Hummer heading to China, the new land of excess

AP WASHINGTON – With last week’s announcement that General Motors will sell its Hummer brand to a Chinese heavy-equipment manufacturer, a symbol of fading American excess migrates to a nation eager to pick up the mantle.

Hummer

China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. has agreed to buy the brand from GM, the two companies said Tuesday, for less than $500 million, well off its peak value of a decade ago.

The 7,000-pound gas guzzlers are rolling out of an environment that became increasingly hostile toward them and into one whose go-go industrialism and lack of regard for the environment – until very recently – resembled that found in the United States a century ago.

But the Hummer will not be embraced by everyone in China. The nation has a tiny but budding green movement that already has complained about its middle-class ostentatiousness and growing carbon footprint.

GM entered bankruptcy Monday with the promise of $30 billion in government assistance. As part of its downsizing, GM is trying to sell off brands that no longer fit the company’s – and the White House’s – vision of its future. Hummer is the first to go.

All vehicles have detractors, but it’s hard to imagine another that inspires such vitriol as the Hummer.

‘It became sort of a symbol of the liberal left and environmentalists of everything that was horrible about the auto industry,’ David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, said Tuesday.

In Chinese, ‘Hummer’ translates to ‘tough horse.’

Even though a Chinese company will own Hummer, they will be manufactured at a Louisiana plant through at least 2011, temporarily safeguarding about 3,000 jobs, the companies said last week.

‘The Hummer brand is synonymous with adventure, freedom and exhilaration, and we plan to continue that heritage by investing in the business, allowing Hummer to innovate and grow in exciting new ways under the leadership and continuity of its current management team,’ Tengzhong CEO Yang Yi said.

Tengzhong is based in the manufacturing city of Chengdu, capital of the south-central province of Sichuan. The company is privately owned, but Beijing has final say on all overseas purchases by Chinese companies.

Even though Hummer will be owned by the Chinese, they will not be the primary customer.

‘They’ll sell them all over the world. It’s really a world vehicle,’ Cole said. ‘A lot of them right now go to the Middle East,’ Cole said, where the Hummer’s predecessor was designed to roam and where fuel is plentiful. He named Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as top customers.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he expects the Chinese company to make improvements to his beloved Hummer brand. Speaking last week at a promotion for an alternative-fuel vehicle, he said he thinks the Chinese will probably convert the 15 mpg Hummer to one that gets 30 or 40 mpg in a short time.

Schwarzenegger helped popularize the brand among civilians after falling in love with it in 1991. The actor-turned politician has since become an unlikely environmental champion. His two remaining Hummers have both been modified to use less fuel. Recently he held a photo-op in front of a Hummer with an electric battery.

He says he’s saddened that American car companies have fallen so far behind when it comes to fuel-efficient technology.

Also last week, the U.S. Army assured people that the GM deal to sell its Hummer brand to the Chinese company has nothing to do with the military version of the rugged vehicle, the Humvee.

A spokesman for AM General said the military and civilian programs are separate.

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