New $53,000 Hummer is a sales stunner

Vehicle: The `macho' H2 passenger truck is stirring excitement and demand at General Motors dealerships around the country, including in the Baltimore area.

July 19, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Rebecca Heaton couldn't believe her eyes when she got her first glimpse of the new "car" that her husband, Jim, had ordered.

Her hands went to her face.

"Oh, my God," she muttered. "What is he thinking?"

It looked more like a vehicle that would be equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun and would go on commando raids than something that you would drive to the grocery store.

The Parkton couple were at Anderson Hummer, a dealership on York Road in Cockeysville that's selling the Hummer H2, a new truck that is stirring excitement and strong demand at General Motors dealerships around the country.

Jim Heaton said he ordered his H2 a month ago after looking at a picture. The appeal?

"I don't know," he said. "It's different. It's very macho. It's exciting. It's like a cross between a Cadillac and a sport utility vehicle."

Heaton was one of about 25 buyers who have ordered H2s and given the dealer $1,500 deposits. The H2 sells for about $53,000 with the popular options.

"When they roll off the car carrier, they are already sold," said Jeff Miller, manager of Anderson Hummer.

Dealers in other parts of the country are reporting waiting lists of 100 or more customers.

"Many people have been on H2 waiting lists for two years," said Michael DiGiovanni, general manager of GM Hummer operations.

George E. Hoffer, an auto industry analyst and a professor of economics at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the H2 has created more buzz in GM showrooms than any vehicle in at least two decades.

Shorter than Tahoe

It looks huge, but the H2 is 8 inches shorter than the GMC Yukon or Chevrolet Tahoe.

It's 2 inches wider than the Tahoe, but 5 inches narrower than the original Hummer, the H1, and to a test driver's surprise, it easily fit into one lane of York Road and handled more like a luxury car than an Army vehicle.

It comes standard with four-wheel-drive, and its 35-inch tall tires are the biggest GM has ever put on a passenger vehicle.

It comes in seven colors, including metallic sunset orange, yellow and black. A 6-liter V-8 engine gets about 14 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Hoffer said the H2 also represents another move in a developing trend by domestic auto manufacturers to move into small-volume niche markets. And, he said, it should be a profitable vehicle for GM.

"The key to its success is that it shares major components with GM's high-volume full-size pickup trucks," he said. "Forty percent of its parts come from the pickup truck, and they are the most costly parts because they represent 75 percent of the total value of parts."

Hoffer said that sharing platform and parts will allow automakers to develop even more low-volume production vehicles like the H2, the Ford Thunderbird and DaimlerChrysler's PT Cruiser.

Anderson is one of three Hummer dealers in Maryland. The others are in Greenbelt and Gaithersburg.

GM says it has 147 Hummer dealers in the country and plans to top out at 225 by 2004.

Eventually, each dealer will have to build a standalone Hummer store with a rugged test track, said Wendy Orthman, a Hummer spokeswoman.

She said potential buyers will be able to wheel the vehicle up steep hills, over logs and 16-inch high barriers and through 20-inch-deep pools of water.

The stores, which will represent an investment by dealers of more than $1 million, will also feature a marketing approach successfully implemented by Harley-Davidson Inc.

Hummer accessories

"If you don't buy an H2, you might buy a Hummer T-shirt or a Hummer jacket, baby clothes or a Hummer dog dish," Orthman said. "There will be a full line of Hummer accessories along with toys, like Hummer bicycles and remote controlled toy trucks."

The H2 is a user-friendly version of the original Hummer, a civilian version of the military's Humvee.

They are made by AM General at a plant in Mishawaka, Ind., in partnership with GM.

Only about 17,000 H2s are scheduled to be made this year.

Full production of 40,000 vehicles a year is expected next year.

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