H1, H2, H3 to EV: The Rise, Fall & Return of Hummer
With GM being just days away debuting a reborn Hummer in the shape of an all-electric SUV, we figured now would be a good time to take a quick look at the history of the brand in the United States.
Being well over a decade since the Hummer brand was phased out, there are likely plenty of people out there who aren’t fully aware of the rise and fall of the Big H and just how big it was at one time.
The roots of the Hummer brand go back. Way back. It started back in the late 1970s when the US military sought a new all-purpose vehicle to replace its aging fleet. And thus the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) was born.
Commonly referred to as the “Humvee” AM General won the contract for the HMMWV with its vehicle, which first appeared in prototype form in the early 1980s.
Once it entered widespread military service, the Humvee became one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world, particularly after the widespread media coverage of Operation Desert Storm. Not surprisingly, demand for a civilian version of the Humvee rose, lead by none other than actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In 1992 AM General released a version of the M998 Humvee for the civilian market, with Arnold being the first customer. Called the Hummer, the civilian version was available in multiple body styles, with power coming from a Diesel V8 engine.
AM General would build civilian versions of the Hummer through 2006 when new emissions rules lead to its demise with nearly 12,000 examples being produced during that span.
While its size, poor fuel economy and massive price tag ensured the Hummer was going to be an extremely niche vehicle, it became a status symbol nonetheless—somehow bridging the gap between remote war zones and hip hop videos.
A New Era
In the late 1990s, AM General sold the civilian Hummer brand to General Motors while continuing to build the vehicle in limited numbers. After acquiring the brand, GM had plans to expand the Hummer lineup and the original AM General-built vehicle was re-named the Hummer H1.
The Hummer H2 was first seen in concept form in 2001, with the production version being introduced shortly after for the 2003 model year. The idea behind the H2 was to capture the now-iconic Hummer style into a more affordable and easier to own SUV while still maintaining the toughness and off-road capability the H1 was known for.
The H2 was still built by AM General working under contract from GM, but rather than its own design the H2 rode on the familiar GMT800 platform used by the Chevy Silverado and Suburban.
It was powered by a 6.0L and later a 6.2L GM V8 and its interior was full of luxury appointments. And while the H2 wasn’t nearly as rugged or capable as the H1, it was nonetheless a solid off-roader in its own right.
The vast majority of H2 owners would never venture off pavement though, with the SUV quickly establishing itself alongside the Cadillac Escalade as a symbol of early 2000s luxury excess and the SUV It also became the platform of choice for limousine conversions.
Beloved by some and hated by others, over 150,000 H2s were sold during its production run. And it will forever be known as one of the most iconic vehicles the 2000s.
H3: More Capable than its Reputation
A third, even smaller, Hummer model joined the lineup for the 2006 model year in the from of the Hummer H3. Unlike the H1 and H2, the H3 was built and developed entirely by GM, sharing its underpinnings with the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups.
The H3 was powered by either a five cylinder or a 5.3L V8 engine and was significantly smaller and more affordable than the H2. Naturally this “baby Hummer” caught plenty of heat from those who’d watched Hummer move from the battlefield to shopping mall parking lot, but the H3 was again a pretty decent 4x4 in its own right with available differential lockers and low-range gearing.
Like the H2, the H3 was offered in both SUV and pickup versions, with the H3T truck version being especially rare today and likely to become a future collectors item, perhaps alongside other Hummer models of the 2000s.
Death and Revival
With a massive spike in gasoline prices, followed by a severe economic downturn 2008 was not a good year to be in the business of selling large, aspirational SUVs. The auto industry was hit especially hard by the economic crisis of the late 2000s, GM made the decision to discontinue the Hummer brand as part of its 2009 restructuring plans.
Initially a plan was in place to sell the brand to a Chinese company, but that had fallen through by 2010 and the once valuable Hummer name was put to rest for nearly a decade.
And while the brand name slept, the American economy auto market would come back, trucks and SUVs would again rise to the top sales of charts and electric vehicles would continue to increase their market presence.
In other words, the stage had been perfectly set for what we are going to see on October 20 when GM reintroduces the Hummer name on an all-electric vehicle that will be sold as part of the GMC brand.
The all electric Hummer will be sold in both pickup and SUV forms and it aims to take a once-popular name and attack the emerging electric truck segment head-on.
At this point we have no idea whether the Hummer revival will be a success or whether the electric truck market will truly take hold but it’s definitely setting up to be another interesting chapter in the story of one of America’s most interesting automotive brands.