Timeline: The Rise, Fall, and Return of the Hummer
The Hummer brand has a relatively short history, but its trucks are some of America’s biggest automotive icons (both figuratively and literally). Originally designed for the military, Hummers are famous for their size, off-road capability, and of course, fuel consumption.
The latter proved to be the Hummer’s Achilles’ heel. By 2007, a recession was coming, and the appetite for oversized gas guzzlers had shrunk. The Hummer brand was discontinued, and its last truck rolled off the production line in 2010.
Over a decade later, GM is reviving the Hummer as a fully-electric off-road vehicle. Preorders have surpassed 65,000 units, but how does this compare to the brand’s heyday in the 2000s?
The Hummer traces its roots to 1983, when AM General, a heavy vehicle manufacturer, received $1 billion from the Pentagon to build the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee).
The Humvee became a staple of the U.S. military, and by 1991, 72,000 had been produced. The truck was especially useful in Middle Eastern conflict zones due to its ability to transport troops and cargo over rough terrain.
If you’re wondering how this military vehicle ended up on public roads, you can thank none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While filming the 1990 action-comedy, Kindergarten Cop, Arnold reportedly fell in love with a Humvee used on set. He later persuaded AM General to produce a consumer version of the truck, which arrived in 1992 under the name “Hummer”.
Apart from adding creature comforts like air conditioning, AM General made very few changes to the consumer-spec Hummer. It was notoriously crude and unsuited for city driving, but its military roots gave it plenty of character. GM saw an opportunity in expanding the brand, so in 1999, it purchased the rights to produce and market the Hummer.
Rise and Fall
GM moved rather quickly after purchasing Hummer. It renamed the truck to “H1”, and released an “H2” just a few years later.
Sales in the U.S. jumped, hitting over 35,000 in 2003 before tapering off slightly. To keep momentum going, GM rolled out the smaller and cheaper “H3” in 2005. Sales once again spiked, and the brand recorded over 71,000 sales in 2006.
Unfortunately, what goes up eventually comes down. In 2009, during GM’s bankruptcy proceedings, the Hummer brand was discontinued along with Pontiac and Saturn.
|Year||Annual U.S. Hummer Sales|
So what went wrong? For starters, the H2 was a victim of the times. It was large, expensive, and extremely thirsty for gas—attributes that don’t fare well during an economic recession.
In fact, the H2 never received an official fuel economy rating from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it was too heavy. Regulations at the time excluded vehicles over 8,500 lbs from testing, though journalists observed an average of less than 10 mpg.
The H3 mitigated some of these issues by downsizing, and it quickly become the brand’s best selling vehicle. This success was short-lived, as the H3 alone could not sustain the brand.
Jolted to Life
In 2020, GM announced the all-electric Hummer EV. It bears a strong resemblance to the H2, carrying over iconic design elements such as the front grill with vertical slats.
Compared to the H2, this electric model is longer, wider, and heavier. Estimates suggest that it will weigh over 9,000 lbs, which according to EPA estimates, is more than double the weight of the average car. This is primarily attributed to the truck’s vast quantity of battery packs.
Power is also increased thanks to the electric drivetrain, with the “Edition 1” model boasting 1,000 horsepower from its three electric motors (a similar configuration to Tesla’s Plaid platform). Lesser models, which only have two motors, are expected to generate north of 600 horsepower.
A Promising Restart
Will battery power be the key to the Hummer’s long-term success?
So far, GM appears to have played its cards right. New trucks are outselling new cars by a ratio of 3-to-1 in the U.S., and the release of the Hummer EV is well-timed to capitalize on this trend.
The Hummer EV also sheds one of its predecessors’ biggest weaknesses—fuel consumption. With gas prices at all-time highs, can we dare to call the new Hummer “economical”?
Either way, GM is certainly enjoying the economic benefits of its decision. Over 65,000 pre-orders have been received, and production of the Hummer EV is completely sold out until 2024. The truck is being built at Factory Zero in Michigan, which is GM’s first EV-dedicated production facility.
