Analysis: The GMC Hummer EV is a great implementation of an awesome idea



CNN

With the GMC Hummer EV, GM designers and executives wanted to create a vehicle that would destroy stereotypes about electric vehicles and what they can do. In this regard, the GMC Hummer EV has been a notable success. It’s unlike any electric car – or any vehicle in any form of power – before it.

I just hope electric car stereotypes are the only things Hummers will crash through. The GMC Hummer EV weighs more than 9,000 pounds, and has twice the mass of many other gas-powered SUVs, not to mention regular cars. In the event of an accident, that mass could pose a serious danger to others on the road. After spending a day testing the Hummer on and off-road, I was impressed with its capabilities, but worried that its mass combined with its power was dangerous.

This is because the Hummer EV is so good. It has ridiculous amounts of power. It has four-wheel steering to help it turn as tightly as a compact car. It runs as smoothly as any other luxury SUV. But it weighs about three times as much as a Honda Civic.

It does so many things so well that it does a great job of making me believe that the laws of physics have finally been abandoned. But they didn’t. Helping you forget that your truck weighing 9,000 pounds is not the same as its actual weight of less than 9,000 pounds. And forgetting what you’re really driving can be risky.

The Hummer brand is no stranger to heavy vehicles. It was created in 1992 by a company called AM General, which manufactured the original Humvee military vehicles. The derivative Humvee name was changed from “High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle” to Hummer for the AM General versions sold to the public. The original Hummer H1, slightly altered from the armored military truck, weighed about 8,000 pounds.

The new GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 truck features four-wheel steering that allows it to spin like a compact car and drive downhill.

After General Motors bought the brand, they introduced the Hummer H2 in 2002. It’s still huge, but it’s basically a standard full-size SUV—it weighs 6,400 pounds. The brand has become a target for environmentally conscious customers who were appalled by the apparent waste of gasoline these big trucks represented. The brand was officially dissolved in 2010 as part of General Motors’ bankruptcy restructuring, but has now been reinstated as a sub-brand of GMC for electric trucks and sport utility vehicles that weigh more.

The GMC Hummer EV Edition 1, which costs more than $100,000, has three electric motors that can produce up to 1,000 horsepower. This big truck can go from zero to 60 miles in about three seconds, similar to the Ferrari of just a decade ago. All that power means that, from the driver’s seat, this hefty truck doesn’t feel as heavy as it gets.

Although I don’t think I’ve ever driven something as heavy as a Hummer on public roads, I’ve driven a lot of big gas or diesel trucks. I always felt like I was in control of something huge and heavy. Of course, I’ll drive accordingly, a little slower and be more careful.

Hummer fills a lane from side to side and is about 7 feet tall. So, yes, I could see it was big, but it responded quickly, easily, and quietly to the throttle.

It runs as smoothly as any luxury SUV. The steering can be a little sloppy—I often find myself having to make slight adjustments when exiting a turn—but for a big truck, it wasn’t terrible.

The Hummer EV also has great off-road capability, thanks to which, again, thanks to all-wheel steering, it has the ability to maneuver on tracks you might not think it could manage. All four wheels can also rotate in the same direction allowing the truck to drive diagonally, and the truck to move forward but laterally at the same time as if it were sliding on the ground. Situations where it comes in handy are rare, but it’s a great trick.

However, I couldn’t get rid of my safety concerns. Not so much for my personal safety, but the safety of others around me on the road. Electric cars, with their heavier batteries, tend to weigh more than gas-powered vehicles of the same size. The Hummer EV Edition 1 is just a stark example.

Of the more than 65,000 Hummer EVs that GM has said it will build so far, most will not have the 24-hour Edition 1 battery pack, three motors and bottom skid plates that contribute to their massive mass. (When asked, GM hasn’t said how many First Edition models it will eventually build.) But it will likely still be very heavy. They also may not share all of his problems with vision. This version, which is a high point in the weight and speed of electric trucks, raises questions about the automaker’s responsibilities to those who share the roads with their creations.

There is a simple physics of car accidents. When two moving objects meet, they each tend to continue with the speed and direction in which they were already moving. Both of them can’t do that just by hitting each other. It will push the heavier object into the lighter object, violently pushing it out of the way. If there are accidents between heavy and lighter vehicles, those in the lighter vehicle are more likely to die or suffer serious injuries, said Ross Rader, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The GMC Hummer EV's interior has a space-age feel and a well-designed user interface, although it's a bit slow to respond to inputs.

