HUMMER - From the US Army to China

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There's no secret HUMMER is one of the most appreciated brands around the world, especially in the United States where the company has sold most of its cars. But behind the HUMMER nameplate there is a long and impressive history, with many dead ends and lots of crucial moments when some people seeing the brand dead already. But let's take them chronologically.

In case you're interested in the history of the United States, you probably know that the US Army has always been supported by local automakers who every once in a while launched new vehicles supposed to carry troops and help them in the fierce battles they are involved in. Well, Hummer was one of the brands which permanently collaborated with the army, straight from the very beginning.

If you want to talk about the first days of HUMMER, you'd better refer to the company as to HMMWV or "Humvee" as it was known at that time. A fairly anonymous truck and former city bus manufacturer called AM General was responsible for the production of what was known as "HIgh Mobility Wheeled Vehicles". In short terms, these cars were especially aimed at military purposes and helped American soldiers during violent encounters. One of the best known conflicts in which the Mutt - Military Utility Tactical Truck - participated in is the Vietnam war.

In its early days, HUMMER evolved mostly thanks to the United States government and the Pentagon which demanded more advanced vehicles to address their needs. Basically, the US Army was looking for a more versatile car to carry troops and other payloads but to also serve as weapons platform to help soldiers during military conflicts. That's why the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command decided to sign a contract for no less than 55,000 HMMWVs, with production handed over to the company called Overland Runabout.

Time passed by and after only two years (in between 1912 and 1918), the manufacturer became one of the top automakers in the United States, with Ford the single company that managed to beat its figures.

But Hummer figures aren't only about successes and huge achievements, but also about crucial moments when Hummer struggled to remain afloat. Such a moment came in 1929, when The Great Depression devastated most industry sectors, including the auto market. The economic downturn collapsed Willys-Overland's revenues - New York auto dealer John North Willys got involved in the company during the '10s - and not even the US Army managed to get it back to a steady level.

Things got better in 1940 when, under the pressure of World War II, the United States Army signed a contract for a quarter-ton, four-wheel-drive so-called General Purpose vehicle. This helped Willys-Overland get back in business, with production figures at the end of the war pointing to 350,000 cars rolled out

Several industrial changes occurred in the next years, with Henry J. Kaiser buying Willys-Overland and later incorporated it into the American Motors Corporation. Furthermore, the General Products Division of the Jeep Corporation was then renamed to AM General which became responsible for the production of military trucks and other kind of utility vehicles.

Although it might look like Hummer has always been a company intended for military purposes, the first sign that it could easily turn into a mass-produced brand rolling out cars for global consumers saw daylight in early '90s when Arnold Schwarzenegger saw a Humvee while filming Kindergarten Cop. The current California governor contacted AM General and asked for a civilian version of the car.

Still unsure about rolling out such a project, the company's CEO Jim Armour decided to take the first step into the matter and approved a limited series HUMMER available to consumers by mail order. The first signs of a bright future already appeared: about 1,000 vehicles were sold in a single year.

As we're sure you know, General Motors had its very own influence over the future of HUMMER. The large American manufacturer got involved in January 1999 when a group of GM representatives travelled to Indiana to meet Jim Armour and discuss the possibility of developing a so-called "son of HUMMER" that represented a street version of the popular and powerful military vehicles. The agreement was fairly simple: AM General was building the car while General Motors was responsible for establishing a HUMMER dealership network and distributing cars to buyers.

The fruits of the deal were launched in the next few years, with the first model, codenamed "Project Maria" - especially honoring Arnold Schwarzenegger whose wife was named Maria Schriver - officially displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2000. HUMMER H3 is the first model completely designed by General Motors, which received the rights to design and build other vehicles based on AM General's projects.

Unfortunately for HUMMER, together with parent company General Motors, the brand followed a descending trend ever since the fourth quarter of 2008, with sales going down on most markets. Furthermore, General Motors, who was forced to file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11, placed HUMMER on the "black list" among other brands it owned but were expected to be sold to other investors.

After months of rumors and negotiations with several interested parties, General Motors finally chose the new HUMMER owner: Sichuan Tengzhong. Although the Chinese manufacturer is still unsure about HUMMER's future - official papers are probably including many more details than today's ambiguous media reports - there are some people claiming that Tengzhong intends to keep the manufacturer in the United States but sell cars worldwide. Furthermore, some officials close to the matter revealed that a greener HUMMER is also on the table but, once again, more details are yet to be released.

While we're not sure electrification is the right future for such a brand, HUMMER underwent several critical moment and, as far as we're concerned, many more are to come. So let's just cross our fingers and hope the Chinese guys know what they're doing...
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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