Sample Passage

GM is at it again. In the name of efficiency and zero emissions, they’ve put the Hummer EV Pickup into production under the GMC label. It’s a gross excrescence: more than 9,000 pounds, base price of $110,295 for the Edition 1 model. Here’s a passage from “The American Automobile from Flivver to Furious” about the last time this went on.

While these novelties were accepted or rejected on aesthetic terms, GM pickled a whole lot of livers by issuing the 2002 Hummer H2 sport-utility. Having acquired rights to the Hummer name, the corporation went ahead and stamped Hummer as a stand-alone brand and brought out the obscene H2, a big garbled gob of styling miscues that screamed out “Wannabe!” in a yellow paint job. Plopped onto a standard-issue Chevy pickup chassis, this execrable coach was a fuel-slurper beyond the worst nightmares of the TreePeople. Besides the struggle to drag its own 6,400-pound mass along the road, the H2 failed in the most basic design requirement of stating its purpose, à la the Jeep Cherokee. Was the H2 meant to invade the hunting lodge neighboring one’s vacation cottage up north? Besides wastefulness it symbolized self-indulgence and the lack of social responsibility. If the original product plan was titled “Trammel the Kyoto Protocol,” no one would have been surprised. A joke went around: 

A guy takes his Hummer to the gas station and starts filling up the tank. An hour passes, then two, and three hours. Finally, a station employee comes out and says, “Listen, boss, why don’t you turn off the engine?”

The United States was about to invade Iraq, and many said the issue really was oil. Firebombs started to sail into Hummer dealerships and others that dealt in jumbo SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator. It happened at Romania Chevrolet, in Eugene, Oregon, and Bob Ferrando Ford World, in Girard, Pennsylvania. More than thirty SUVs in Richmond, Virginia, were hacked stabbed, slashed, and chemically etched. “Police and the FBI want to know whether the attacks are the work of the shadowy Earth Liberation Front, an international underground organization that uses economic sabotage,” a news report said. 

The most notorious case centered around a twenty-three-year-old Caltech graduate student, William “Billy” Cottrell. Dealers and law enforcement officials posted a $100,000 reward after an attack on a Hummer dealership in West Covina, about fifteen miles from the campus, that destroyed twenty Hummer and Chevrolet SUVs as well as a building. Unable to smash the shatterproof windshield, Cottrell would break a side window and insert a Molotov cocktail brewed up in a Corona beer bottle. He autographed his work by spray-painting Euler’s Theorem, a mathematical formula useful in encrypting data. When local police fingered a well-known activist, Cottrell felt a twinge and contacted the Los Angeles Times to admit, “I was amongst those responsible for the SUV attacks … The FBI hasn’t seemed to pick up on any of them [clues], which makes this whole ordeal rather boring for us, the true culprits.” Cottrell received a sentence of one hundred months. Another suspect, thought to have planned the attack, fled to Corsica and died six years later after being caught in a landslide while hiking. 

The ELF found the H2 infuriating, but plenty of others latched onto it as a status symbol. A high school senior and basketball wizard named LeBron James got a customized silver one from his mom for Christmas. Even after the invasion of Iraq, the H2 was outselling the Lincoln Navigator, tallying more than 3,000 units per month. “When I turn on the TV, I see wall-to-wall Humvees, and I’m proud,” owner Sam Bernstein told a reporter. One headline declared, “SUV gulps gas as owners eat up attention.” And another: “Happy Hummer owners paint their pride red, white and blue.”