DETROIT -- Whether patrolling the streets of Baghdad or cruising downtown New York, the tank-like Humvee military truck and its civilian cousin the Hummer both ooze testosterone.
Just the kind of thing to counter the "girlie image" of her business, said Marcie Brogan, whose Detroit advertising agency owns a Hummer H1 and the new Hummer H2.
"It gave us a certain testosterone level that was missing," said the 54-year-old Brogan, one of a growing number of women lining up to buy Hummers.
Fully 95 percent of the owners of the Hummer H1 are men, many of whom drive the favored ride of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the most demanding off-road courses.
So when General Motors launched the more refined Hummer H2 last year, priced starting at $48,455, or less than half the price of an H1, executives hoped the new sport utility's quiet interior, smooth ride and lower price would broaden its appeal.
"We were estimating, given this (H1) is really a male, macho machine, that (H2 sales) would be 10 to 15 percent female," Hummer brand manager Mike DiGiovanni told Reuters.
But, perhaps not surprising in the age of "girl power," early sales figures show that as much as 27 percent of H2 buyers are women, and neither the war in Iraq nor a backlash against gas-thirsty SUVs are hurting sales.
Brogan said the bunker-like feel of the 6,400-pound Hummer H2 makes it seem safer than other vehicles on the road.
"I always vowed if they made a tank, I'd buy it, because I want to be safe," she said. "The safety aspect I think is key, and I think that's why women buy it."
U.S. safety officials have not yet released any crash test data for the H2.
Sales to women have helped make the Hummer H2 the top-selling full-size luxury sport utility vehicle on the U.S. market since it arrived at dealerships last summer.
GM has been able to do that without offering any consumer incentives on Hummers, unlike GM's other brands, which have been boosted with zero-percent financing offers. Wall Street analyst Rod Lache of Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown said GM could be making roughly $10,000 or more on each H2.
GM sold 19,222 Hummer H2s in the United States during the seven months the SUV was on sale last year. This year GM is on pace to sell around 36,000. The Indiana plant were the H2 is made has been working overtime since last summer.
"A lot of the men that are buying the car, the wife ended up taking the car from them," said Paul Livernois, sales manager of Suburban Hummer in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan. "The women absolutely love it, for the most part. It's less like the military Hummer and more like a luxury SUV."
Luxury isn't a word most would associate with the Hummer H1, which went into production shortly after the Gulf War in 1991 that made a hero out of the U.S. military's Humvee truck. Thanks to the war and the vehicle's brawny looks, the Hummer H1 had wider recognition than its annual sales of more than 700 would suggest.
Built to forge streams and surmount small walls, ruggedness took precedence over comfort. The engine of the Hummer H1, which sits in the middle of the passenger compartment covered by a hard plastic box, noisily overwhelms conversations.
When GM launched the H2 last year, it had to convince consumers that the new SUV was more than just a brute 'sport ute.'
Advertising, including some aimed at women, has helped change perceptions. One ad, featuring a woman driving down a city street, invites viewers to "Slip Into Something A Little More Metal." Another says the H2 offers to "Threaten Men in a Whole New Way."
"We know that the truck conveys rugged and tough," DiGiovanni said. "What we wanted to do in the advertising is, knowing we had nailed that, we really wanted to move it toward prestigious, a premium brand. We envisioned that as a difficult task to do."
H2 buyers, who have an average household income of about $200,000, the highest of any GM brand, have also proven to free-spending. They dole out $5,000 on average on outfitting the truck with dealer- and factory-installed options such as brush guards, side steps and luggage racks.
On 36,000 trucks, that totals $180 million. Even though Hummer accounts for less than 1 percent of GM's U.S. sales, it racks up about 40 percent of GM's car and truck accessory revenues, DiGiovanni said.
Licensed products such as die-cast models, T-shirts and the "Hummer Tactical Mountain Bike," a folding bike used by U.S. paratroopers that sells for $795, bring in additional revenues.
Given the broad appeal and high profits of the H2, DiGiovanni is optimistic about the prospects for a new smaller Hummer, the H3, which could go on sale as soon as 2005.
If the H3 is fully approved, it will be priced at the lower end of luxury SUVs, and could sell more than 100,000 units annually, he said.
"We think H3 is going to be very, very successful," he said. "It's a more viable, right-size truck for women buyers, as well as a lot of men too."