Visualized: Battery Vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Understand the science behind hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and how they differ from traditional EVs.
Battery Electric Vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Since the introduction of the Nissan Leaf (2010) and Tesla Model S (2012), battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) have become the primary focus of the automotive industry.
This structural shift is moving at an incredible rate—in China, 3 million BEVs were sold in 2021, up from 1 million the previous year. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the number of models available for sale is expected to double by 2024.
In order to meet global climate targets, however, the International Energy Agency claims that the auto industry will require 30 times more minerals per year. Many fear that this could put a strain on supply.
“The data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals.”
– Fatih Birol, IEA
Thankfully, BEVs are not the only solution for decarbonizing transportation. In this infographic, we explain how the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) works.
How Does Hydrogen Fuel Cell Work?
FCEVs are a type of electric vehicle that produces no emissions (aside from the environmental cost of production). The main difference is that BEVs contain a large battery to store electricity, while FCEVs create their own electricity by using a hydrogen fuel cell.
|Major BEV Components||Major FCEV Components|
|Onboard charger||Hydrogen fuel tank|
|Electric motor||Fuel cell stack|
Let’s go over the functions of the major FCEV components.
First is the lithium-ion battery, which stores electricity to power the electric motor. In an FCEV, the battery is smaller because it’s not the primary power source. For general context, the Model S Plaid contains 7,920 lithium-ion cells, while the Toyota Mirai FCEV contains 330.
Hydrogen Fuel Tank
FCEVs have a fuel tank that stores hydrogen in its gas form. Liquid hydrogen can’t be used because it requires cryogenic temperatures (−150°C or −238°F). Hydrogen gas, along with oxygen, are the two inputs for the hydrogen fuel cell.
Fuel Cell Stack and Motor
The fuel cell uses hydrogen gas to generate electricity. To explain the process in layman’s terms, hydrogen gas passes through the cell and is split into protons (H+) and electrons (e-).
Protons pass through the electrolyte, which is a liquid or gel material. Electrons are unable to pass through the electrolyte, so they take an external path instead. This creates an electrical current to power the motor.
At the end of the fuel cell’s process, the electrons and protons meet together and combine with oxygen. This causes a chemical reaction that produces water (H2O), which is then emitted out of the exhaust pipe.
Which Technology is Winning?
As you can see from the table below, most automakers have shifted their focus towards BEVs. Notably missing from the BEV group is Toyota, the world’s largest automaker.
Hydrogen fuel cells have drawn criticism from notable figures in the industry, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess.
Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero,… and should not end up in cars. Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport.
– Herbert Diess, CEO, Volkswagen Group
Toyota and Hyundai are on the opposing side, as both companies continue to invest in fuel cell development. The difference between them, however, is that Hyundai (and sister brand Kia) has still released several BEVs.
This is a surprising blunder for Toyota, which pioneered hybrid vehicles like the Prius. It’s reasonable to think that after this success, BEVs would be a natural next step. As Wired reports, Toyota placed all of its chips on hydrogen development, ignoring the fact that most of the industry was moving a different way. Realizing its mistake, and needing to buy time, the company has resorted to lobbying against the adoption of EVs.
Confronted with a losing hand, Toyota is doing what most large corporations do when they find themselves playing the wrong game—it’s fighting to change the game.
Toyota is expected to release its first BEV, the bZ4X crossover, for the 2023 model year—over a decade since Tesla launched the Model S.
Challenges to Fuel Cell Adoption
Several challenges are standing in the way of widespread FCEV adoption.
One is in-car performance, though the difference is minor. In terms of maximum range, the best FCEV (Toyota Mirai) was EPA-rated for 402 miles, while the best BEV (Lucid Air) received 505 miles.
Two greater issues are 1) hydrogen’s efficiency problem, and 2) a very limited number of refueling stations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are just 48 hydrogen stations across the entire country, with 47 located in California, and 1 located in Hawaii.
