Tom Clyde: The Hummers are back
The other day, while I was out doing completely unrelated things, I noticed that there are Hummers parked all over town. I don’t know why I would take a Hummer census. I don’t count Fiats or Fords. I do notice Smart cars just because they are so annoyingly nerdy. But for some reason I was spotting Hummers everywhere I went.
In case you’ve forgotten, Hummer was a military vehicle that crossed over to civilian use beginning in 1992. If you felt the need to mount an armed assault on the dry cleaner or your kids’ soccer game, the Hummer was the vehicle of choice. Except that it required four contiguous parking spots, wouldn’t fit through most drive-through lanes, and required one of those in-flight refueling tanker planes to fly overhead to provide enough gas to keep it running.
They came out with the H-2 model, which had some creature comforts, like springs. On balance, a John Deere combine was still more comfortable, got better mileage, and was more maneuverable in traffic. General Motors bought the brand and came out with the H-3, which was more or less a Chevy Blazer with a boxier body on it. GM killed the brand in 2010 because they couldn’t give them away.
For a while, Hummers were all the rage in Park City. Every master of the universe with a second home (built in locations there we probably shouldn’t have been building homes in the first place) decided he needed a Hummer in the garage so he could get back up the mountain after going out for sushi. It was quite the fashion statement.
And then they vanished like the T-rex. Overnight, Hummers became as rare as people who admit voting for Obama. A combination of factors did them in. They were so high that most people needed some kind of ladder to get in and out. They were too wide for most Park City streets, and too big to maneuver in traffic. Heaven help the Hummer driver who is trying to park in China Bridge. A vehicle designed to drive over buildings was kind of a problem when the idea was to drive around them on tight streets. And then there was gas mileage.
As gas prices went up, the popularity of Hummers went down. But ours is not a community of people losing sleep over a nickel a gallon. There are a lot of F-350 pickups around here that burn as much fuel as a Hummer, and the H-3 model, the mini-Hummer, wasn’t really much worse than a Subaru on fuel. Mostly Hummers became the fur of the automotive world. As hybrids became fashionable, the Hummer became the ugly Christmas sweater in the back of the closet. Conspicuously excessive consumption, even in a town that sort of defines excess, was no longer socially acceptable.
So the Hummers disappeared. The problem was that nobody would buy one, so there was no used car market for them. Unless you wrecked it, which was hard to do, you were stuck with it. My theory is that they simply vanished into the catacomb-like garages of the mountain mansions and collected dust for several years. They’ve been kept under cover, way back in the dead space of the sub-sub-basement garages, down there with the wind surfers.
And now, gas prices have dropped. Nationally the average price is under $3/gallon. In Utah we aren’t there yet (and the price of diesel actually went up as they switched over to the winter blend). But prices are still down overall. So in a bold move, the Hummers have been dusted off, the batteries charged up, and the mice evicted from the ductwork. Light up a cigar. The Hummers have hit the road. Take that, you Prius-driving weenie.
At first, I thought my observation of resurgent Hummers was just me. Then later in the week, I start seeing news reports that this is happening all over the country. Hummers that haven’t seen the light of day in years are back on the road. Used car websites are suddenly packed with Hummer ads as people try to get their money out of these dinosaurs while they can. It’s a real deal.
Despite years of driving smaller cars, whether stripped-down Kias or loaded-up Audis, Americans didn’t really get religion. The conversion didn’t take. Given a little nudge, like gas coming down 50 cents a gallon (for a whole month!), and we are back to buying big SUVs, full-size pickups, and yes, even military assault vehicles. Because you never know what kind of conditions you will face when you need to make a run to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to pick up some cold medicine for a sick toddler.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.