Hummer hopes pickup brings new buyers

The H3Tís primary target buyers: Adventure-loving males in their 30s
FRESNO, Calif. — Hummer's boss calls the new 2009 H3T pickup an "enabler." He defines that as a vehicle that gets people to difficult places so they can pursue adventurous endeavors.

But that begs a question. Will the H3T be Hummer's enabler — getting Hummer to that difficult place: improved sales?

Hummer is in a sales nose dive partly because of soaring gasoline prices and partly because of the popularity of the green movement. Hummer is to environmentalists what fur is to animal-rights activists. The general public just isn't buying Hummer anymore. Through July, sales were down 43.6 percent to 18,035.

General Motors has put Hummer on the sales block. The automaker has hired Citibank to assist it in a study of the brand to see whether GM should revamp the lineup or sell the brand outright.

In the midst of this, Hummer is launching the H3T pickup. Martin Walsh, Hummer's general manager, said the H3T will help Hummer by attracting younger customers or adding to Hummer's value if GM sells the brand. "It's a tough market, but we think that there's room for our product," Walsh told Automotive News at an event here last month. "There are people who still need to buy pickup trucks, and, in our case, to use it to pursue a particular interest that they have."

The basics: The H3T is built on a stretched version of the H3 SUV architecture. The H3T's 134-inch wheelbase allowed for a full-sized rear door and a full-sized bed.

The truck can climb rocks, straddle brush, plow through water, hold firm to ice with standard traction control and get you to remote locations if you want to kayak, fly-fish, snowmobile, mountain climb or rescue someone dangling from a cliff.

It can carry sporting gear, dirt bikes and plywood in its 5-foot-long bed. The base five-cylinder can tow 4,400 pounds. The H3T Alpha, which has a V-8 engine, can tow 5,900 pounds. The base model starts at $31,495, and the Alpha starts at $36,760. Both prices include shipping.

"This truck speaks well to people who enjoy sports, the extreme sports and challenging sports, and they want to get to the best places to enjoy their sports," Walsh said.

The standard 3.7-liter, five-cylinder engine offers 239 hp at 5,800 rpm and 241 pounds-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm. The 5.3-liter V-8 gets 300 hp at 5,200 rpm and 320 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The H3T gets 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway fuel economy. The V-8 model gets 13/16. Walsh said that's better fuel economy than most four-wheel-drive full-sized trucks get, but this is a mid-sized truck competing against vehicles such as the Dodge Dakota and the Toyota Tacoma. The base Tacoma and the Dakota get 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.

Head to head
Hereís how the new H3T stacks up against the mid-sized Dodge Dakota.
 2009 h3t2008 Dodge dakota trx4
Wheelbase134.2 in.131.3 in.
Length212.7 in.218.5 in.
Width85.1 in.76 in.
Height72.1 in.N/A
Curb weight4,934 lbs.4,437 lbs.
Base engine5 cylinderV-6
Horsepower239 hp @ 5,800 rpm302 @ 4,600 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.241 @ 4,600 rpm320 @ 3,600 rpm
EPA mpg14 city/18 hwy.14 city/19 hwy.
Base price*$31,495$28,315
*Includes shipping

Notable features: It's a five-passenger crew cab with plenty of interior room and a comfortable ride. It's easy to drive.

Compromises and shortcomings: To save the expense of special engine mounts, different exhaust systems and other added content, GM engineers opted out of putting a cylinder deactivation system on the H3T. That might have given it a better fuel economy rating. With a cylinder deactivation system, the engine control computer shuts down fuel delivery to some of the cylinders when the vehicle reaches cruising speed and thus saves fuel.

Nuts and bolts: The H3T is an adventure junkie's dream. It is targeted to mostly males in their 30s with a $90,000 annual household income. It's built in GM's plant in Shreveport, La., alongside the H3 SUV.

The skinny: It's the wrong vehicle at the wrong time. Most consumers don't do a lot of off-roading, and the days of buying a pickup as a fashion statement are over. So, except for forest rangers and FEMA officials, the audience for this vehicle is small. 

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com

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