The end of GM’s involvement with the Hummer brand has brought back some memories of how it began – and the somewhat unlikely involvement of a British engineering team in creating the road-going versions that briefly enjoyed iconic status.
Seven years ago, pretty much to the week, I was in South Bend, Indiana at the Hummer test track for a very early drive in the Hummer H2, several months before it went on sale in the ’States. The H2 was the first fruit of GM’s expensive acquisition of the Hummer brand, and the stated corporate aim was to build the ultimate SUV.
That had given GM a big problem. For all its experience building trucks and road-biased SUV, the General had minimal expertise when it came to creating vehicles that could actually deliver hardcore off-roading. Which is why responsibility for the design and engineering of the H2 was given to British consultancy Ricardo, with a team of expat engineers sent to the ’States for nearly three years to create it.
A day spent slithering around South Bend’s swamps and obstacles confirmed the H2 was pretty much unstoppable in the rough. And driving one on the streets of Chicago proved that America was certainly ready to take its brutal, quasi-military styling to heart. The only question that remained unanswered was what would happen if Americans turned against gargantuan, fuel-guzzling SUVs.
Seven years on, we’ve got the answer. And it’s hard not to see the declining fortunes of the Hummer brand as an apt metaphor for the skewed priorities that sunk GM.