Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

General Motors has decided to bring back the Hummer – this time as an all-electric vehicle.

Eric Seals/Reuters

When it was launched in 1992, the Hummer quickly became associated with the brute masculinity of Arnold Schwarzenegger, then an ex-bodybuilder turned cigar-smoking action film star who had pushed for a civilian version of the Humvee military vehicle.

Arnold wanna-bes incapable of matching the former Mr. Olympia’s still-impressive musculature could compensate for their physical shortcomings by forking out the $US40,000 list price before extras (about US$75,000 in today’s dollars) for an eye-catching heap of steel and rubber that got about 10 miles to the gallon, consuming 23 litres of gasoline for every 100 kilometres.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, of course, later went on to become governor of California and help pass North America’s most far-reaching laws to combat climate change and impose tough fuel-efficiency standards on automakers. But he didn’t stop driving his environmentally unfriendly Hummers, even when almost everyone else on the planet did.

Story continues below advertisement

Now, for reasons only Sigmund Freud might understand, General Motors has decided to bring back the Hummer – this time as an all-electric vehicle. The Detroit-based automaker, which bought the Hummer brand in 1999, apparently believes there is a still a market for a mega-mega-SUV even as it aims to make its global operations carbon neutral by 2040.

A new television ad campaign for the Hummer EV, narrated by LeBron James, was kicked off in the United States on the weekend, during the March Madness college basketball tournament. For GM, the ad suggests, managing its transition from making only internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to mostly making electric ones is a question of survival. “To achieve greatness once is not the end of the journey. It is only the beginning,” Mr. James says, in the TV spot.

GM will likely never again reach its 20th-century greatness. And the Hummer EV launch illustrates the conflicting messages the company sends to markets as it tries to respond to current consumer preferences while anticipating future ones. The Hummer EV launch itself appears to be more of a publicity stunt aimed at persuading skeptics that EVs are not just for hippies and yuppies. GM also just announced plans to offer an electric version of the GMC Silverado pickup truck after the Hummer EV.

The first Hummer EVs, priced at about US$110,000, will not roll off the assembly line until late 2022 or early 2023. By then, an industrywide transition to EVs may reach a tipping point as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration rolls out its proposed US$2.3-trillion infrastructure program aimed at turning the U.S. into a green-energy powerhouse.

The Biden plan unveiled last week includes spending US$174-billion over 10 years to increase incentives for EV buyers, install 500,000 charging stations and speed up research and investments in U.S. battery and EV manufacturing facilities. Mr. Biden seeks to reclaim U.S. leadership in EV and battery development from China, where EV penetration is much higher.

But the transition to EVs also carries big risks for a North American auto sector that still revolves almost entirely around ICE-vehicle parts and assembly plants. GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler still depend overwhelmingly on sales of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks to turn a profit. And although U.S.-based Tesla has a stock-market capitalization bigger than the Ontario economy, it remains a niche player selling only a tiny fraction of the number of cars built in North America.

In a report last month, Moody’s Investors Service said “it will be tough for [established] car makers to get even close” to the 10-per-cent to 12-per-cent operating margins some of them now generate on ICE vehicles as they transition to mainly EV offerings.

Story continues below advertisement

“Once [EVs] become a substantial part of their portfolios, automakers will need to address diminishing use of their substantial assets for building ICE vehicles,” Moody’s said. “This could result in asset write-downs and costs for decommissioning, upgrading or reconfiguring plants. Finally, the industry will have to contend with worker reductions and separation costs, because [EVs] require less labour than ICE and hybrid cars.”

While the transition to a net-zero carbon economy will ultimately lead to the creation of new green jobs, it will not come without causing dislocation for others who currently work in ICE-vehicle parts and assembly plants. Nor is there any guarantee that established North American automakers that cut their teeth building Impalas, Mustangs and Chargers can survive the switch to an EV business model amid competition from nimbler foreign rivals.

For now, the EV transition is still mostly in first gear. Established automakers talk up their EV plans but live off their ICE profits. By 2023, after GM delivers the first Hummer EVs, it may be a very different story.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies