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. Port Tampa Bay makes public/private commitment for $60 million expansion project

    Business

    TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay approved a public-private partnership agreement with four other entities to divvy up who will pay for a $60 million widening and extension of the Big Bend Channel.

    Port Tampa Bay approved a participation agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Transportation, Tampa Electric Company and Mosaic Company at the port's monthly board meeting on  Tuesday. Port Tampa Bay President & CEO Paul Anderson signs the agreement as Ram Kancharla; Port Tampa Bay's vice president of planning & development, Brandon Burch; project manager at United States Army Corps of Engineers, Lois Moore; of Alcalde and Fay and Charles Klug; Port Tampa Bay principal counsel, and Tim Murphy; deputy district engineer of the Army Corps., looks on. [Company handout]
  2. One of St. Petersburg's newest condo projects is sold out

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Reflecting the continued demand for condos in downtown St. Petersburg, The Salvador, completed earlier this year at 199 Dali Blvd., has sold out. Records show that a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit sold Friday for $620,000 in an all-cash deal. Two other units — a 3-bedroom, 2-bath penthouse and a …

     Reflecting the continued demand for condos in downtown St. Petersburg, The Salvador, completed earlier this year at 199 Dali Blvd., has sold out. 
[Rendering courtesy of aalliiggnn LLC]
  3. Reload your SunPass account. Roadway tolls return Thursday.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida residents will no longer get a free pass traversing most stretches of the Florida Turnpike or certain local expressways across the state.

    With a push by the Florida Turpike to encourage more drivers traveling the Veterans and Suncoast Parkway to buy a Sunpass, motorists will begin to see more lanes converted to handle Sunpass. [Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Tampa Heights project gets $21.5 million in funding

    Real Estate

    TAMPA --- The Tampa-based Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa. Proceeds from the bond issue are expected to used for new roads, sidewalks, the Tampa …

    Tampa's Heights Community Development District got a financial boost from a $21.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to fund the waterfront community being built along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown Tampa.
[Courtesy of Aerial Innovations, Inc.]
  5. Grocery chain Aldi hiring for 500 positions across Florida

    Retail

    Aldi, the German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across Florida, including at its locations in Tampa Bay. The company will hold a "one-day hiring spree" Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at all Aldi stores in the state, a Tuesday release said.

    Aldi, a German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across the state. | [Times file photo]