Calls for unique GMC's should pick up where Hummer left off.
March 3, 2014
By: Nick Saporito
Pictured: Hummer HX Concept - the concept version of the brand's alleged Wrangler competitor.
With every media event, candid conversations with the folks actually churning out the future products of General Motors are a must. While media-trained to not give away the keys to the castle, they often pass along anecdotes that give a glimpse at the guts of GM. Recently, the anecdotes trend surrounded the former Hummer brand; showcasing an underlining passion for the deceased pop culture icon that seems to merit rekindling.
On each of the last two GM media events I've been on, at least one product development employee passionately lamented about the Hummer brand. In both cases, the insider went over what went wrong with the brand and expressed their disappointment that the brand did not survive long enough to see the launch of its Jeep Wrangler competitor, allegedly named the H3X (rumored H4).
According to the sources, the H3X (H4) was going to be a somewhat radical departure for the brand, taking it from the gaudy luxury barge image of the H2 and turning it more authentically off-road. It would have taken what the H3 started with a less luxury, more rugged approach and amplified it. From a retail perspective, the move was also likely intended to generate more volume for Hummer dealers, who were mandated to build lavish, expensive showrooms just to be able to sell the H3.
As we all know, General Motors Corporation announced its intent to divest or kill the Hummer brand in 2008 as the company ran out of liquidity. After several failed attempts at off-loading the brand to overseas investors, GM ultimately killed Hummer and the H3X (H4) with it.
"The H3X would have changed perceptions of Hummer," stated one source. The H3X (H4) was to be based on a variant of the GMT-355 platform that also underpinned the H3 SUV and former Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. That platform, too, died during GM's bankruptcy.
Fast-forward to today and GM has another brand that seems to be a natural fit for a H3X-like product: GMC.
In recent years, the GMC brand has proven to be viable at driving higher transaction prices and attracting new buyers to GM. Nearly 20 percent of GMC's sales are of the top-end Denali models, with one of the brand's most expensive products, Yukon, trending as high as 60 percent Denali. As the brand attracts more lucrative sales, it's also increasing sales. Total GMC sales were up nine percent last year, with each retail model seeing increases; Acadia and Terrain both had their best sales year ever.
Like a parent rewarding their child, GM is rewarding GMC's good performance in recent years by giving the brand its own design DNA. The brand that historically had a lineup of Chevys with GMC grilles now actually has some design finesse to it. New GMC products have a C-clamp shape lighting signature, squared fender flares and other exclusive design cues.
Assuming GMC's good performance continues--all signs suggest it will--what is next for GMC? Perhaps exclusive product?
Apparently so. During January's Detroit auto show, GM product development chief Mark Reuss responded, "Oh yes, you will." when asked if we’d ever see GMC’s that are not shared with Chevrolet counterparts.
I'll go ahead and preface this by saying I've heard no official information or rumors what unique product GMC may get, but I certainly have some ideas. For starters, why not resurrect this supposedly awesome H3X for GMC?
Unlike recent history, GM now has a platform on which to develop a Wrangler competitor: the 31XX platform. It underpins the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Essentially a scaled down version of the full-size truck platform, it could serve as an excellent foundation for an off-roader; perhaps more so than the GMT-355 that would have originally bore the Hummer H3X. Thanks to the new midsize trucks, we also already know that four-cylinder and V-6 gas engines, as well as a four-cylinder diesel, are within the bandwidth of the 31XX program - perfect for this conceptual off-roader.
So GM has the hardware and maybe even the development (from Hummer) for this type of vehicle on the shelf and they have a truck and SUV brand that performs really well and in need of unique product. Sounds like a match made in heaven, no?
31XX could also serve to provide GMC another unique product. It's one we've talked about before: a traditional SUV. GMC could bring back the Envoy nameplate on a body on frame SUV similar to the new global Chevrolet Trailblazer. GMC could make this SUV a mini-Yukon with two rows of seats and a high degree of ruggedness. Unlike the previous Envoy, this one would have no Chevrolet counterpart.
Eventually, the Envoy could indirectly replace the Terrain or Acadia crossovers. The move would diversify the Buick-GMC sales channel and allow Buick to have a cushy midsize crossover, while GMC offers a rugged alternative for those who need to tow or want to go off-road on the weekend. Aiding in this is the fact that Jeep Grand Cherokee (a likely competitor to this theoretical GMC) sales are up 21 percent for the year. Grand Cherokee sales were up 13 percent for all of 2013.
Both of these GMC products could be offered in the company's highly successful Denali trim level as well, with the off-roader serving as the more premium alternative to the Jeep Wrangler. All-Terrain versions of both could also be offered with BF Goodrich tires and the design traits already found on GMC's All-Terrain models.
At the macro level, providing GMC these products solves a bigger problem at GM North America. It would serve as a solid step forward to filling in the gaps within the company's product portfolio, something Reuss has publicly stated as a priority for the company. As GM diversifies each brand's portfolio, the need to diversify brands with insane feature "rules" can go away. An example of such a rule is how Chevrolet SUVs can't have real aluminum trim because only GMC gets the real element.
Will GM ever produce these two products? It's hard to say, but probably not. Regardless, we can dream and producing two products that are spiritual successors of the Hummer brand may ultimately be a slight vindication for those who were so passionate about it internally.