I test drove the all-electric Hummer. Can it win over US EV skeptics? | Electric, hybrid and low-emission cars

It is the weight of an elephant, can move like a crab and was in an earlier life scolded by environmental activists. The Lobster, the avatar of gas-consuming machismo, has returned as an electric vehicle with an unlikely billing as an ally in its attempts to avert the exacerbated climate crisis.

The reincarnation of the huge pickup, test driven by the Guardian in Arizona’s scorching heat, has been hailed by manufacturer General Motors (GM) as proof that electric vehicles (EVs) can now reach even Central America’s most obscure supporters of supersized automotive culture.

GM hopes to break the notion that green cars must look like a Prius under a skinny Hummer wheel. “We want to turn EV skeptics into EV believers,” said Mikhael Farah, GM spokesman. This Hummer has even been approved as a blessing for the climate by the White House – in November, Joe Biden shouted around GM’s factory in Detroit in a Hummer EV. “This suck is something else!” exclaimed the President, a self-proclaimed “car guy.”

It’s an astonishing reformulation of a brand that was created from a spartan, military-class Humvee and became a kind of muscular invading force on roads in the early 2000s. Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he started issuing serious warnings about climate change, advocated it. Boxy and unrefined, Hummer embodied a strangely masculine aesthetic that seemed almost reveling in its gigantic fuel economy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his daughter Katherine drive a gas-guzzling Hummer in Los Angeles 2017. Photo: BG004 / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images

Even at a time when the size of cars has been used on steroids, concerns about the climate crisis made Hummer a prominent, cartoon villain. In 2003, dozens of Hummers were vandalized and set on fire by environmentalists in Los Angeles, with many of the vehicles spray-painted with the words “gross polluter” and “fat, lazy Americans.” In 2010, Hummer was dropped.

The electric resurrection of the Hummer, first announced in 2020, has produced a vehicle that does not emit the carbon pollution that overheats the planet or many of the other toxins that routinely kill thousands of Americans and millions around the world, inhaling polluted air.

But in many ways it still pushes the boundaries of absurdity. The vehicle weighs more than 4.5 tons, a bulk closer to that of a small bulldozer than the type of cars commonly seen on American streets a decade or so ago. The huge Ultium battery that powers the vehicle weighs almost 3,000 pounds, about the same as two wings. The wheels appear to be able to cross Mars.

The large display panel in Hummer’s thick interior really shows a picture of the car on Mars when you put it in off-road mode. Of course, most trips are on roads – almost half of the car journeys in American cities are three miles or less – which means that Hummer drivers will pilot a metal behemoth that weighs the same as a young blue whale when they come out to get some milk. “The Hummer is a niche statement of surplus,” according to Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

The author who drives the new Hummer EV.

The price of the first Hummer EV iteration – subsequent models will be cheaper – is 110,000 dollars. About 66,000 people have ordered a pickup or SUV version of the Hummer and while GM says most have never owned an electric car before, many also simply add it as a second or third vehicle, which somewhat denies the climate benefits. “It’s huge, it’s terribly expensive and it does not fit all lifestyles,” says Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research. “GM will not overproduce it because there is a limited base of people who want it.”

On its own terms, however, the Hummer EV is a skilled technology. Fully charged, the battery will power the vehicle 329 miles before a refill is needed. The lobster is smoothly powerful in rocky terrain, with the test drive demonstrating its ability to effortlessly cross steep, bumpy paths in the cactus-dotted desert west of Phoenix.

The task is supported by a variety of technologies – Hummer has 18 different camera angles from below and around the vehicle that you can see via the screen, as well as an innovation called “crabwalk”, where each of the tires is set at a 10-degree angle to enable a kind of sliding , diagonal movement to maneuver away from steep edges of tracks.

At the apartment, there is also a raw pace, with the immediate response from electric acceleration that throws the Hummer forward from a standstill to 100 km / h in three seconds, a speed that can make both passengers and drivers make a cry of surprise.

