So there I was: a greenhorn to the automotive journalism trade, sitting one-on-one with one of the biggest movers and shakers of the automotive industry for the better part of the past decade; a former general manager for the Cadillac brand and the CEO of the Hummer brand. The man is James Taylor – and he has been a catalyst for positive progress within General Motors. During his tenure, he lead Cadillac away from the stodgy kind of luxury brand it once was and – with the launch of the first-gen CTS and SRX models – took it in the direction of “Art and Science”. With Hummer, he held the entire brand in his hands, having started afresh as its own company. Well, that’s the way it would have been, if it weren’t for the series of unfortunate events about which we all know by now…
As GM made its way through bankruptcy, Hummer was one of the brands that was deemed to not have a role in the new company. Along with Saab and Saturn, Hummer was put up for sale to any and all interested parties. It was also the first wind-down brand to score a bite. Unfortunately, nothing came of the offer. When the Chinese government pulled the plug on GM’s Hummer sale to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd., it killed the brand’s best chance of seeing the 2012 model year and beyond. And though reports by sources such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal about Hummer having other bidders were true, none of these suitors were capable of purchasing or operating the brand.
“We had lots of phone calls, and lots of letters and lots of meetings with guys alleging they had the financial where-with-all to purchase Hummer…buyers would come in and we would ask: ‘do you have a billion dollars?’, that would stop them pretty quick. That process and the people involved that thought they could just buy it have really no idea what it takes to buy and run a car company,” explained Taylor.
He also described just how crazy some of the interested parties were in the Hummer brand by saying:
“we had, like, hand written notes from some guys in a cabin saying ‘I wanna buy Hummer, and I have a lot of money’… yeah, sure. “
That whole money thing aside, there was also another factor that played a key role on the deal, and was probably an even bigger reason on why a deal never happened after Sichuan Tengzhong left the table. That factor was time.
“GM was in a big hurry. There was a lot of impatience to get [the deal] done. And when you look at the Saab-Spyker deal, that was really lucky. Those guys were just able to move so fast to close a deal… so what it came down to was the ability to move super fast with somebody super rich but we didn’t get lucky enough to find that combination, unfortunately.”
Unfortunate, indeed. We could have seen the best lineup from Hummer yet: a more compact, utilitarian lineup for the off-road-venturing crowd was in order, and not so much the purposely overweight, space-inefficient extreme of an SUV that has given the brand such a negative perception in many circles. In fact, Mr. Taylor was fixing the brand to focus directly at Jeep and its lone dominance in the affordable off-road SUV market with an entirely new product plan.
“We had a whole product plan to lure in buyers. We had an H4 that would have been a lot smaller [than current models] and was to be the new focus for our relaunch… we wanted to take a bite out of Jeep and their segment.”
For those picturing the awesome-looking Hummer Hx Concept that made its debut a few years ago, you’re in the right ballpark. Hopefully, something such as the Hx has a future somewhere else, maybe as a GMC in the coming years (but that’s just this writer’s fantasy). So, what’s Mr. Taylor up to these days? He seems to be enjoying his time off:
“This industry beats you up pretty good and when you’re boiled in it for so long, it takes a while to dry out from all the speed, and stress and everything. So I have taken a couple of months off to fix everything in my house that’s been neglected for the past five years.”
If we were in his shoes, we would probably do the same.