DETROIT -- The Hummer H3 SUV looks and drives like its bigger brother, the massive Hummer H2, but General Motors will have to convince buyers that when it comes to fuel economy, the new SUV is different.
Once one of the hottest vehicles on the market, sales of the Hummer H2 full-sized SUV have slipped this year as gasoline prices climbed. Owners have cited the H2's roughly 12 mpg as one of the top turnoffs about the vehicle.
"The fuel efficiency is just awful. From that perspective, that's probably one of the negatives of the Hummer brand," said Erich Merkle, a senior analyst with automotive consultants IRN Inc.
The Hummer has ranked last the past two years in a J.D. Power and Associates benchmark consumer study on vehicle quality during the first 90 days of ownership. Buyers complained about its excessive fuel consumption.
The new H3 mid-sized SUV, to be unveiled at the California auto show in Anaheim next week, will be about 16 inches shorter and weighs about 1,700 pounds less than the H2.
Its smaller size will help the H3 get somewhere around 18 mpg, similar to other mid-sized SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Toyota 4Runner and the Ford Explorer, company officials and analysts said.
The H3 will also have a smaller engine -- a 3.5-liter inline five-cylinder, versus a 6-liter V-8 engine for the H2.
Despite owners' complaints, the H2 is bought by people who don't consider rising gasoline prices a serious issue, Hummer General Manager Susan Docherty said. The typical owner of the H2, which costs about $55,000, earns about $150,000 a year.
The smaller H3 will attract buyers who earn between $75,000 and $100,000 a year and are more sensitive to changes in gasoline prices, Docherty said. Analysts expect the H3 to cost around $30,000 to $35,000.
"Yeah, there have been people that have said, 'Boy, those (Hummers) aren't very fuel efficient,'" Docherty told reporters in Detroit. "When you go into a new segment, where customers are very payment-driven, they're price sensitive, to be quite frank to you. And fuel economy is also something on their list."
Next year's addition of the H3 will help lift Hummer's U.S. sales past 100,000 annually, Docherty said. Hummer's U.S. sales dropped 20 percent through the first nine months of this year. Last year, GM sold 35,259 Hummers in the U.S. market.
"This vehicle definitely will be more mainstream than the H2," said IRN's Merkle. He believes Hummer could sell up to 75,000 of the H3s in its first full year of production in 2006.