Road Warrior Hits Streets

January 22, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Talk about impulse buying: The weather this past week may have had you wishing you could trade in your car for a cross between a jeep and a tank.

And if a salesman for AM General Corp. had been chugging up your icy street in a brand new Hummer, there's no doubt about it: You would have been tempted to sign the dotted line on the spot.

Hummer is the rugged -- its big knobby tires come up to your waist -- civilian version of the all-terrain Humvee that AM General produces for the military.

It's not a thing of beauty. To put it mildly, it's ugly. The Hummer's squared off fenders and choppy lines make Volvo's boxy station wagon look like a sleek Indianapolis race car.

And the Hummer is not cheap, with a price tag that ranges between $40,000 and $70,000.

But despite its drawbacks, the Hummer is the vehicle that is attracting the most attention at the International Auto Show that ends its nine-day run this weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center.

It draws the biggest crowds. People wait in line for the opportunity to climb into the driver's seat -- the bottom of the vehicle is 28 inches off the ground -- or settle for one of the back seats.

And a question that was asked over and over again came from Marcus Caton of Ellicott City. "Is it legal to take on the road in Maryland?"

"Yes," said Eric Anderson, sales manager at Nucar Chevrolet in New Castle, Del., the closest Hummer dealer to Baltimore. "It's legal in all 50 states."

At one point, more than 50 people, from elementary school students to retirees, gathered around the Hummer video display where they marveled at the spectacle of the all-wheel-drive vehicle plowing through 18 inches of snow, wading through 36 inches of swamp water, climbing over a nearly two-foot high concrete wall and bouncing along sand dunes.

Sue Carney, a spokeswoman for AM General, said the company has only sold about a thousand Hummers since they came on the market in October 1992.

She said most buyers are high-income earners who like to get ofthe beaten path.

But there are others who are less wealthy "who make the sacrifice to own one." If a dealer doesn't have your favorite color in stock, there's about a month to six-week waiting list to fill an order.

Ms. Carney said the Hummer and Humvee start off on the same assembly line, but the civilian model gets a lot more comfort features, such as softer seats, more padding in the --, air conditioning, power door locks and power windows.

You want one?

Rush down to the Auto Show. There's a special show price of $51,297 on a model that would normally go for $57,277.

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