It was the end of an era this week when GM announced it would no longer be manufacturing the Hummer. Arguably the most iconic, symbolic, and divisive vehicle in recent auto history, GM had been trying to sell the brand to a Chinese company to save the suburban tank. As the dwindling demand for the Hummer led to its oblivion, what will happen to the SUV, another grand vehicle that has been the target of similar scorn?
You remember the Hummer, right? It was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the first people to roll around in a street-legal model of the military vehicle. By the time the Governator had converted his gas-guzzler to run on vegetable oil, Hummer was becoming an increasingly-unpopular vehicle in an age when gas prices were rising and the economic climate was going south. As recently as last year, Schwarzenegger was supporting upcoming green models of the vehicle, but it simply wasn’t to be in an auto industry in free fall. Considering their mainstream cousin, the SUV, has been a controversial vehicle with dwindling sales, where is the industry going when it comes to the other road-ready behemoths?
Sports Utility Vehicles have been targeted by watchdogs over everything from gas consumption to security and rollover threats. Nevertheless, the SUVs were some of the most popular models on the road over the past two decades. Arguably this generation’s most enduring symbol of Americana, eco-vigilantes were targeting parked SUVs just a few years ago. But will there be any SUVs left to vandalize?
A few years ago, SUV sales, which had been surging for almost two decades, saw the first signs of decline as SUV models were overtaken by other models. After peaking at 3 million units sold in 2000, that number dropped to 2 million by 2006. By 2008, when automakers were seeing double-digit percentage drops in sales, SUVs in particular were hurting. By the end of that year, GM had closed two SUV plants after seeing multi-billion-dollar losses. As hybrid SUV models were introduced to salvage the vehicle’s popularity, both hybrids and SUVs saw double-digit percentage sales drops. As sales drops led to entire SUV models being discontinued, some people started speculating about the death of the SUV.
But following a sudden, if moderate, surge in sales in the past year, auto manufacturers are still looking to save the SUV by adjusting it to the public’s contemporary auto demands. Companies continue to roll out hybrid models of their most-popular SUVs as well as introduce upcoming compact models. But with the auto industry still in a tough place, it could be interesting to see how the industry’s rehabilitation could lie at least partially with the kinder, gentler, smarter SUV. And will anyone really miss the Hummer?