DETROIT - General Motors is nearly half way to its goal of having some 125 dealerships in place by next year for its new extended family of Hummers.
Steve Hill, Hummer's director of sales, said 58 dealers have been signed so far, 34 of whom are former Hummer dealers. A core requirement: access to an obstacle course for rough-and-ready test drives.
GM next year will launch an all-new high-volume Hummer - the H2 - that is expected to be the second in a family of three vehicles. A concept expected to resemble the production H2 will be unveiled at the New York auto show in April.
The H2 is meant to lure a new breed of well-heeled buyer to the brand - buyers who are infatuated with Hummer's macho appearance and ability but who demand a civilized ride and luxury amenities.
By comparison, the current Hummer, which is nearly as wide as some traffic lanes, evolved from the HumVee, a Spartan vehicle developed for the U.S. military.
The H2 will be produced at a new Indiana plant that can crank out 40,000 units a year. That's a tidal wave when compared with Hummer's sales last year: 875.
The current Hummer, renamed H1, will continue to be sold.
H2 less than H1
While most H1s have a transaction price of about $90,000, the H2's price tag will be under that. Hill said the H2 sticker will be in line with luxury sport-utilities such as the Cadillac Escalade and Lexus LX 470. The 2002 Escalade starts at $50,690, while the 2001 Lexus LX 470 goes for $61,950. Both prices include transportation.
'We have people who can't wait for this truck to come out,' said Jim Lynch, owner of Lynch Hummer in O'Fallon, Mo. He said he has 30 names on a waiting list for the H2.
And though the third Hummer vehicle has yet to be approved for production, one dealer said he was told the vehicle would bow in late 2004 and be smaller. It also will be about $10,000 less expensive than the H2.
The H3 'doesn't look like a typical Hummer,' said a dealer who asked not to be identified. 'It does retain a little of the H1, but it really is its own person. It's really going to be a hot item.'
Hill said GM and the dealer advisory board are determining dealer requirements but agree dealers must have, or have access to, an obstacle course for test drives.
'We want these customers to experience what the vehicle can do off-road. Some of the dealers have (built) test tracks ... and some have designated routes to take their customers on. That's definitely a huge (requirement),' he said.
Lynch Hummer has an obstacle course with several ponds.
'It is important - especially for the current Hummer - that you show people why it's as expensive as it is, what it's capable of doing,' Lynch said.
The Missouri dealership is the highest-volume Hummer location in North America and has been selling Hummers since 1994. Last year, it sold about 150 new and used Hummers.
John Lund, who is an owner of Scottsdale Hummer in Scottsdale, Ariz., has the nearby desert and mountains to prove a Hummer's worth.
'There is no four-wheeler that can do what this thing can do. What we are trying to get across is the experience of where this vehicle will take you. That is crucial,' Lund said.
But it's the new Hummer dealers, in areas of the United States where land is scarce, who will have to improvise.
'Some may have to go a little bit on the outskirts, but they'll find ways to take these vehicles off road,' Hill said. 'They are pretty creative.'
For example, Detroit Hummer, in suburban Southfield, Mich., is in an urban area filled with fast-food restaurants and small factories. It created a narrow test course between two storage lots when it received its franchise in 1995.
Entering the course, the Hummer climbs a 24-inch wall.
'Then there are some large logs that you have to go over, then moguls (alternating hills), and then a big ditch at the end, which in the springtime, if we get lucky, fills up with water,' said Deborah Kassak, Detroit Hummer general manager.
When the H2 goes on sale next year, dealers will be allowed to sell the H1 and H2 models on the same floor with other brands. However, two Hummer dealers expect that standalone showrooms will be required before the third Hummer model is introduced late in 2004.
Most dealers will not be required to build a separate service facility if the Hummer showroom is on the same property as an existing dealership, they said. But some established, single-line Hummer dealers who have older, small facilities designed for the H1's minuscule sales volume will be required to make major modifications or build a new sales and service facility.
Though showroom design, size and other requirements have yet to be finalized, one dealer with several GM franchises believes he may be required to build a 2,500-square-foot showroom, separate from the existing showroom for his other brands.