The Evolution Of The Hummer From Military Machine To Mainstream Monster

Love them or hate them, Hummers are undeniably a symbol of American automotive history. Massive, loud and anything but fuel-efficient. The history of the Hummer is closely linked with the Humvee, its military counterpart, as well as Lamborghini. Arnold Schwarzenegger played a key role in Hummer’s history as well, of course.

From its warfare origins through consumer SUV’s all the way to bankruptcy, stretch limousines and electric cars, has the Hummer gone full circle? Find out below.

The Very Beginning

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Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since the Second World War, the US military heavily relied on Jeeps in combat. They were light, compact utility vehicles perfect for transporting small groups of soldiers behind the front lines. They were very capable off-road, too.

Ford was chosen to redesign the Jeep in the 1950s, resulting in the creation of the M151 Jeep. Despite adding various innovations to the vehicle, it was still quite similar to its predecessor, the Willys MB.

The U.S. Military’s Outdated Fleet

Nazi bunker become depot of the US Army
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images
dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

By the 1960s, the U.S. Military fleet had become outdated. The army’s new requirements meant either modernizing their existing fleet or creating a new one from the ground up.

The army began by replacing Dodge M37’s with M715 Jeep trucks, and then again with the Dodge M880 series in the 1970s. Despite the effort, none of them were good enough, as they lacked versatility needed by the troops. The military was looking for a very versatile, light military truck to replace various outdated vehicles. The problem was that no such vehicle existed at the time.

FMC Corporation’s Attempt To Satisfy The Army

Jeep Joy Ride
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Once word got around that the U.S. Military was looking for a versatile lightweight truck, various companies saw it as a good business opportunity and expressed their interest.

FMC Corporation started working on a prototype of the High Mobility Combat Vehicle, or HMCV in short, in 1969. The project was named the XR311 and was offered for testing just a year later. The company constructed at least a dozen units for testing under the HMCV program in order to prove it as a worthy successor to the M151 Jeep. The project did not make it further than the pre-production phase.

The U.S. Military Was Then Offered Lamborghinis

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Michael Stuparyk/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Michael Stuparyk/Toronto Star via Getty Images

After a failed attempt by FMC Corporation to meet the army’s standard, a new vehicle was developed by… Lamborghini, which was contracted by the Mobility Technology International.

The Italian automaker created the Lamborghini Cheetah together with MTI in order to meet the contract specifications of the army. It was the company’s first attempt at an off-road vehicle. The prototype, interestingly, was built in San Jose in California. It was then sent to Sant’Agata Bolognese in Italy for the finishing touches. The Cheetah was powered by a waterproof 5.9L Chrysler V8 that peaked at 180 horsepower.

The Lamborghini Cheetah

P400 Miura Lamborghini
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

The Cheetah was Lamborghini’s first attempt at creating an off-road vehicle. As far as first attempts go, it was quite horrendous.

The heavy rear-mounted V8 combined with a curb weight of 4500 pounds made handling less than ideal, to say the least. On top of all this, the motor was very underpowered considering the weight of the vehicle. The enormous waterproofed 5.9L engine made just 180 horsepower! The overall performance of the car was very poor, but that wasn’t the only problem.

Cheetah’s Big Secret

Lamborghini Engine
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

When the Lamborghini Cheetah was first presented to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in 1977, it caused an outrage. As it turned out, the design (which came from MTI) was a nearly exact copy of FMC’s XR311 prototype!

As one can expect, this led to some quite serious issues. FMC Corporation sued both Lamborghini and FMC for copying their design. Sadly for Lamborghini, it also meant that the Cheetah couldn’t be used by the U.S. Military. The army didn’t even bother testing the only existing prototype, which was later sold by MTI to Teledyne Continental Motors.

The Army’s Expectations

World War Two
A. E. French/Archive Photos/Getty Images
A. E. French/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The U.S. Army prepared a draft of the final specifications for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. Unlike the previous specifications, these were a lot more complex.

The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV in short, was meant to replace multiple types of trucks in the military’s existing fleet. The vehicle had to be more versatile than ever, it had to be able to perform well off-road, and take troops as well as cargo. The U.S. Army required the vehicle to climb a 60% incline and cross a 40% slope.

61 Companies Showed Interest, Just Three Delivered Prototypes

Field exercise of US army in Berlin
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Joachim Barfknecht/picture alliance via Getty Images

Initially, over 60 companies showed interest in creating this type of military vehicle for the U.S. Army, but only three followed through and submitted their prototype vehicles: AM General Corporation, Chrysler Defense, and Teledyne Continental.