Inside, the Hummer EV is more comfortable than the original and has a design of the moon’s topography – a hint of GM’s role in creating a lunar chariot, which of course was electric – but it retains a certain butch aesthetic. This points to the broader significance of Hummer – a demonstration that electric vehicles can now provide the power, size and sensitivity that American buyers appreciate, even if they still have only a small portion of sales.

“What we wanted to do is get a truck buyer who would never buy an electric car in his life, or never even think about it,” says Brian Malczewski, chief exterior designer for the new Hummer. “We hope to finally get the truck buyers who may be the hardest to get into this space. This is the perfect channel for that, I think.”

GM is not alone in trying this. Ford has announced an electric version of its F-150 truck, which has been the best-selling vehicle in America since Ronald Reagan was president, Tesla has its much-hyped Cybertruck and newcomers like Rivian have received a lot of attention. At another end of the market, you will even be able to get an electric Maserati this year, even if the price, like many electric cars, is eye-catching.

Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, unveils the Cybertrucken 2019, another pitch for a similar market as the new Hummer as a target.
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, unveils the Cybertrucken 2019, another pitch for a similar market as the new Hummer as a target. Photo: Sipa US / Alamy

“I think electric powertrains for heavier work trucks, SUVs and pickups, like the Hummer, will be fantastic,” said Chris Gearhart, head of NREL’s Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences. “The torque profile of an electric motor will give these vehicles a lot of traction, and the potential to use some of the electric power in the batteries to directly power workplaces and provide backup power can make these vehicles incredibly useful.”

While EV alternatives are expanding, it is still unclear whether production levels and sales will increase in line with the urgency of the climate crisis. GM has promised to sell 1 million electric cars in 2025 before they become fully electric a decade later, but delivered only 26 electric cars to customers in the last quarter of last year. Toyota wants to sell 3.5 million electric cars annually by 2030 but currently has none for sale in the United States. Public charging infrastructure remains uneven across the United States and Biden’s efforts to fund 500,000 new chargers have not yet been completed by Congress.

Phasing out petrol cars by 2035, which the US must do if they are to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and help avoid climate catastrophes, is still a steep challenge, but several experts say replacing them with similar electric alternatives will be the fastest and most pragmatic, ways to reduce emissions from the image-dominated American life.

“Electric cars are by far the best and most economical way to reduce greenhouse gases in transport,” says Sperling. He added that better public transport, cycle paths and denser housing would also be beneficial, but these measures are “much less important for reducing greenhouse gases, for leasing in the US and other rich car-centric countries”.

Others argue for a more fundamental change that moves people out of cars altogether, rather than just replacing one type of large vehicle with another. Last month, Harvey Miller crossed the road in Columbus, Ohio, when he was hit by an SUV and left bruised. Miller said the “crushed” driver, who said she had not seen him, happily stopped the car before crushing him to death.

Miller went home from the Ohio State University campus where he ironically teaches classes on transportation safety and urban mobility. The incident highlighted for him the lingering problems with America’s fixation on wide highways, vast suburbs and huge vehicles, even though electric cars are becoming the norm.

SUVs are much more likely to kill pedestrians than cars, research has found, due to dead spots from the elevated seating position and bulky fronts that hit people high in the torso and head rather than lower in the body. Their ubiquitous presence in American life can also displace or intimidate those seeking other ways to get around.

“The lobster scares me – it’s massive and not compatible with city life,” Miller said, adding that SUVs can also be dangerous. “These large vehicles take up a lot of space and are expensive. I’m disappointed that Biden advocates them and not other forms of mobility, such as infrastructure for walking and cycling. Cars should fill niches for some people, not be standard.

“I’m not against electric cars – they are the future, but you have to support buses, walking and cycling as well, otherwise it’s like rearranging the sunbeds on the Titanic. People need alternatives. Unfortunately, car culture is so ingrained that even painting a bike path can get a huge shock.

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