From World War II up until the late 1970s, the American Army relied on Jeeps such as the M151 and M56 for both civilian and battlefield transport. They were workhorses that served well for decades but became outdated by the 1970s.
In response, the Army set up a committee to develop specs for a new generation of mobile transport, a vehicle they called the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), and put out a proposal for prototypes in 1979.
American industrial conglomerate Teledyne anticipated the Army’s eventual need for a new vehicle and had already made rough designs for a prototype. According to Lustine Chrysler of Woodbridge, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Woodbridge, VA, Chrysler’s Defense division was also ready to compete.
The Teledyne was a rugged off road vehicle called the Cheetah, while Chrysler’s proposal was an adapted version of their Saluki desert design. A third player, AM General, entered the fray with a fresh new design billed as the “Hummer”.
In 1981, all proposals were evaluated against the Army’s HMMWV specifications, and it was General Dynamics, Teledyne and AM General that were awarded requests for prototypes.
The prototypes had to perform well on a wide variety of metrics, including armor penetration, deep water fording, and arctic/desert operational ability. Though all three finalists performed quite well, it was AM General’s Hummer that came out on top.
The Army issued a purchase order to AM General for 55,000 vehicles, which were to be delivered over a five year period. Hummers were soon pouring off the assembly line.
Civilians Want In
Due to a surging interest in the military version, AM General saw it lucrative to develop a civilian model in 1992. The model was a beast, tipping the scales at a whopping 10,000 pounds and delivering less than 10 miles per gallon. It was nevertheless an early hit with Hollywood celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and by 1993, AM General had established nearly 50 dealers.
AM General sold the rights to the Hummer name to General Motors in December of 1999, but still continued to build the original military Hummer. General Motors built a new civilian hummer on an existing 4WD truck chassis, using the H2 nameplate for the first generation and H3 for the second generation models.
The Great Recession
Hummer’s success wasn’t to last, unfortunately. In 2008, as Americans struggled with the great recession, the brand’s sales shrunk by more than 50 percent, forcing GM to significantly cut back production.
In December 2008, the auto giant, which was hard hit by the recession, received a multi-billion-dollar federal bailout loan in order to stay afloat. However, it was a little too late, and on June 1, 2009, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Shortly after, it was announced that the Hummer brand would be sold. Unfortunately, there were no takers.
As for AM General, they lost their bid to build the Hummers replacement for the U.S. military in 2015, marking the end of a very prosperous era for the company.