General Motors officials have never publicly said why they decided not to invest in Rivian, the Plymouth, Mich., startup brand that plans to market the stylish electric R1T pickup and R1S SUV this year.
Could it be that while GM and Rivian were talking last spring about how the two companies might work together, GM officials realized they already had a brand that would be perfect for high-performance EVs?
Less than a year later, GM made it official that the Hummer name is returning on an electric super-truck packing 1,000 hp and 11,500 pound-feet of torque. During Sunday's Super Bowl, GM aired three teaser spots showing a futuristic new version of the Hummer's trademark slotted grille.
Although the business case for an electric pickup is shaky at best — and I have been a vocal critic of electric trucks — using the Hummer name not only makes perfect sense, it's a very smart and shrewd move that has many interesting angles.
First, Hummer has a cool brand image. Still. Take a look at used Hummers from a decade ago and you might be astounded to see that clean, well-maintained Hummer H2s and H3s are selling for what seems like crazy money. Part of that has to do with the fact that secondhand SUVs, even ones with a lot of miles, are in high demand.
Second, Hummer offers the best chance for GM to make money selling an EV. The premium Hummer brand likely will be strong enough to overcome the loss of the $7,500 federal tax credit GM no longer has for EVs. Because GM has sold more than 200,000 electrified vehicles, the company's vehicles no longer qualify for the break. Right now, a Chevrolet Bolt, for example, is eligible for only a $1,875 tax break. And in October, even that disappears. So, by the time the Hummer EV arrives at the end of next year, buyers will not get any federal tax incentives. But that's likely not going to deter potential buyers.
Tesla also has lost the government's tax incentive, but because its vehicles are in high demand, sales remain strong — and Tesla has even started to book profits. Hummer gives GM a chance to field a vehicle with a strong brand image that can sell at full sticker without government incentives.
Third: GM will sell the Hummer EV under the GMC brand, so it will have a nationwide dealer network that makes it convenient for customers to get parts and service anywhere in the country. Rivian plans to follow Tesla's path and sell directly to consumers. Rivian has revealed very little about how it plans to provide parts and service.
More to consider: After GM and Rivian ended talks, Ford showed up with a check for $500 million. That may have been exactly what GM officials hoped would happen. With Ford's half a billion came oversight — Ford's president of automotive, Joe Hinrichs, now sits on Rivian's board of directors — and there is fairly heavy involvement from Ford as Rivian's vehicles edge closer to production.
GM would love to see Ford distracted, stumble and lose focus on products. At least at the retail level in the United States, Lincoln is walloping Cadillac. With a few exceptions, Ford has a terrible record of staying focused on core business when the company's product development teams and executives get involved with other brands — a fact not lost on GM.
I hear Ford has devoted considerable manpower and resources to help Rivian get technology, vehicle and component testing and manufacturing operations up and running. And that makes sense since Ford said last week that Rivian would be providing the underpinnings for an upcoming Lincoln EV.
One more thing: Hummer gives GM's design team, led by Mike Simcoe, the bandwidth to be far more creative than it can with GMC or Chevrolet. Because Hummer has been gone for a decade, it can be radically reimagined without angering existing customers. One look at Hummer's flashy new grille shows that's exactly what Simcoe and his crew have done.
Tesla and even Rivian have been good for the auto industry. Both companies have shown that younger consumers are open to new ideas from new brands and that they get excited by jarring new designs for EVs that adopt the latest lighting and materials technology.
Before GM gave Hummer the checkered flag in 2010, the average age of its customers was between five and nine years younger than those of Chevrolet and GMC.
Hummer, I believe, is the right name on the right product with the right technology at the right time. The truck's claimed 1,000-horsepower and 0 to 60 times of 3 seconds should attract plenty of attention. If Simcoe's crew makes the rest of the vehicle as stylish as the grille, and if GM engineers can ensure a reasonable driving range — or an ultra-fast charging time — Hummer's second act will be a lot more successful than its first.