The Insurance Institute has proven this in crash tests. Even with vehicles of relatively close weight, the disadvantages of those of the lighter vehicle were obvious. Also evidenced by the insurance claim data of small and light vehicles. Conversely, people in heavy vehicles are less likely to be injured, but it is a zero-sum game. Their safety comes at the expense of others. It’s unclear whether the risk to other vehicles continues to increase as the weight gap increases, Rider said, because there aren’t many examples of vehicles as heavy as the Hummer. There is really no way to determine it until real accidents occur.

A lot also depends on the Hummer drivers, Ryder said. It can turn out that those who buy a Hummer have an unusual conscience and rarely break down. Another thing we know from insurance claims statistics, he said, is that higher-horsepower vehicles tend to have more — and more serious — accidents, leading to more deaths and injuries. This is true even in vehicles that weigh nothing like 9,000 pounds.

Company spokesperson Michael Farah confirmed to me that GM engineers were aware of the potential problem with the Hummer Edition 1’s weight. Throughout the development process, they worked to ensure all that weight was kept under control. A number of safety technologies, available on many vehicles, such as pedestrian detection and lane keeping assist are standard on the truck. The Hummer is also available with Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free highway driving assistance feature that Consumer Reports has described as the safest of all of these systems, including Tesla’s Autopilot. During my test drive, I controlled the big truck brilliantly and even changed lanes on its own while the driver monitoring system ensured I paid attention to the road.

Farah said the engineers chose the tires to ensure the shortest possible stopping distance, 157 feet from 60 mph. Farah said this is shorter than some internal combustion trucks. It is hardly typical. The average pickup truck can stop at 140 feet, more than the length of a vehicle shorter than the Hummer Edition 1’s stopping distance, according to Consumer Reports, which tests these things. Alex Knizek, an engineer at Consumer Reports, said the Hummer’s stopping distance is a lot like a large heavy-duty truck, the kind used for serious business. These trucks are designed to carry heavy loads that the Hummer EV cannot.

Heft isn’t just an issue with the Hummer EV Edition 1. Other electric trucks will weigh a lot, too. Without passengers or payload, the Ford F-150 Lightning weighs about 6,500 pounds – still quite heavy – and the Rivian R1T weighs more than 7,000 pounds. By comparison, a full-size Chevrolet Tahoe SUV weighs about 5,500 pounds. The Nissan Sentra weighs 3000 lbs.

Excess weight creates a problem in another way. US vehicle safety regulations are designed around the assumption that very heavy vehicles like these will be commercial trucks, not vehicles that ordinary people will drive on errands and for fun. The official vehicle weight of the Hummer is 10,550 pounds. This number, which represents the weight of the truck itself plus the maximum weight of passengers and cargo it can carry, means that different safety rules apply.

For one thing, the mirror on the right side of most passenger cars is curved to provide a wider view of the road from behind. (Hence, the inscription “things in the mirror are closer than they seem.”) Since a Hummer EV has a gross weight rating of over 10,000 pounds, though, federal rules require it to have a flat mirror on the side rather than a wide-angle mirror. The rationale is that heavy trucks are supposed to be large and tall, so drivers of these vehicles need to more accurately assess the distance of vehicles next to them.

When I tested driving a Hummer EV, the flat mirror seemed to leave significant blind spots. I quickly learned to rely on the Blind Spot Monitor before changing lanes. I would recommend GM, due to the fact that drivers will really need that blind spot to be watched, this light should be much more visible. It’s inside the side mirror glass itself where it’s hard to notice in the visual clutter. Other automakers, such as Volkswagen, have placed BSM warning lights close to the mirror, but not inside so they stand out more.

The GMC Hummer has plenty of cameras, but they are mostly used only for off-road where they help drivers see the tops of steep hills and observe obstacles on the road.

Because of its exceptional weight, the GMC Hummer EV is regulated like a commercial work truck.

Automakers such as Hyundai and Kia offer side cameras, as well as mirrors, that are triggered whenever the turn signal is used. The Toyota Tundra large pickup truck offers a front camera that can be activated when the truck is moving slowly, such as when it is approaching a stop sign or driving into a parking lot. These are good ideas other automakers are using that would come in handy on a GMC tall Hummer. GM seems to have a blind spot when it comes to blind spots.

GM’s goal with this truck was to create an eye-catching demonstration of EV capabilities. This could have been achieved using the truck concept. Engineers could build half a dozen Hummer EV Edition 1 trucks or so, and put them into the hands of professional drivers for demonstrations showing what was theoretically possible in an electric truck without making it available for sale to the public.

People may have been disappointed, but GM could have set an important precedent for the auto industry by acknowledging that the limitations of what constitutes a good idea are no longer constrained by the limits of technology, and it has proceeded accordingly. Hopefully the stopping distance in this direction of increased weight and power will be shorter than this truck.