The Hummer and Hybrid: A tale of two cars

Today, GM announced an end of an era, the permanent shuttering of Hummer.   The Hummer brand was born in another era, an era of cheap gasoline (about $1/gallon in 1992) and when Detroit didn’t take global warming seriously. That world is gone forever.

I have often referred to Hummers as “rolling environmental disasters”. So you might think that all environmentalists are celebrating the demise of these behemoths. But unfortunately, it’s more than just the environment that suffered because of GM’s misguided foray into the world premised on bigger is always better. According to the New York Times, 3,000 jobs in Shreveport, Louisiana and Mishiwaka, Indiana are at risk.  This is of course on top of the tens of thousands of jobs that have already disappeared as the wheels fell off of Detroit’s gas guzzler business model.

I’ve also often said “GM should have been building hybrids instead of Hummers”. The passing  of the Hummer serves to underscore the point that the future is hybrids. In 2009, Hummer sold about as many vehicles (9,046) as Toyota sold Priuses in January alone (8,484).  GM squandered hundreds of millions of dollars betting on low oil prices and the public’s demand for gas guzzlers would be insatiable. As a consequence, GM ceded any hope of being a leader in the race for clean cars. GM sold just 481 hybrids in January and just 0.16 percent of the total market for hybrids in 2009.  One has to wonder where GM workers would be now if the company got into the hybrid game earlier and went head to head with the Japanese with a worthy competitor to the Prius, Honda Civic and Ford Fusion hybrids.

Today, oil prices have temporarily receded, leading to a slight uptick in sales for SUVs and pickups, and with that, the inevitable questioning by some auto industry experts whether consumers really want fuel efficient cars.   Let’s hope for the sake of the environment, our economy and our energy security that GM doesn’t succumb to short -term temptations and revert back to its dead end strategy of selling gas guzzlers.

About the Authors

Roland Hwang

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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