In the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? we see auto companies pry prototype vehicles, literally, from drivers’ loving fingers.
We see the vehicles crushed, and not allowed to return to run free — pollution-free — on the landscape.
We see General Motors sit on a lot of perfectly good electric cars, refusing to sell them to those who want them — $1.9 million worth of them.
Contrast this with GM’s desperate effort to have someone, anyone, preserve the Hummer brand, a car nobody wants.
Yes, you see them. You can’t not see them. They are the biggest pimple on the road.
But last year, in the whole voracious auto universe, where the average family owns at least two cars, GM sold 9,000 Hummers, down from 27,000 the prior year.
Considering what else has happened in the auto industry in the last year — dealers doing actual business, (you know, selling cars) one day and shuttered the next — you’d have thought GM would have euthanized that heaving mastodon long ago. What kind of a hint does it need?
Was this all in a stubborn, Cheney-esqe way, GM’s doggedness to press to the end that we can only do things the old way? The low mpg way? The bigger-is-always better way?
Whatever the corporate illusion, it wasn’t until last week, when Chinese heavy-equipment maker Sichuan Tegnzhong Heavy Industrial Machines pulled out of a deal to buy the division, that GM pronounced the Hummer dead.
Supposedly, this deal fell through because Chinese regulators had trouble with the idea. More likely, this is because as much money as Sichuan Tegnzhong Heavy Industrial Machines might be making, why pour any down a chrome toilet? Who needs that kind of prestige?
Yes, quite a few Americans did at one odd point in our history. Curiously, it was at a time when Americans were being shipped off to a land where an increasingly precious commodity, oil, made the crushing of a crumbling military dictatorship worth their lives. Yes, we and they were told differently at the time. If, however, Saddam Hussein presided over soybean giant Paraguay, “shock and awe” would have been an “ah, shucks” matter for people signing up to fight, even if their commander later said it was about “freedom on the march” for Paraguayans.
Some people attributed the rise of the GI-style Hummer as a response to surging military chic for a nation full of itself. It wasn’t about military chic; however, it did correspond with our military adventures. We invaded Paraguay — er, Iraq — because we could. No other national imperative was required. People bought Hummers for the same reason.
Now, they can’t.
Of course, a market remains for vehicles with the capacity in back for racquetball, and road clearance equal to one-quarter of a mid-sized Patagonian peasant. No matter that at every fill-up the owner pays a month’s rent owed by another American.
I came up with a rationale for these off-road behemoths long ago, and it’s a shame that Hummers won’t be around to fill it. In the scorched-Earth, futuristic scenario, the owners would drive them across hill and dale, roads not required, until mankind ran out of petroleum. Then when the last drop of gas expired in their giant tanks, their vehicles would provide ample living space for a family of four.
My son points to the ad for a Hummer that said that drivers would survive a direct asteroid hit. Then he points out that roadside bombs in a far-off land have unfortunately rendered that appeal moot.
So, the new ad campaign:
Hummer. Never had a good reason for it.
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. Jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.