The new Hummer EV looks like and is sized similarly to the original Hummers from the 2000s, which is a good thing.
It is the halo car that will hopefully convince truck buyers and owners that EVs are cool.
GM has built good electrified vehicles before, like the Volt plug-in hybrid and the Bolt EV, but neither are “cool” like the Hummer EV.
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Hummer is back like the Great Recession never happened. Sort of.
In October, the Hummer returned as an all-electric pickup truck under GMC, boasting 1,000 horsepower and a $112,595 starting price for the special launch-edition version.
In a time when the top-three selling vehicles in the United States last year were a truck, a truck, and another truck, all powered by gasoline, it might seem strange for General Motors to commit the research and development — heck, even a whole plant — to an electric truck.
But the Hummer EV’s role is bigger than just sales targets. It’s about selling an idea.
A cultural icon
To me, Hummer always represented the most wanton, most gluttonous expression of automotive ownership. If you owned one, not only were you hoarding gasoline — a precious and finite resource — when you didn’t need to, you were also taking up so much room. Nobody needed to occupy 14 parking spaces at Blockbuster to rent “American Pie” on a Friday night and then forget to return it.
Through their sheer superlative nature, Hummers became a cultural icon: instantly recognizable and a beacon of military hoo-rah, their US adoption tied to Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Even if you weren’t the least bit into cars, you knew what a Hummer was. They were the big, blocky things that stomped around suburban neighborhoods, portrayed in popular culture as being driven by meatheads like this.
It’s a stereotype, sure. But most stereotypes are admittedly rooted in some truth, and at the heart of this truth was Hummer.
Appealing to the masculine mind
“In 1999, General Motors bought the brand from AM General and became responsible for its promotion, and that’s when the Hummer became unavoidable,” Vox’s Rachel Davies wrote. “The vehicle’s outlandishly masculine aesthetic made marketing rather simple for the company — all it had to do was prey on a man’s fear of being emasculated.”
Look no further than a 2006 Hummer ad, which depicted a man buying tofu and feeling self-conscious at the grocery store when shown up by another man buying a pile of meat. The first man rushes over to a Hummer dealership to pick up an H3 in order to “restore the balance.”
“The timing was particularly ripe for this marketing tactic,” Davies continued. “The word ‘metrosexual’ had been coined in 1994, and the concept of a well-groomed, urbane man was cropping up in both brand campaigns and everyday conversation, threatening traditional masculinity.”
The original Hummer’s design was composed mainly of rectangles and circles, which saved it from the worst of the ravages of time — also known as Things Going Out Of Style. That’s why it still looks pretty good by today’s standards. It also occupied most of your field of vision if you stood next to it, an assault on the eyes. Sitting in it, you rode above everyone else. Like a king.
That was the whole appeal, of course.
In with the old and also in with the new
The new Hummer EV is unmistakably a Hummer. It is, unimaginably, even bigger than its predecessor — Roadshow reported it to be more than a foot longer than the already gargantuan Hummer H2. It has short front- and rear-overhangs, big wheels, and a flat face. The military mood has been traded for space exploration. More or less, it is shaped like a refrigerator.
But also: Its roof comes off! It’s a pickup truck! There’s a front trunk! It crab walks! Cool!
Armed with these features and gimmicks, the Hummer EV is sure to attract buyers looking for a new toy. But the fact that it still encapsulates the same basic aesthetic from 14 years ago suggests it’s also aimed for the same group of people as before — but with one major difference. The Hummer is now electric.
I don’t yet know who the Hummer EV is for, or indeed who will buy it. But if history is to repeat itself like General Motors seems to want it to, then truck buyers (see also: Schwarzenegger cosplayers) will flock to it.
For a long time, driving an electric car was seen as the enemy to masculinity. Lame environmentalists owned hybrids, wore Birkenstocks, and were vegan. Real men drove trucks, ate bacon, and drank whiskey, Ron Swanson-style. But now that GM has turned the pinnacle of masculine vehicular ownership — the Hummer — into an EV, it could become the inspiration that drives even the most committed gas-guzzling truck lovers to start thinking EVs are cool.
That seems to be its mission, anyway.
Selling an idea
Aside from building a big truck, which is where GM has found the most success with domestic buyers, the company needed to design and build an EV that would really change public perception. GM has made electric cars before — good ones — in the form of the Volt plug-in hybrid and the current Bolt EV, but none of them had the same “cool” factor as a Tesla.
For The Drive, John Voelcker wrote: “GM is betting a ‘Supertruck’ will change that. It hopes its own massive pickup truck sales, bolstered by aggressive grilles and a macho image, can change the conversation around EVs. It’s the first GM electric car ever whose development team calls it ‘a beast’ — frequently.”
He went on: “Put simply, the GMC Hummer EV is the first electric vehicle that does things no gasoline vehicle can do, or does them better — while being audacious just by existing. No one has ever called the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV compact hatchback a beast. You may hear adjectives like sensible, pleasant, capable, and dutiful. But it’s never, ever been badass.”
The Hummer EV has a steep price. An aspirational one, even, because it’s a halo model. And the thing with halo models is you don’t actually have to sell many of them for people to think they’re cool. Their mere existence is enough to get the public talking about them, like Tesla and the Model S.
Yes, the Hummer’s so-called ruggedness and off-roading abilities make me roll my eyes (who is taking a $100,000-plus pickup truck off-roading?). But if it inspires the arguably most resistant and yet-untapped niche of buyers to start thinking about EVs in a positive light, then it will have done its job.