The news that General Motors would relaunch the infamous Hummer name—as an all-electric truck no less—broke a few days before the high-dollar, high-visibility 2020 Super Bowl ad that introduced that vehicle to the world.
After a succession of carefully staged events for media and the public, we now know that the 2022 GMC Hummer EV will include at least two models: a sport utility truck (or SUT), with four doors and a short pickup bed, and a more conventional SUV. The SUT has been out there since January, but while reporters had seen the SUV version during a March EV Day preview (no cameras allowed), it wasn’t shown in public until November.
That month, the SUV version appeared as one of three future EVs serving as backdrops for a presentation by CEO Mary Barra and other executives to reveal some details about future electric Chevrolet crossover and pickup models. The Hummer SUV sat silently behind Doug Parks, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, during his segments.
Everything old is new again
The two body styles parallel the pair of H2 versions sold from 2002 to 2009, when Hummer was one of eight brands offered by GM. The brand died in 2009 as GM declared bankruptcy, restructured with US government backing, and jettisoned not only Hummer but also Pontiac, Saab and Saturn.
For North America, the electric Hummer is the first of a promised 20 or so GM EVs based on the company’s new Ultium battery and powertrain technology. The name isn’t its own brand; the 2022 GMC Hummer EV will be sold as a model line within the GMC luxury truck brand. Still, it’s a major reboot of a controversial name that retains a following 10 years after its demise.
The electric Hummer has an important purpose: to reset the image of electric vehicles in US buyers’ minds once and for all. Before Tesla, they were seen as nerdy golf carts, far from usable as “real cars.” Once Tesla started selling the Model S in 2012, EVs became high-tech accessories, signifying drivers’ cutting-edge status as owners of the latest and coolest automotive technology (something the Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt struggled to convey).
Now, the Hummer lineup is meant to convey a different image for EVs, one that uses a different set of traditional American values. It’s big, bold, brassy, and in your face—an EV for truck people. (It’s also startlingly fast, and zero-emission, but we’ll get to that.) In short, the GMC Hummer EV is meant to make electric cars badass in the public eye. As the first of GM’s new wave of EVs, it’s nothing if not bold.
Back in the day, the original Hummer H1 was a military vehicle with a light veneer of consumer comfort. It was far too large and expensive to sell in any kind of volume. The H2 was built on a consumer truck chassis, appeared equally intimidating, and sold in higher numbers. Ditto the smaller H3, priced to be the sales leader. None of the three lines could be called fast, nor high-performance.
The electric Hummer changes all that, with specs unlike those of any other EV on offer today. GM hasn’t released an official capacity, but the Hummer’s battery pack will likely pack around 200 kWh of energy. That will allow it to deliver a total of 750 kW (1,000 hp) to the three motors powering the wheels.
When you invoke the Watts To Freedom mode (WTF, get it? Get it? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink?), the Hummer’s claimed 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of about 3 seconds is nothing less than eye-opening for a vehicle likely weighing up to 3 tons. And ground clearance of up to 15.9 inches in Extract Mode exceeds that of pretty much any other production vehicle. It’s even designed to accept aftermarket 37-inch tires without modification.
Another publicity push in October with a series of slick videos, aired during NBC’s The Voice, the World Series, and on YouTube, showed just how capable this massive, silent and startling EV could be in off-road uses no production EV had previously attempted.
The 34-month project
The Hummer wasn’t the first of GM’s new Ultium EVs to get the green light for production. That was the Cadillac Lyriq, a five-seat luxury crossover SUV that will go on sale in China and the US during 2022.
But the Hummer, approved in August 2018, will be the first one to start rolling off the lines at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, late in 2021. The vehicle’s timeline of roughly 34 months from approval to production is astoundingly fast—and this has become, GM executives say, the new target for all new GM EVs. Of which there will be a lot, starting quite soon.
More remarkably, GM says its development team didn’t miss a beat during the COVID-19 epidemic, thanks to its 3D modeling system and software and a team mantra that prioritized solving problems over scheduling meetings.
The electric Hummer won’t come cheap; the starting price for the lowest-spec version announced so far—with fewer features and performance options, and only two motors—is about $80,000, and that one won’t be delivered until 2024. The high-end launch model runs past $110,000. Accordingly, its sales volumes won’t actually be that high. The best year for a full three-model Hummer lineup was 2007, when it sold 72,000 units. That’s just not a lot.
However, less-expensive electric models from other brands will follow—that electric Chevy compact crossover Barra alluded to in November, for instance—and they will have to be competitively priced against competitors from Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Volkswagen and others.
Importantly, GM is expected to make money on every one of the new Ultium-based EVs it sells. At least, that’s what GM President Mark Reuss claimed to reporters in March. And most important of all, GM is moving away from sensible, small, practical models as its EV halo cars—think Spark EV, Volt, Bolt EV—to vehicles that will make a lot more people sit up and take notice.
In other words, GM has gotten the old-time religion: You make an impression by launching new technology in your most luxurious, most noticeable, most expensive vehicles—and you make them desirable on their own merits—regardless of the electric part. After all, that’s exactly what Tesla did.
Not everyone will want a gigantic, hulking, stupidly fast, 3-ton military-inspired truck. That’s OK. The Hummer EV will get GM noticed by parts of the buying public that couldn’t care less about small hatchback EVs. If it does that, it can say, “Mission accomplished.”
This article appeared in Charged Issue 52 – November/December 2020 – Subscribe now.