AM General, a subsidiary of American Motors Corporation, began working on the vehicle in 1979. A year later, AM General built its first prototype of the HMMWV. The Army then requested several more prototype units for extra tests.

The Three Finalists

Okinawa Vehicles
Bernard Krisher/Pix/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bernard Krisher/Pix/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

AM General, Chrysler Defense, and Teledyne Continental were selected to construct 11 prototypes. These prototypes underwent hardcore 600,000 mile-long tests in the worst weather conditions, ranging from arctic conditions to blazing deserts.

The prototypes constructed by AM General performed best, and the contract was officially awarded to them in 1983. Initially, the Army ordered 2334 units of the HMMWV. It was the first batch of a 5-year order contract that was later extended further.

HMMWV- The Hummer’s Origins

Air Force Loadmaster
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

On the 22nd of March 1983, AM General Corporation began developing 55,000 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles or HMMWV in short. The construction contract was approved by the Pentagon and the vehicle assembly started in the city of Mishawaka, Indiana.

The HMMWV was a multipurpose military vehicle designed to transport troops and cargo across extreme terrain in unforgiving weather. The vehicle’s acronym was hard to pronounce and was soon nicknamed the Humvee instead. The first unit came off the assembly line in January 1985.

Operation Just Cause- Humvee’s Debut In Combat

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John Moore/Getty Images

Humvee’s were first used in combat in 1989 during Operation Just Cause, a U.S. Invasion of Panama. Humvees were used mainly to transport troops as well as cargo behind front lines. Their lack of armor against biological, chemical or nuclear threats meant they couldn’t be used directly in the front lines.

The HMMWV proved its versatility and exceptional off-road performance in a crucial war just a year later, during the Persian Gulf War (a.k.a. Desert Storm). The Humvee has been the backbone of the US military ever since.

Humvee’s Military Success

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David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

The HMMWV developed by AM General Corporation proved to be very capable and soon became an enormous success. The vehicle, although slightly altered over the years, still remains in service around the globe.

The Humvee was able to get over virtually any obstacle from vertical slopes to river crossings. It was cleverly designed to be wide enough to perfectly fit in tracks previously made by tanks and came equipped with a switch that could automatically deflate or reinflate tires. The Humvee was produced in many variants. It came as an ambulance, missile carrier, and armament carrier.

How Arnold Schwarzenegger Influenced The Hummer

arnold with a hummer
Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
Kevin Winter/ImageDirect

In the summer of 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger was shooting “Kindergarten Cop” somewhere in Oregon. He saw a convoy of 50 Humvees drive past during a break on set and immediately fell in love. According to his agent, “He just went ape for that machine”. He loved how unique it looked as well as the Humvee’s size.

Schwarzenegger convinced AM General Corporation that the Humvee had to go on sale to the public. Though the company was hesitant at first, the civilian Hummer was released two years later.

The Hummer – A Military Vehicle For The Road

Treasure Island, San Francisco: US Marines promotion booth on a funfair
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Rolf Schulten/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The first-ever publicly available Hummer was released in 1992. It was essentially a military M998 Humvee converted for road use. The model was initially known as the “Hummer.” The first two units were purchased by, you guessed it, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Hummer shared most of its mechanical components and structure with its military counterpart. It was also equipped with extra comfort features such as air conditioning or a stereo system. Extra features didn’t impact the car’s off-road capabilities, it could still climb practically any slope and cross streams up to 2.5 feet deep.

A Massive Car With An Enormous Engine

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GONZALO/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

The Hummer was a real statement on the roads. Over 86 inches wide with a curb weight of around 7500 pounds and a ground clearance above 16 inches, it was as American as a production car could get. Naturally, its powerplant was an eight-cylinder motor.

The Hummer was available in 4 different engine variants at the time. All of them were V8s, of course. A 5.7L Vortec 5700 motor was the only petrol version, alongside 6.2L, 6.5L naturally-aspirated and 6.5L Turbo GM Diesel motors.

GM Purchased Hummer

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JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

In late 1999, AM General Corporation sold the Hummer brand name to General Motors. AM, however, was contracted to continue manufacturing the vehicle alongside military Humvees in Indiana. General Motors took control and began making changes.

General Motors started by rebranding the Hummer. The car received a new moniker, it was now called the Hummer H1. A change in the model’s name gave a slight hint that a new model could be unveiled soon.

