Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Hummer's demise a sign of the times

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

Team Dakar USA Hummer
There is still a chance that Hummer will fly again

Hummer's suffering is about to be ended.

The lumbering giant is being put down by patriarchal General Motors, the American motoring giant 61%-owned by the US government.

It is a sign of the times.

The former favourite of Moscow's moneyed, and the wheels once favoured by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been hit by a double whammy of tighter belts in some of its markets and a dramatic shift in public opinion in others.

Hummer on the road
Driving the Hummer is an experience

Large gas-guzzlers are increasingly being shunned by frugal, environmentally aware, or simply fashion conscious punters eager to downsize their modes of transport.

As a symbol of conspicuous consumption, or of a lack of regard for the environment, the Hummer makes its owners look distinctly out of touch with the current public mood.

It seems even the Chinese authorities are steering clear of the beast.

"The brand proposition of Hummer itself goes against the strategic outline of the Chinese government, which is mainly that they want to produce energy-efficient vehicles," explains Klaus Paur, North Asia director for market research company TNS.

Which might go some way to explain why Chinese firm Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines pulled the plug on an earlier agreement to buy the brand, having failed to gain clearance from Chinese regulators.

King of the Road

The Hummer is arguably the most aggressive looking vehicle there is, and no wonder given that the original H1, launched 18 years ago, was based on the US Humvee military vehicle.

Later versions were less macho, but only marginally so. Its butch looks were key to the marque's image.

Humvee military vehicle
The original Hummer was based on the military Humvee

Driving a Hummer down the broad streets of Detroit is an experience, though what you get out of it depends on the strength of your nerves.

Seated high and mighty in a seat resembling a throne above the Hummer's humming engine gives you a powerful feeling of being King of the Road.

Unless you are a mere journalist in a borrowed test car, that is, in which case the fear of hitting something, or even rolling straight over the odd low-slung Mustang, can easily make you sweat.

By the time you have managed to find a parking place wide enough you will resemble a genuine Desert Rat.

Still hope

But as Hummer production seems destined to end it is also clear that the truck will be missed by its loyal crowd of fans.

Indeed, there are still people out there who are convinced the vehicle has a future and that a market remains for it.

And GM is still eager to hear from anyone who wants to buy the brand.

"In the early phases of the wind-down, we'll entertain offers and determine their viability," says GM spokesman Nick Richards.

So although it might be time to prepare for Hummer's funeral, it may well be premature to carve out its tombstone.

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