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A Brief History Of: The Humvee

2 minute read
Kate Pickert

The mighty humvee has conquered foreign battlefields, suburban soccer fields and much of the terrain between. But the vehicle has reached a crossroads: With gas prices high and warfare evolving, does it still fulfill the missions–civilian and military–it was built for?

When humvees first debuted in 1985, U.S. soldiers called them “jeeps on steroids.” More squat than sporty but superbly versatile, they served as troop carriers, command centers and ambulances. America got its first good look at them six years later during Desert Storm and liked what it saw enough that a civilian model appeared soon after. (Arnold Schwarzenegger was among the first to own one, more than a decade before he became governor of California and a champion of emissions standards.) By the mid-1990s, the Hummer’s gleaming chrome grille and 14-m.p.g. (17 L/100 km) fuel consumption epitomized American extravagance. General Motors bought the marketing rights in 1999 and rolled out new models–the H2 and H3–in the face of predictable outrage from environmentalists: one zealot set fire to a Hummer dealership in West Covina, Calif., in 2003.

The military version, meanwhile, got bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roadside bombs shredded the minimally armored vehicles, killing hundreds of U.S. troops; “up-armored” models proved safer but prone to rollover. According to an August report, the Army is testing various next-generation vehicles–including a redesigned humvee dubbed the Expanded Capacity Vehicle II–and plans to spend billions on new trucks in 2009 and 2010.

The future of the civilian Hummer does not look as bright. GM stopped producing the H1 in 2006 and said in June it plans to scale back, sell off or shut down the division. These days, consumers prefer their Jeeps on a diet.

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