Arnold Schwarzenegger probably didn’t know what he was starting when he called up AM General in 1990 and asked them to produce a civilian-spec version of the iconic Humvee. The Indiana-based company was initially hesitant to take Schwarzenegger up on his idea, but the actor’s enthusiasm for the vehicle won executives over and it eventually gave the project the green light, putting it into production in 1992 as the Hummer H1. By the late 1990s, the H1 had become an icon – a symbol of American’s support for the military and penchant for all things excessive.
In a recent article, Vox took a deep dive into the culture that first attracted people to the Hummer brand and the shifts in society that ultimately led to its demise. The news and opinion site says Hummer, which was purchased by General Motors in 1998, was seen as the embodiment of traditional masculinity. With more men showing enthusiasm for things like fashion or grooming (referred to by Vox as being “metrosexual”) in the 1990s and early 2000s, driving a Hummer was seen as a way for them to express a more traditionally masculine image. GM’s marketing seems to have backed up this belief, with the automaker releasing an ad in 2006 that showed a man racing to a Hummer dealer to buy an H2 after feeling emasculated for purchasing tofu at a grocery store.
Hummer’s rise coincided with the start of the war on terror, as well, acting as a way for Americans, male or female, to show their support for the military’s endeavours in the Middle East.
This desire to express a more traditional masculine gender role or show support for America’s military wasn’t enough to keep Hummer on the map, though. The brand fell victim to GM’s post-bankruptcy restructuring, with its big, heavy, box-shaped SUVs making very little sense in a world with rising gas prices.
Hummer still has strong brand recognition due to the iconic status of vehicles like the H1 and H2, making it tempting to revive as truck and SUV sales rise, but bringing it back amid today’s climate activist culture may still be considered controversial. GM may have an answer, though, with the company rumored to be working on a battery electric Hummer. This would allow GM to flip the Hummer script on its head and capitalize on the well-known nameplate while also side-stepping criticisms from climate concerned citizens.
Whether or not those same buyers who bought an H2 in the early aughts would be interested in an EV remains to be seen. We certainly wouldn’t blame GM for trying the idea out, though. Somehow enthusiasm for big vehicles and environmental awareness both seem to be at an all-time high right now. What better vehicle is there for this somewhat backward age than an electric Hummer?