The H2 – A Luxury Hummer

Hummer H2 Sport Utility Truck off roading over rocks with a military Humvee.
John B. Carnett/Bonnier Corporation via Getty Images
John B. Carnett/Bonnier Corporation via Getty Images

The second vehicle in the Hummer range, the H2, was introduced shortly after the H1 in 2002. Unlike Hummer’s flagship model, the H1 was based on a Chevrolet 2500 HD pickup and not a military vehicle. Hummer’s new model was less spartan and more luxurious than the H1.

The H2 initially came equipped with a powerful 316 horsepower 6-liter V8 motor. It was updated in 2004 to make 8 more horsepower and then replaced by a 6.2L 393hp engine in 2008.

H3 – The “Tiny” Hummer

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David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Hummer introduced its third and smallest model in 2005. The H3 was the only Hummer that wasn’t developed by AM General. Its assembly line was located in Louisiana, as opposed to the H1 and H2 and military Humvee that were all assembled in Indiana. The H3 is based on a Chevy Colorado platform, but GM claims the cars only shared 10% of their components.

The Hummer H3 was meant to be a cheaper alternative to the luxury H2, therefore many of the standard features from the H2 became optional on the H3. The H3 was quite a hit with over 150,000 units sold in total.

From Combat To Motorsport

2015 Dakar Rally - Day Eleven
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Hummer’s motorsport team, Team Hummer Racing, was established in 1993. Professional off-road driver Rod Hall was the leader. Hall used a Hummer H3 modified to meet racing regulations and won first place in its class in the 2005 Baja 1000 rally. Team Hummer Racing scored a total of 11 wins in the Baja 1000.

Racing driver Robby Gordon entered the infamous Dakar Rally annually between 2006 and 2013. He raced in a highly modified, two-wheel-drive Hummer. The biggest achievement was a third-place finish in 2009.

Duramax Powered Hummer H1? Not So Fast

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BG004/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

GM’s engineering team began working on the H1’s update program in 2002. The major change was replacing the car’s motor with GM’s 6.6L turbocharged Duramax diesel engine, as many H1 owners complained that the car was underpowered. Fitting the Duramax would result in 300hp in total as well as better fuel-efficiency, which the H1 was infamous for.

The engine had to make over 20 changes to the Duramax to fit it perfectly in the H1. Other changes in the update program included stronger steel in the frame, quieter differentials, and an updated interior

Hummer H2 SUT

New Cars From General Motors 2001
GM/Newsmakers
GM/Newsmakers

The Hummer H2 Sport Utility Truck was introduced in 2005, it was a pickup truck version of the base H2 model. Its innovative midgate allowed owners to quickly change between two available setups: five-passenger SUT with a small bed and two-passenger pickup with a 6-foot bed.

The Hummer H2 SUT was powered by a 6.2L V8 that generated 393 horsepower. It came equipped with an all-wheel-drive drivetrain and was very capable off-road, just as the entire Hummer range.

Heavy Criticisms

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Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

Hummers were criticized by the public for various reasons, mainly for their terrible fuel economy and size. Ironically, those were the same reasons that made them famous in the first place.

Hummers were extremely heavy and had enormous motors, they were anything but fuel-efficient. The H1 was able to cover just 10 miles per gallon, making it one of the worst consumer cars in terms of fuel economy. Hummer powerplants generated lots of emissions, too. Hummer owners often complained that parking was an issue due to the car’s size, as well as large blind spots that made lane changes dangerous.

The Hummer H1 Alpha

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David McNew/Getty Images

Hummer H1 production numbers were nowhere near as impressive as its off-road capabilities. Since its debut in 1992, the H1 was selling roughly 1000 units annually, with a depressing decline year by year. In 2005 Hummer didn’t sell a single H1. It was the last chance for GM to save their flagship H1.

The H1 Alpha was the result of an update program initialized by the automaker in 2002. The re-engineered H1 was powered by GM’s 6.6L turbocharged Duramax engine, which passed strict emission requirements set in 2004. The Alpha also received quieter axle differentials and a modernized interior. The Hummer H1 Alpha went on sale in 2006.

The End Of The H1

End of Summer Celebrated during Labor Day Weekend, in Virginia
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Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Not even the re-engineered Alpha could save the Hummer H1. Just months after the Alpha went on sale, GM decided to cease production of the H1 altogether.

Sales figures for the Hummer H1 were dropping non-stop since the year 2000 and reached an all-time low in 2005 with zero H1’s sold. The next year saw a spike in sales due to the introduction of the H1 Alpha, with 729 units sold. From 1992 to 2006, GM sold a total of 11 818 Hummer H1’s.

