GM rode the mania for trucks and SUVs for a long time and made a lot of money in the process, but with gas prices at all-time highs, consumers want more fuel-efficient vehicles. Perhaps the biggest sign that GM is finally seeing the light is that it is considering selling off its Hummer line.
Few tears will be shed for the likely end of what Friends of the Earth once called "the most anti-environmental vehicle in the history of the world."
Weighing in at nearly three tons with average fuel mileage of 10-15 mpg, the Hummer H2 is the civilian version of what the Army calls the M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee, for short). The H2's "smaller" cousin, the Hummer H3, weighs 4,700 pounds and gets 14-18 mpg.
In military garb, the HMMWV is the Army's replacement for the venerable Jeep that went into service in the mid-1980s and has been the military's standard vehicle for the past two decades.
In civilian garb, the Hummer H2 is probably the most absurd and impractical vehicle on the American road. It is an upraised middle finger to environmentalists. Those who drove them sent a very unsubtle message to the world -- "I don't care what you
Sure, an H2 is capable of fording streams, climbing steep hills and jouncing over dirt roads that would swallow a sedan whole. But most Hummers, like many SUVs, never leave pavement. They are more status symbols than anything else.
Once upon a time, trucks were the province of farmers and tradesmen. It was rare for someone to own a truck as daily transportation, unless they needed it for their work or pulled a camper or boat on the weekends. A Jeep was strictly for folks who lived in the boonies.
The forerunners of today's four-wheel-drive SUVs, such as the International Harvester Scout and Travelall and the Willys Jeep Wagon, were spartan and designed for carrying people and cargo over bad roads. The people who owned them did so because these vehicles could outperform a car or station wagon in questionable driving conditions.
But with the gas crises of the 1970s, the American station wagon began to disappear and the little trucks and four-wheel-drives started getting bigger and bigger. The sport utility vehicle became the answer for people who needed more room and hauling power, but didn't want a minivan. Every car maker builds, or tried to build, one, even companies that you don't associate with trucks, such as Porsche and BMW.
Then came the transformation of the SUV into a fully tricked out blingmobile. The Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator, tied for second behind the Hummer for the most obnoxious vehicles on the American road, became the favorite vehicles of hip-hop moguls and sports stars.
As trucks went from being workhorses to lifestyle statements, the SUV became the embodiment of wretched excess -- a simple and practical vehicle that bloated up into a bulky behemoth. Park a 1960s-vintage Scout next to a Hummer, and you'll see what we mean.
The farmers and tradesmen still need trucks, and GM and the rest of the auto makers will keep building them for this market. But you'll see fewer people driving Hummers and other bulky SUVs, unless their owners are so rich that they don't care how much it costs to fill them up.