Hummer sets tone for how GM will develop, scale EVs

Industry

The GMC Hummer EV, unveiled last week to fanfare and memories of the original gas guzzlers with the same badge, is more than an expensive showpiece. It’s a crucial element of General Motors’ plan to scale electric vehicle production.

The pickup is “going to lead to all the learnings from a battery standpoint, from a volume standpoint, from a build standpoint,” GM President Mark Reuss told investors last week. “All of those lessons as we roll out this truck will be taken into every one of the old GM platforms.”

Hummer also sets the tone for bringing EVs to fruition quickly. GM has said it will launch 20 EVs by 2023. It unveiled the Hummer pickup just 18 months after development work began, and that timetable will become the standard for GM vehicles, Hummer chief engineer Al Oppenheiser said.

“Our leadership has challenged us to bring the Hummer EV to market fast, using our analytical tools, our computer-aided engineering and less physical vehicle testing,” he said.

The top-line Hummer, called Edition 1, will have a range of more than 350 miles on a full charge, three electric motors that produce 1,000 hp and 11,500 pound-feet of torque and a feature called Watts to Freedom that offers 0-to-60-mph acceleration in three seconds. The vehicle embraces the bold, rugged design cues of the Hummers of the 2000s while redefining the name with sophisticated off-roading technology and luxury features.
“If you want a metaphor for old General Motors versus new General Motors, just look at the Hummer,” Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest dealership group in the U.S., said during a call with analysts. “It’s a grand slam for the company. It’s a grand slam for the brand. And customers will go nuts.”

GM plans to start building the off-road pickup late next year at the Detroit assembly plant it has renamed Factory Zero. Edition 1 will reach dealerships in fall 2021 with a price — nonnegotiable, with no dealer discounts or markups allowed, officials said — of $112,595, followed by three progressively less expensive configurations rolling out from fall 2022 through spring 2024.

Standard equipment on all trims includes GM’s Super Cruise driver-assist system, a six-function MultiPro Tailgate, underbody cameras, 35-inch tires and a removable Infinity Roof. Only the two top trims include the upgrades necessary to get the horsepower, torque and 0-to-60 stats GM has touted.

The Hummer is imperative to GM’s foray into electrification, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions. GM already builds the Chevrolet Bolt but at relatively low volumes. Chevy’s Camaro sports car, even after five consecutive years of U.S. sales declines, still outsold the Bolt by nearly 3-to-1 in 2019.

“The Hummer brand is to bring the cachet that Tesla or maybe one of the Europeans would bring,” Fiorani said. “Selling just an electric vehicle is not going to do it because there are plenty of electric vehicles out there, and nobody’s buying those. … It has to be something great that happens to be electric.”

With its six-figure price, the Hummer Edition 1 will be low volume. GM likely plans to build only a few hundred of them, Fiorani said. Reservations filled up within 10 minutes last week. When all four trims are available in 2024, he expects annual production of more than 20,000.

Even with low volume to start, the Hummer demonstrates GM’s knowledge of what it will take for EVs to sell in bigger numbers, Jackson said.

“It shows a spirit and an understanding of what you have to do for an electric vehicle to be a success. It’s not enough to just drop some batteries in there and put an electric motor in there,” Jackson said. “And they used a name which you literally had to pull the plug on some years ago to relaunch at the pinnacle of the technical capability that General Motors possesses today.”

GMC designed the Hummer to be a rugged supertruck with unique features such as CrabWalk mode, which allows for diagonal driving on challenging terrain; steel plates around the battery pack for protection in extreme off-roading; and UltraVision, which includes front and rear underbody cameras to help place wheels on and off a trail.

GM’s future electric pickups under the Chevy and GMC brands likely won’t have as many unique features and thus will cost less, though loaded versions could overlap with the $80,000 base Hummer, said Jeff Schuster, president of LMC Automotive’s Americas operation and global vehicle forecasting.

“I would think that a Sierra would be a little more mainstream from a price point. And they’re going to leave [Hummer] at the higher end of the spectrum,” he said. With the Hummer, GMC is “looking for a very specific buyer that wants a unique offering and wants a very premium vehicle.”

Light trucks will be a key focus of many automakers’ electrification plans over the next decade, said Zo Rahim, manager of economic and industry insights at Cox Automotive. Their executives “have realized the future is electric and look to light trucks as a bridge to get there. GM’s investment into an electric Hummer is testament that American muscle and power doesn’t have to mean a large engine.”

Battery-electric vehicles require a different structure from a gasoline-powered, body-on-frame pickup. Lessons GM learns with the Hummer will shape its strategies for developing, assembling and scaling other electric pickups, Reuss said.

“It’s time to learn, get scale,” he said, “and go at it.”

Melissa Burden contributed to this report.

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