CHICAGO — Mark Price's candy red Hummer H1 has a 6.5-liter turbo diesel engine, 40-inch tires, short-wave radio and a front-mounted winch that could tow an ordinary SUV out of a ravine — so, yeah, you could say he's prepared for just about anything. • Except for the demise of the Hummer brand.
"Out of the box, off the showroom floor, you cannot touch this truck," Price said above the vehicle's idling growl. "You won't find any other vehicle like this. The hood is fiberglass. The body is all aircraft aluminum, held together with rivets and glue. . . . It can outperform anything."
Few vehicles in American history are as fiercely derided and defended as the Hummer, the alpha male's uber-car that gained popularity in the early 1990s in the upsurge of patriotism surrounding Desert Storm. The Hummer was big and boxy and safe, and — albeit a notorious gas guzzler — it set a new standard for American engineering and off-road capabilities.
But earlier this decade, in an era of soaring gas prices and increased environmental awareness, the Hummer's popularity waned and it came to symbolize the excess and me-first indulgence many despised.
Now that General Motors' efforts to sell the iconic Hummer brand have failed, and a new buyer has yet to surface, Hummer owners who've long endured scorn and evil stares from passing motorists fear their days are numbered.
"We're an easy target. It's easy to bash the guy who drives a Hummer," said Price, who 10 years ago founded a regional Hummer club that has more than 100 members across the Chicago area and northern Indiana. "Part of that is that these vehicles stand out. We're not sneaking up on anybody."
The original Humvees that hit the market in 1992 were so similar to the vehicles protecting American troops in the Middle East that they seemed out of place on U.S. roads.
Over the last decade the Hummer evolved and slimmed down. The H2 and H3 models, while still dwarfing most trucks and SUVs, maintained the military bloodlines but became popular among suburban soccer moms and hockey dads who did little in them but run errands. Tricked-out models became coveted by celebrities.
Hummer's marketing push evolved the same way, pushing aside the vehicle's off-road prowess in favor of its safety and comfort, said Nick Richards, a company spokesman.
The backlash hit while GM was in financial turmoil, Richards said. Sales plummeted; the Hummer line, which sold more than 80,000 vehicles globally in 2006, sold fewer than 15,000 in 2009.