for the war that’s underway over the future of the pickup. Tesla promises an electric “cybertruck” in a few years. A startup called Rivian, backed by Amazon and Ford, is developing electric truck technology that could be on the market by late this year or early next. Pickups turn out to be great EV platforms, because there’s ample space for battery storage, and the powerful torque electric motors can generate is apt for the type of work pickups often do. Whoever masters the electric pickup will corner the monster profits pickups deliver.

A Hummer H1 at an Illinois dealership in 2006. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

GM will supposedly optimize the new Hummer for off-road use and sell it in small volumes. We’ll see. GM probably anticipates some backlash to the truck’s massive girth, a legitimate ding on the old Hummer by right-sized motorists unnerved at the Hummer’s militaristic bearing. Large vehicles do threaten smaller ones with inordinate damage in the event of a collision.

But if the new Hummer succeeds, it seems certain GM will expand the lineup or export the electric technology to other truck and SUV models. Americans like vehicles that emit a rugged vibe, and they want automakers to make those vehicles socially acceptable. In its second life, the Hummer might finally be arriving at the right time.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a version originally published on Jan. 13. An earlier version had an incorrect number for Hummer sales, which has been corrected.

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

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