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

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

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his daughter Katherine drive a gas-guzzling Hummer in Los Angeles in 2017.

IIt weighs the same as an elephant, can move like it is a crab, and was once vilified by environmentalists. The Hummer, an icon of gas-guzzling machismo has returned as an electrified vehicle with an unlikely billing to aid in the effort against the worsening climate crisis.

The reincarnation of the hulking pickup truck, test-driven by the Guardian in the searing heat of Arizona, has been lauded by manufacturer General Motors (GM) as proof that electric vehicles (EVs) can now reach even middle America’s most obdurate devotees of supersized car culture.

GM wants to discredit the idea that green cars look like a Prius. “We want to turn EV skeptics into EV believers,” said Mikhael Farah, a GM spokesman. This Hummer has even been endorsed as a climate boon by the White House – in November, Joe Biden screeched around GM’s Detroit plant in a Hummer EV. “This sucker is something else!” the president, a self-confessed “car guy”, exclaimed.

It’s a startling reframing of a brand that was spawned from a spartan, military-grade Humvee and became a sort of muscular invading force on roads in the early 2000s. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported it before he began voicing serious warnings about climate changes. The Hummer, which was boxy and unrefined, embodied a boldly masculine aesthetic that almost seemed to revel in its enormous fuel consumption.

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

Even in an age where cars are sexy, the Hummer is a comical villain. 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”. The Hummer was retired in 2010.

The electric resurrection, first announced in 2020, of the Hummer has produced a vehicle that doesn’t emit the carbon pollution that heats the planet and many of the other toxic substances that routinely kill thousands of Americans and millions around the world who inhale the polluted air.

It still exceeds the limits of absurdity in many ways. The vehicle weighs in at more than 4.5 tons, making it heavier than a small bulldozer. This is much lighter than the type of cars you would see on American streets a decade ago. The vehicle’s huge Ultium battery Is almost 3,000lbIt’s about the same size as two grand pianos. They look like they could travel to Mars.

The large display panel located in the bulky interior of Hummer does indeed show a graphic showing the car on Mars when it’s in off-road mode. Most trips are on roads, of course – Nearly half of car journeys in US cities are three miles or less – meaning Hummer drivers will be piloting a metal behemoth weighing the same as a young blue whale when popping out to get some milk. “The Hummer is a niche statement of excess,” according to Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

The author drives the new Hummer EV.

The price of the first Hummer EV iteration – subsequent models will be cheaper – is a princely $110,000. Approximately 66,000 people have placed orders for the Hummer EV pickup or SUV. GM claims that most of these people have never owned an EV, but many others are adding it to their fleet as a second or third vehicle. This negates the climate benefits. “It’s huge, it’s terribly expensive and it doesn’t fit every lifestyle,” said Carla Bailo, chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research. “GM won’t overproduce it because there’s a limited base of people who will want it.”

However, the Hummer EV is a brilliant piece of engineering. The battery, fully charged, can propel the vehicle 329 ml before it needs to be recharged. The Hummer is a smooth, powerful vehicle in rocky terrain. A test drive showed its ability to effortlessly cross the desert west of Phoenix’s cacti-dotted desert.

The task is aided by a wealth of technology – the Hummer has 18 different camera angles from below and around the vehicle you can view via the screen, as well as an innovation called “crabwalk”, where each of the tires are set at a 10-degree angle to allow for a sort of sliding, diagonal movement to manoeuvre away from precipitous edges of tracks.

There is also raw pace on the flat, with electric acceleration instantly accelerating the Hummer from a standstill at 60mph to 60mph in three second, a speed that can cause both drivers and passengers to yelp in surprise.

Inside, the Hummer EV is more comfortable than the original and features designs of the moon’s topography – a nod to GM’s role in creating a lunar-roving buggy, which of course was electric – but it maintains a certain butch aesthetic. This points to the Hummer’s broader significance – a demonstration that electric vehicles can now provide the sheer power, size and sensibilities that US buyers cherish, even if they still only command a Only a small portion of sales.

“What we wanted to do is get a truck buyer who would never buy an EV in his life, or never even think about it,” said Brian Malczewski, a chief exterior designer of the new Hummer. “We’re hoping to get, finally, the truck buyers who may be the hardest people to get into this space. This is the perfect conduit for that, I think.”

This is not a new idea for GM. Ford has already done it. It announced the launch of an electric version its F-150 truckTesla, which has been the most-sold vehicle in America since Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, has its own Cybertruck, the much-hyped vehicle Rivian, a newcomer to the market, has received a lot attention. Even though the Maserati electric Maserati will be available at a lower price point, it will still be an attractive option.

Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, unveils the Cybertruck in 2019, another pitch for a similar market to that targeted by the new Hummer.
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, unveils the Cybertruck in 2019, another pitch for a similar market to that targeted by the new Hummer. Photograph: Sipa US/Alamy

“I think electric power trains for heavier work trucks, SUVs and pickups, like the Hummer, will be amazing,” said Chris Gearhart, director of NREL’s Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences. “The torque profile of an electric motor will give these vehicles a lot of towing power and the potential for using some of the electrical power in the batteries to directly power worksites and provide backup power could make these vehicles incredibly useful.”

While EV options are expanding, it’s still unclear whether production levels, and sales, will ramp up with the urgency of the climate crisis. GM had vowed to sell 1m EVs by 2025, before going all-electric a decade later. However, only 26 electric cars were delivered to customers in the last quarter of 2017. Toyota hopes to sell 3.5m EVs per year by 2030. However, there are currently no EVs for sale in the US. Public charging infrastructure, meanwhile, remains spotty across the US and Biden’s attempt to fund 500,000 new chargers has yet to be fulfilled by Congress.

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The US must eliminate gasoline cars by 2035 if they want to achieve net zero emissions by 2020 and avoid climate catastrophe. However, experts believe that replacing them by similar electric alternatives will be the most efficient and practical way to reduce the emissions from American life.

“EVs are by far the best and most economic way to reduce greenhouse gases in transportation,” said Sperling. He added that better public transport, cycle paths and denser housing would be beneficial too but these actions are “far less important for reducing greenhouse gases, at lease in the US and other affluent car-centric countries”.

Others call for a fundamental shift that eliminates cars from the roads, rather than replacing one large vehicle with another. Harvey Miller was crossing the road in Columbus last month when he was struck by an SUV. He suffered severe injuries and bruising. Miller said the “mortified” driver, who said she hadn’t seen him, fortunately stopped the car before fully crushing him to death.

Miller was walking home from Ohio State University’s campus where, ironically, he teaches classes on transportation safety and urban mobility. The incident underlined to him the lingering problems of America’s fixation upon wide highways, sprawling suburbs and huge vehicles, even if EVs do become the norm.

SUVs are more likely to cause injury to pedestrians than cars. Research has shown thatBlind spots caused by the high seating position and bulky front end that strike people higher in the torso, head and body than the lower ones. Their ubiquitous nature in American life can make it hard for people to find other ways to get around.

“The Hummer scares me, it’s massive and not compatible with life in cities,” Miller said, adding that SUVs could be dangerous. “These large vehicles use up a lot of space and are expensive. I’m disappointed that Biden is championing them and not other forms of mobility, such as walking and biking infrastructure. Cars should be an option for some people and not the default.

“I’m not against EVs, they are the future, but you’ve got to support buses, walking and cycling too or it’s like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. People want options. Unfortunately, car culture is so ingrained that even painting a bike path can get a huge amount of pushback.”

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