Make us your home page
Instagram

Hummer catered to humans' primitive instincts

As the sun sets on our fascination with sport utility vehicles, it seems a good time to look back at how it all got started — with a promotional campaign so cynical it could have been cooked up by a tobacco company.

One of the SUV's masterminds was a French-born marketing guru named Clotaire Rapaille, who had a contemptuous view of consumers, especially Americans, Keith Bradsher wrote in High and Mighty, his 2002 book about the SUV phenomenon.

The buying public is guided by its most primitive urges, which Clotaire called "reptile brains.'' It didn't matter that life in the 1990s was safer than ever, Clotaire said. Americans had become obsessed with crime and danger. They didn't care about performance or gas mileage, he told auto executives. They wanted scary-looking SUVs, the bigger the better, with elevated cockpits and fang-like chrome grills.

The executives not only listened; they pushed these vehicles even after their own marketing research showed they catered to and encouraged customers' worst impulses.

"Who has been buying SUVs since auto makers turned them into family vehicles? … Above all, they tend to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities,'' wrote Bradsher, the former chief of the New York Times Detroit bureau.

The ultimate "reptile-brain" vehicle, the Hummer, officially became a dinosaur two weeks ago, when General Motors said it would eliminate or sell the brand. The announcement probably would have been a bigger deal had Hummer sales not been in decline for years.

They are definitely scarcer than they once were, as I realized when I went looking for one Tuesday in the vast parking lots near Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50 in Spring Hill.

Having just read up on Rapaille, I half expected Hummer drivers to have scales and forked tongues. But Earl Bishop, 31, wasn't like that at all. The owner of a pump service company in Brooksville, he was personable and gracious enough to let me sit down with his family at Chick-fil-A.

His main reason for buying a Hummer — the safety of his wife and two children — was perfectly understandable. Beyond that, it was clear he and I had much different ideas about personal vehicles.

I was taught that cars are for transportation, not show, a philosophy I carry to such an extreme that my drab, efficient, unwashed cars are an embarrassment to my wife and children. I'd hate to hear what market researchers say about buyers like me.

Bishop bought his Hummer H2 pickup in 2006, partly "because you don't see them every day." It cost $62,000, and he put another $15,000 into custom wheels, a stereo, a roof-mounted satellite system for the truck's four television sets and modifications to improve its gas mileage from 9 to 12 miles to the gallon.

He and I also, apparently, rely on different sources of information. He didn't worry much about fuel economy, he said, because gasoline only accounts for 15 percent of our crude oil consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it's more like 46 percent.

He didn't like hearing about the demise of the Hummer brand because "I was hoping to get a new one,'' he said. "I'm kind of mad.''

That's yet another way we're different. I'm thrilled.

Hummer catered to humans' primitive instincts 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 8:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board

    Retail

    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  2. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares nearly 25 percent

    Business

    CLEARWATER — Just then you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  3. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower

    Corporate

    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]
  4. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer makes even the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  5. Tampa-based start-up takes on Airbnb by promoting inclusion, diversity

    Tourism

    NEW TAMPA — Last May, Rohan Gilkes attempted to book a property in Idaho on the home-sharing platform Airbnb. After two failed attempts, the African-American entrepreneur asked a white friend to try, and she was "instantly" approved for the same property and dates.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. Rohan Gilkes, the founder, said he created the organization after several negative experiences with Airbnb.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]