Hummer – Not Just In The US

Photographers take pictures of a new Hum
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

A Hummer may very well be as American as a car can ever get, but did you know Hummer cars weren’t just assembled in the USA?

Hummers were built in five different factories around the world. The two main plants for the H1 and H2 were located in Mishawaka, Indiana, just next to where military Humvee’s are assembled. Additionally, the H3 was assembled in a factory in Louisiana. The Hummer H3 was also built at a GM assembly plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa as well as Kaliningrad, Russia, together with the H2.

Major Update To The H2

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Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Hummer H2 and its pickup truck variant, the H2 SUT, underwent an update. The car’s exterior styling was hardly touched, though the vehicle’s 6.0L V8 was replaced with a more powerful 6.2L V8 engine that made nearly 70 extra horsepower. Most of the changes took place within the car’s interior.

The 2008 update added lots of comfort features to the H2 and H2 SUT. The gauges were redesigned, a new leather steering wheel was fitted. The update models came equipped with a high-quality Bose audio system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and Bluetooth handsfree.

The Hummer That Never Went Public

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GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images

General Motors caused quite a stir when the automaker unveiled a new Hummer concept at the North American International Auto Show in early 2008. The concept, named the Hummer HX, was created as a new addition to the Hummer range.

The HX was planned to be released as the Hummer H4. It was even smaller than the H3, proving that the demand for very large SUV’s has gone down. The HX concept car was equipped with a 3.6L V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. The HX never made it to production.

2008 – The Beginning Of The End

GM And Tengzhong Sign Agreement For Hummer Deal
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China Photos/Getty Images

The year 2008 was very bad for Hummer and GM in general. Environmental concerns were on the rise and the economic crisis badly affected gas prices in the US. It was the absolute worst-case scenario for bulky Hummers and their terrible fuel-efficiency. Ultimately it all led to a 50% drop in annual sales.

In December 2008, the entirety of GM was badly hit by low sales. The automaker received a federal bailout loan worth billions of dollars to keep the business going. One of the best-selling auto manufacturers was now struggling to make ends meet.

The Discontinuation of The H2

US-HUMMER-DRIVE
MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images
MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images

The Hummer brand was badly affected after 2008. The sales figures spoke for themselves; the numbers were down from 33,140 sold units in 2005 to just a little over 6,000 in 2008.

Various magazines reviewed the Hummer H2 and observed that the car’s best-ever fuel economy was a mere 12 miles per gallon. The rise in environmental awareness, as well as the ever-growing price of fuel, were both drastically driving down the number of sales. GM decided to discontinue the Hummer H2 in 2009, producing the last 1,513 units before shutting down the assembly line for good. A total of 153,026 Hummer H2’s were sold between 2002 and 2009.

Hummer H3T

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M. Caulfield/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli
M. Caulfield/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli

The Hummer H3T pickup truck was released in 2009. The initial concept (pictured above) was first unveiled in 2003 as a two-door midsize pickup truck. The production version, however, was changed into a four-door crew cab with a 5-foot bed that made its public debut in 2008.

The H3T was equipped with lots of built-in storage boxes hidden within the cargo area that came as standard on the truck. It was, of course, a real Hummer. It was large (though smaller than the H1 or the H2), very capable off-road, and had a very bad fuel economy. The H3T is one of the rarest Hummers, with less than 3000 units made.

2009 plug-in concept

100 MPG Electric SUV Debuted At Society of Automotive Engineers Conference
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Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

In the spring of 2009, Raser Technologies unveiled a new Hummer plug-in hybrid prototype. The concept was based on a converted Hummer H3, Raser promised up to 100 miles per gallon and a battery that could be recharged in about 3 hours. The prototype was publically approved by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The idea of converting the H3, which had a terrible fuel economy, into a vehicle more fuel-efficient than a Toyota Prius was certainly a fresh take on the Hummer. Similarly to the Hummer HX, the H3 plug-in hybrid was never released to the public.

Hummer Up For Sale

General Motors Reaches Tenative Agreement To Sell Hummer Brand
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

At the beginning of 2009, GM president Fritz Henderson revealed that there were several companies interested in purchasing the Hummer brand. GM officially announced its bankruptcy on June 1st, 2009, as well as the discontinuation of the Hummer brand.

Just a day later, GM announced that an undisclosed Chinese company had offered to purchase the brand. Media outlets identified the mystery buyer within hours of the initial announcement. Sichuan Tengzhong later officially confirmed that the company had made an offer to purchase Hummer.

