GMC is arguably the General’s most powerful brand soldier — its gorgeous, chromed, gas-powered pickups boasting average transaction prices north of $50k — higher than Euro lux brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Red-hot Sierra pickups are being gobbled up after only three days on dealer lots.
“What GM learned from the Bolt is that maybe introducing your best technology in a Chevy doesn’t work,” said IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. “Put it into a halo, $110,000 GMC Hummer and they can really demonstrate what their technology can do.”
Tesla Inc.’s Model S sedan wowed the world last decade with scorching performance, Ludicrous-mode acceleration, and Silicon Valley screen tech. The halo worked and Tesla a decade later is selling smaller, more affordable Model 3 and Model Y compacts by the boatload.
During that period, GM’s car business floundered. Already reeling from the late-20th-century Japanese invasion that had rendered its Malibu and Impalas sedans back-benchers, GM’s introduction of the battery-powered Volt and Bolt compacts didn’t gain traction any more than their petrol-powered Spark and Sonic models had. In the last couple of years, GM has been getting out of the car business entirely.
But its truck and SUV brands have flourished. Hummer’s purpose as GM’s first vehicle on its skateboard, Ultium battery platform is to jump-start volume EV sales. Jut as Model S did for Tesla.
“Ultium is the heartbeat of our electric future. It will get rolled out across all the brands,” Aldred said. “We have plans for a GMC EV electric truck, and more plans beyond as we progress with our EV future.”
Like Bolt before it, GMC Hummer will enter the SUV segment against other electric startups like the Rivian R1S and Bollinger B1.
“I think it’s really interesting. The whole EV space reminds you of back when the auto industry emerged in early 20th century and there were 1,000 brands,” smiled Aldred. “You get that same feeling now with a lot of new startups.”
Yet he believes GMC’s brand power will make it a more formidable adversary: “Hummer comes with a huge amount of equity — the fact that it’s all-electric and zero emissions puts it on a completely different plane than it was on previously.
“We have an amazing brand in GMC, an amazing vehicle in Hummer EV, and a fabulous dealer network which I believe is real advantage. Competition makes everyone better, but I’m really confident about the success of Hummer EV.”
The Hummer will match its competition with digital screens (its screen tech was developed by Perception, a veteran of Marvel Studios’ movies) that Tesla pioneered and which is now required for entry in the upscale EV segment. But true to a GMC reputation born of snarling, Denali V8s and tree-chewing AT4 four-wheelers, Aldred said it’s Hummer EV’s performance that sets it apart.
Weighing down with 200 kWh of battery across a 126-inch wheelbase, the 830 horsepower monster still manages 0-60-mph sprints in 3.5 seconds with “Watts To Freedom” launch control mode (think Ludicrous mode).
“What the Hummer EV has got is unbelievable capability. You see the vehicle has the physicality — that alone is quite astonishing,” said Aldred. “Watts to Freedom mode (prepares) the power surge you need to take it 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds. The seats vibrate. The chassis lowers, you get a graphic experience on screens in front of you. . . it creates an amusement park-like experience.”
The Hummer strategy is a clever remake of a sub-brand scorned by cultural elites during the Gulf Wars for its oil-rich lifestyle. GM thinks an electric Hummer resurrection is perfectly placed as a halo that will make customers rethink the capabilities of EVs — just like the Model S sold smaller Teslas.
“Tesla proved you could create emotion for a battery-powered vehicle,” said Brinley.
She says that Detroit automakers are shrewd to draw on their own badges to conjure similar emotion with sub-brands like Hummer and Mustang (the Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s first all-electric vehicle).
“The strategy is working because it embraces historic, emotional brands — then infuses them with modern tech to make them better,” Brinley said. “By pushing the capability of a Hummer, for example, GM gets the opportunity to demonstrate in the truck and SUV space that they have conquered the technology.”
GMC’s Aldred shrugs off questions about electric charging infrastructure. The Hummer EV will be bought by owners who have multiple vehicles. While Tesla and Rivian are developing charging networks for their customers, GM is betting that if the Hummer (and other halos like the Cadillac Lyriq) spark an EV revolution, then the infrastructure from independent networks like EVGo and Electrify America will flow as gas stations followed Ford’s Model T.
“GM’s vision (of zero emissions) is very real,” Aldred said of GM plans to sell only EVs by 2035. “To get that momentum is going to require a lot of things, and recharging infrastructure is clearly one of them.”
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
This photo provided by General Motors Co. shows the interior of the 2022 GMC Hummer EV. (Courtesy of General Motors Co. via AP)