Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hummer? Bummer.

The Hummer in many ways represented the worst of the excesses of the last decade, consumerist, credit-driven, confusing militaristic with patriotic, fuel-guzzling, road-hogging, wannabe SUV. I remember seeing them in one of their original breeding grounds, an actual H1 (the military-sized and highly capable off-road vehicle) being driven by a cute blond in Sun Valley in 1996. Later, GM grafted a lookalike body on a Tahoe frame and charged the earth for them as H2s, then later yet, added a more compact H3 for those with the Hummer personality defect who couldn't cough up the $50K+ for the H2. They had a bunch of dealers build special Hummer areas including big rocky things to park them on out front.

Well, it didn't work. Gas got expensive, leading to the ironic situation where the biggest complaints about both the Hummer H2 and the Toyota Prius was the mileage, the H2 because it guzzled gas so voraciously, the Prius because it would turn in 43 mpg and not 52 as its buyers had so fervently hoped.

Gas got cheaper, but then credit got expensive, unemployment went up, houses went underwater, repo men got busy and Hummer sales tanked. The rugged image of the highly-capable military vehicle was diluted as it became an under-armoured deathtrap susceptible to Iraqi IEDs mid-decade. GM would have gone belly up if the government hadn't stepped in to rescue it, and the company has ruthlessly cut brands, closed plants and terminated dealers. A deal was reached to sell the Hummer division to some Chinese company, but even they don't want it. From today's New York Times:

DETROIT — General Motors said Wednesday that it would shut down Hummer, the brand of big sport-utility vehicles that became synonymous with the term “gas guzzler,” after a deal to sell it to a Chinese manufacturer fell apart.

The buyer, Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines, said in a statement that it withdrew its bid because it was unable to get approval from the Chinese government, which is trying to put a new emphasis on limiting China’s dependence on imported oil and protecting the environment.

In addition, people close to the negotiations had said that the biggest obstacle to emerge in the last few days was not regulatory approval, but rather bank financing. While Tengzhong has the cash to pay for the Hummer brand, it needed bank financing to operate the division, redesign vehicles and set up new production plants in China.

A spokesman for Hummer, Nick Richards, said G.M. had no specific timetable for completing the wind down, but left open the possibility that G.M. would be open to new bids...

About 3,000 jobs in the United States could be affected by the shutdown, including positions at G.M. and the brand’s dealerships. A factory in Shreveport, La., that builds the Hummer H3 and H3T and other G.M. trucks already was scheduled to close by 2012. The larger H2 was built for G.M. by A. M. General in Mishawaka, Ind., until December, when production was temporarily halted to allow for the sale process to conclude.

The deal would have made Tengzhong the first Chinese company to sell vehicles in North America, though it planned to keep Hummer’s operations in the United States.
“Tengzhong worked earnestly to achieve an acquisition that it believed to be a tremendous opportunity to acquire a global brand at an attractive price,” Tengzhong said in its statement. “The renewed investment to be made by Tengzhong and other investors would have provided Hummer’s existing management team the ability to build greener utility vehicles that would have been attractive and useful in new markets such as China as well as the existing core markets.”

Mr. Richards said Hummer dealers in the United States have about 2,500 vehicles in their inventories. In January, the brand made just 265 sales in the United States. Hummer sales plunged 67 percent in 2009, to a total of 9,046.

I won't miss them, but I was never the market anyway. I have to say that for all the hatred Hummers inspired (and it merited it's own site,, consisting of photos of people flipping off Hummers), I've never been yelled at or otherwise abused by a Hummer driver. It may be because there aren't that many of them compared to, say, pickup trucks, who as a class are the most frequent communicators with me while cycling. And once, while looking at some actual facts, I noted that the footprint of a Hummer was actually slightly less than that of a Honda Odyssey minivan, though the H2 was wider and therefore blocked the views from behind more than the minivan. Maybe it was the whole fake-military attitude at a time when a bunch of chickenhawks had taken us to war that was so aggravating. Anyway, may those Hummers rest in peace.

Friday, February 19, 2010

On the Manliness of Cycling

I liked this comment on the inestimable BikeSnobNYC blog, by a guy watching the Olympics:
I'm really enjoying these winter Olympics in Vancouver, between men's figure skating and short track speed skating relay, these sports make road cycling in lycra and shaved legs look like Aussie Rules football.