Hummer Sold For $150 Million

General Motors To Sell Hummer To Chinese Company Tengzhong
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China Photos/Getty Images

Ed Whitacre, the CEO of GM at the time, made a statement in January 2010 claiming that the deal between Sichuan Tengzhong and GM wouldn’t be made until the end of the month. In February 2010, GM stated that the deadline would be extended once again until the end of February.

According to Sichuan Tengzhong, failing to get approval from the Chinese government was the reason for extending the deadline twice. The heavy machinery manufacturer also revealed that the Hummer brand was sold to them for $150 million.

A Failed Sale

General Motors Reaches Tenative Agreement To Sell Hummer Brand
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

On the 24th of February 2010, it was revealed by GM that the deal between the automaker and Tengzhong was canceled as they failed to get approval from the Chinese government. GM added that the brand would shut down completely, as its value was dropping even further due to high gas prices and low demand for large SUVs.

Multiple companies showed interest in purchasing the Hummer brand in the following months, but none of them could come to a deal with GM. In late March 2010, Raser Technologies made an official offer to purchase the brand. A few weeks later it was revealed that this deal had fallen through as well.

The End Of Hummer

GM And Tengzhong Sign Agreement For Hummer Deal
China Photos/Getty Images
China Photos/Getty Images

GM made a statement in April 2010 that the Hummer brand was shutting down completely. The brand was only producing one model at the time (H3), as the H1 and H2 had been discontinued in the past.

The automaker was finishing the last rental car fleet order in the next weeks, as well as clearing the remaining 2,200 vehicles. The last-ever Hummer H3T pickup rolled off the Louisiana assembly line on the 24th of May in 2010.

From Warzone To Stretch Limousines

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George Rose/Getty Images

If you’ve ever strolled down any major city’s nightlife district on a busy Friday night, you have probably seen one of those. Most of them are white or pink and have massive chrome rims and, in some cases, underglow. They’re flashy, cliche and hard to be missed. Why have Hummer stretch limos become so popular around the world?

At first, it’s hard to see how a Hummer can transform from essentially a road-legal military vehicle into a silly stretch limousine. Since the beginning of the decade, the H2 has become a symbol of wealth and status. The Hummer was the perfect base for a custom limousine, it looked unique and had plenty of room for passengers.

The Legacy of The Hummer

Worlds Loudest Hummer Boasts 86 Speakers
Aakash Bakshi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Aakash Bakshi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Even though Hummers were discontinued, their legacy has lived on. Hummers are popular among car tuners, some of them completely transform the car. Hummers can often be spotted at various off-roading events. The H1 became a modern classic and has sky-rocketed in value.

Custom modified Hummers are a hit among car enthusiasts worldwide. Rafael Capone (pictured) took the audio system of his H2 Hummer to the next level when he fitted it with 86 speakers, a custom interior and vibrant lighting. Rafael Capone’s creation has been winning car shows for years.

Is Hummer Coming Back?

New York International Auto Show
Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Rumors that GM was planning to revive the Hummer brand started circulating in the middle of 2019. General Motors started developing electric SUVs and trucks, such as the electric Cadillac Escalade or the GMC Sierra. Hummer was also rumored to make a comeback as an electric SUV or truck.

In late 2019, industry insiders were nearly sure that Hummer was bound to return within the next few years. By November 2019 automotive forecasters such as LMC Automotive began telling mass media outlets that GM was indeed planning to revive the Hummer.

The GMC Hummer EV

General Motors Sales Dives 25 Percent In August
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

GM finally unveiled the new Hummer in a series of short video teasers on January 30th, 2020. The videos confirmed that Hummer was making a return as an electric pickup under GMC and not as a standalone brand.

The first-ever GMC Hummer is an electric pickup truck which is a modern take on Hummer’s legacy. According to GM, the electric GMC Hummer will peak at 1000 horsepower and 11,500 pound-feet of torque. It will be able to sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 3 seconds. The official reveal is scheduled for the 20th of May 2020.

BONUS: The Lamborghini LM 001

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Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Lamborghini’s reputation suffered when the automaker made the headlines after copying the design of the XR311 military vehicle. The idea of an off-road Lamborghini remained, and another off-road project returned in 1981.

Lamborghini created just one unit of the LM001, which was essentially a redesign of the Cheetah. The only existing prototype was powered by AMC’s 5.9L V8 that peaked at 180 horsepower, though production models were intended to be equipped with the V12 engine found in the Lamborghini Countach. Once again, the project was discontinued after creating just one prototype.