MILFORD, Michigan — The GMC Hummer EV truck is big, bad and surprisingly balletic.
The Detroit News got a rare opportunity behind the wheel of the mega-out at General Motors’ 4,000-acre Milford Proving Grounds, where it showed off its bag of tricks. Reborn as an electric vehicle 30 years after it invaded American roads as a military-Humvee-turned-SUV, the upcoming GMC Hummer aims to be the general’s halo for a new generation of electron-powered cars.
A halo performance pickup? It’s true. The Hummer EV truck, which is expected to hit dealers by the end of the year, is manufactured at the automaker’s Factory Zero at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center. Overall, GM is investing $35 billion through 2025 in electric and autonomous technologies, and plans to have 30 electric cars globally by that time frame.
Brands have used supercars to showcase their best technology, but battery size (the Hummer reportedly weighs more than 9,000 pounds) can hamper sports cars compared to their lighter gas counterparts. Enter the electric super truck, which doesn’t sweat the extra weight – and even takes advantage of the battery pack’s placement between the chassis frame rails to lower the center of gravity for better handling. Armed with three electric motors, 1,000 horsepower and state-of-the-art electronics, the 2022 First Edition model should come with a cape.
I mashed the gas pedal and the Hummer EV’s jaw went up. Then it devoured a dirt and gravel road, distributing the torque evenly between its four 35-inch all-terrain tires. Then this elephant in tennis shoes showed off some circus tricks.
I spun the beast in a 37-foot circle — the equivalent of a much smaller Chevy Equinox — then threw it through a tight slalom like a sedan.
Credit four-wheel steering that can angle the rear wheels up to 10 degrees. It’s reminiscent of the Ford Bronco’s Trial Turn Assist, which brakes the inside front wheel to achieve similar results. Turn off the Traction Control and the Hummer will make dirt donuts. Maneuverability is aided by the Hummer’s independent rear suspension—a first (the Ford F-150 Lightning EV has it, too) among full-size trucks that prefer solid rear axles to maximize towing but sacrifice handling. Hummer’s priorities lie elsewhere.
If the original military Humvee was armored for combat, the Hummer EV is built for the Outback.
Its extreme suspension travel allows the Elephant to hike its skirt 16 inches off the ground (up from a normal 10.5), as well as provide a ridiculous 50-inch approach angle to handle tough terrain. In off-road mode, I used 18 camera views – two of them under the truck’s belly – to pick through a rock pile. From the 13.4-inch console screen, I monitored the camera views above, below and beside the Hummer.
Inevitable slides from rocks were cushioned by the truck’s sturdy frame rails and full underbody protection. Such capability is familiar to other off-road trucks — the Hummer smoothes out the experience with instant electric torque at my right foot.
The pickups’ signature “CrabWalk” mode can be activated via the console’s rotary knob. The system steers the front and rear wheels at parallel angles, allowing me to escape sideways – crab-like – from tight spots.
Some of Hummer’s EV compatriots – think Rivian R1T pickup – put a motor at each wheel to do derring-do like tank turns. Hummer’s engineering team chose the more conventional route of e-motors mounted amidships.
“We did it for efficiency,” said chief engineer Al Oppenheiser, who knows something about power, after developing the Chevy Camaro. “It’s easier to move torque between the engines and it’s cheaper.”
Maximize the torque of all three engines in the first edition and you get GM’s “Watts to Freedom” acceleration to 60 mph in just three seconds. That’s on par with my electric Tesla Model 3 Performance, which weighs half the Hummer.
The Tesla also has, ahem, less than half the GMC’s 1,200 pound-feet of torque and 1,000 horsepower.
Prepare watts for freedom with two presses of the Traction Control button. The beast crouches on all fours. The driver’s seat begins to vibrate (“Like a roller coaster,” grins Oppenheiser). The vibration gets stronger. Flatten the accelerator on GM’s asphalt oval test track, and the truck explodes forward – 100 km/h whizzing by in a blur.
Hummer’s rate of development was almost as fast.
Clean vehicle typically takes four years to develop. The Hummer EV took just over two and was developed in 117 weeks. Credit modern simulators and computer-aided design systems – including a state-of-the-art Driver in the Loop simulator in Milford’s Building 144.
“We couldn’t have done it without these tools,” said lead development engineer Aaron Pfau. “It gets us 95% to where we need to be before a model hits the road.”
That speed to market — the $112,595 First Edition should ship before the end of the year ( standard models $80,000 in the first quarter of 2022 ) — is guaranteed even with the semiconductor crisis plaguing industrial production.
“Our volume is protected,” Oppenheiser said. “For shavings, seat foam, steel … everything affected by the pandemic.”
Little seems to affect the Hummer on the road – the air suspension smooths out the frame even at highway speeds. Like its predecessor, it is intimidating – its broad shoulders and tall stance echoed by celebrity spokesperson LeBron James. Get out of the way when Hummer wants to dunk.
Unlike its spartan predecessor, the Hummer EV’s interior is a fancy game room. The materials are first-class, the seats comfortable, the ergonomics well thought out. It is covered by two huge screens: instrument (12.3 inches) and infotainment (13.4 inches). Both are powered by Epic Games’ 3D Unreal Engine rendering software — the same Epic Games behind PlayStation graphics and PC gaming hits like “Fortnite.”
My time in the pickup was short and performance focused. I could have stayed longer and explored its interior options, large rear seat, six-way Multi-Pro tailgate. And then I could have removed the ceiling panels and spent the night stargazing.
The panels can be stored in the hood (front trunk), where the gasoline engine used to be. This is not your father’s Hummer.
Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpaynedetroitnews.com or Twitter HenryEPayne.