Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hummer drowned in the mainstream

I'll start this off with the admission that I have never been a fan of the Hummer and not for environmental reasons. I have always felt it was a brand for posers, beginning with Hummer's first big champion, the Governator.

Hummer is a great example of how ideas and products on the fringe become mainstream – think tattoos, botox, and visiting Machu Picchu. Exotic, outsider, dangerous and rare, there's a cool factor to fringe products that gets lost as they become adopted by the mainstream. When every coed has a tramp stamp, how bad can that biker with the Harley tattoo really be? It's a phenomenon that Ryan Mathews & Watts Wacker detail in their book, The Deviant's Advantage.

Hummer started as a crazy idea by some high testosterone guys for whom regular SUVs weren't macho enough. Only barreling through town in a street-legalized military vehicle would properly reflect their manliness. It sold very well at a high margin until GM in their effort to expand the brand's appeal produced the H3 and soccer moms started driving them to the salon, effectively neutering the brand.

That's what killed Hummer.

The environmental concerns and $3 per gallon gasoline only hastened its demise.


  1. Harvey,
    This is a well worn path in the automotive business. The effort to expand a defined brand or business results in it losing its leverage. Virtually every luxury marque's quest for volume has resulted in it's brand becoming diminished. "Where have all the great automotive brands gone?":

    Cameron McNaughton
    McNaughton Automotive Perspectives

  2. Thanks Cameron. It never ceases to amaze me how little discipline (or how much hubris) seemingly smart people have. Your post definitely demonstrates this.

  3. Harvey: I admit lament for Hummer. First, look here:
    I know most of my colleagues panned the H3 as a turd, but it really was spectacular as a science car last Spring. Small attributes that make no sense in the suburbs stood out, like a vertical windshield and tiny side windows that survived severe hailstorms for example. Hummer acknowledges it was a mistake to market this look as a "traffic intimidation tool" to soccer moms instead of promoting stuff like the ambulances it built for the Red Cross. Sad to see potential flushed away once again.

  4. Phil:

    That's the frustrating part about a company like GM. It's all about scale for them. They don't know how to enjoy the success of a profitable niche. That's why they couldn't find success for Saab, Hummer, or even Saturn and Pontiac. They try to stretch all their brands so far that they have no authenticity, no relevance, nor any breathing space. They're all stacked on top of one another. They didn't need this discipline in the '50s and '60s when there was so little competition, but they desperately need it now.