On the contrary, BEVs have 49,210 charging stations nationwide, and can also be charged at home. This number is sure to grow, as the Biden administration has allocated $5 billion for states to expand their charging networks.
Explainer: What Drives Gasoline Prices?
Gasoline prices across the U.S. have reached record-highs. Why? This graphic helps explain what factors influence the cost of gasoline.
What Drives Gasoline Prices?
Across the United States, the cost of gas has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as prices reach record-breaking highs.
The national average now sits at $5.00 per gallon, and by the end of summer, this figure could grow to $6 per gallon, according to estimates by JPMorgan.
But before we can have an understanding of what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors influence gasoline prices.
This graphic, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), outlines the main components that influence gasoline prices, providing each factor’s proportional impact on price.
The Four Main Factors
According to the EIA, there are four main factors that influence the price of gas:
- Crude oil prices (54%)
- Refining costs (14%)
- Taxes (16%)
- Distribution, and marketing costs (16%)
More than half the cost of filling your tank is influenced by the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, the rest of the price at the pump is split fairly equally between refining costs, marketing and distribution, and taxes.
Let’s look at each factor in more depth.
Crude Oil Prices
The most influential factor is the cost of crude oil, which is largely dictated by international supply and demand.
Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, the U.S. remains a net importer of crude oil, with the majority coming from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Because of America’s reliance on imports, U.S. gas prices are largely influenced by the global crude oil market.
A number of geopolitical factors can influence the crude oil market, but one of the biggest influences is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.
Established in 1960, OPEC was created to combat U.S. dominance of the global oil market. OPEC sets production targets for its 13 member countries, and historically, oil prices have been linked to changes in OPEC production. Today, OPEC countries are responsible for about 60% of internationally traded petroleum.
Oil needs to be refined into gasoline before it can be used by consumers, which is why refining costs are factored into the price of gas.
The exact cost of refining varies, depending on a number of factors such as the type of crude oil used, the processing technology available at the refinery, and the gasoline requirements in specific parts of the country.
In general, refining capacity in the U.S. has not been keeping up with oil demand. Several refineries shut down throughout the pandemic, but even before COVID-19, refining capacity in the U.S. was lagging behind demand. Incredibly, there haven’t been any brand-new refining facilities built in the country since 1977.
In the U.S., taxes also play a critical role in determining the price of gas.
Across America, the average gasoline tax is $0.57 per gallon, however, the exact amount fluctuates from state to state. Here’s a look at the top five states with the highest gas taxes:
|Rank||State||Gas tax (per gallon)|
*Note: figures include both state and federal tax
States with high gas taxes usually spend the extra money on improvements to their infrastructure or local transportation. For instance, Illinois doubled its gas taxes in 2019 as part of a $45 billion infrastructure plan.
California, the state with the highest tax on gas, is expecting to see a rate increase this July, which will drive gas prices up by around three cents per gallon.
Distribution and Marketing Costs
Lastly, the costs of distribution and marketing have an impact on the price of gas.
Gasoline is typically shipped from refineries to local terminals via pipelines. From there, the gasoline is processed further to ensure it meets market requirements or local government standards.
Gas stations then distribute the final product to the consumer. The cost of running a gas station varies—some gas stations are owned and operated by brand-name refineries like Chevron, while others are smaller-scale operations owned by independent merchants.
The big-name brands run a lot of advertisements. According to Morning Consult, Chevron, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell PLC aired TV advertisements in the U.S. more than 44,495 times between June 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021.
How Does the Russia-Ukraine Conflict Impact U.S. Gas Prices?
If only a fraction of America’s oil comes from Russia, why is the Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting prices in the U.S.?
Because oil is bought and sold on a global commodities market. So, when countries imposed sanctions on Russian oil, that put a squeeze on global supply, which ultimately drove up prices.
This supply shock could keep prices high for a while unless the U.S. falls into a recession, which is a growing possibility based on how recent data is trending.
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