Welcome to Part 4 of the series called “Too Big Even For America”, where we explore cars that went out of their way to demonstrate that bigger is not always better.
It’s all about image, isn’t it? “Dress for success”, “Fake it ‘till you make it” and other similar adages have been around for decades, reminding you that even if you’re the best at what you do it’s a lot less likely that you’ll be taken seriously if you don’t look the part. Having the wrong image at the wrong time can be nothing short of disastrous – as the Hummer H2 demonstrated.
First, we have to address the elephant in the room. No, the Hummer isn’t actually *that* physically big. Not as big as the Ford Excursion and certainly not as big as the International CXT that have taken the spotlight on earlier articles in the series. The equivalent Suburban with which the H2 shared showrooms was almost 19 inches longer. The Hummer had it beat for width and height by a couple of inches but it’s nothing to write home about. Like the Excursion though, it did have a bit of a weight problem, tipping the scales at 6614 lbs. That is about 900 lbs. more than what the Suburban weighed and again, not the worst offender in that regard.
The construction of the H2 has something to do with it. The H2 walks a sort of middle ground between the light-duty 1500 series and the Heavy Duty 2500 series chassis (a 2000 series, if you will). The front bit is based on the 2500 and the rear on the 1500, all connected by a section exclusive to the Hummers. Essentially, they found a way to sidestep the problems Ford faced when they used their Super Duty frame. In the engine compartment you got the same engines that you had on the ordinary GMT-900 SUVs. Depending on the year you had either a 6.0 or a 6.2-liter V8. The latter was even mated to a modern 6-speed automatic gearbox, promising better efficiency and an improvement in highway fuel economy.
The interior was much improved over its predecessor, but that’s to be expected when a car is specifically developed for civilian use instead of being adapted to it. By itself it’s nothing special, what with it being essentially the same interior that you got on a well-optioned Tahoe or Yukon but with some extra garnish thrown in it, such as the very macho gear lever replacing the normal column shifter you got on its platform siblings and the clock which seemed to be a Hummer exclusive.
I am guessing exclusivity was not what the people in charge of the Hummer division had in mind when they launched the H2 to the public. No, that was the Escalade’s job, the H2’s job was to broaden the appeal of the Hummer brand and sell to the off-roading enthusiast. Whether that enthusiast actually did any off-roading or not. To that end the new Hummer car was accompanied by a whole merchandising lineup. It’s all rather sad really, like Mercedes-Benz trying to sell you a hoodie (incidentally, they will totally sell you a hoodie), but this merchandise transcended logic and sane reasoning. The most egregious and baffling of these was the Hummer cologne. Most disturbingly even now, half a decade after the Hummer brand has left, you can still buy Hummer cologne. It takes all kinds to make a world. And GM really did push the merchandising angle with the Hummer brand. Which is a direct cause of the reason why I chose the H2 for the finale of this series. Timing.
The H2 did achieve popularity through its perceived decadence. Like the Escalade, it found a large periphery demographic with rappers and those who embraced that image. It was also featured on movies such as Be Cool…
…TV Shows such as CSI:Miami…
…And, for reasons I’m sure make sense when you see the amount of money that exchanged hands, video games such as Need For Speed.
The sturdy construction and glitzy image also meant it found favor as a party limousine.
But timing is everything and the Hummer H2 missed it spectacularly. It was released smack dab in the moment when oil prices were climbing alarmingly fast on their way to $100/barrel. When the critics of SUVs became unbearably loud. When the economy tanked. When the fuel prices started to rise and the world did its greatest push so far to protect the environment, reduce emissions and stop global warming.
Celebrities and the like were shunning large SUVs and luxury cars in favor of the new car to be seen in, a compact Toyota with a bunch of batteries and cheap interior plastic. It turns out Paul just jumped the gun when he used a compact Japanese car in Beverly Hills. However, the flipside of all of this environmental automotive consciousness was that large SUVs were now the enemy, and out of all of them, someone had to be the main target.
I ask you, what better target to showcase everything that is wrong with SUVs than a large, extremely conspicuous SUV that was most commonly seen in bright yellow, was as publicized and merchandised as possible and whose owners would be more than likely not concerned with environmental issues? All the merchandising and brand positioning that GM had made for the Hummer brand collapsed unto itself. The Hummer brand became non-viable overnight and when GM went bust and tried to sell it to the Chinese, they couldn’t agree on a deal and Hummer was shut down for good.
So? What have we learned throughout this series? Well, the stereotype that bigger is always better in America is a big fat lie. Whether they’re really way too big and ungainly like the International CXT or simply perceived as such like the Hummer, there is such a thing as “too big”. It also reminds us that no matter how much planning and development manufacturers is done for new vehicles, situations far beyond their control could be the proverbial spanner in their works and ruin all the hard work that they’ve done. The collective definition of “big” may change but it seems once your car is past 220 inches or thereabouts, it’s a shot in the dark whether the market will respond it.
As we’ve demonstrated here, they probably won’t.