The HUMMER brand name may be gone – tossed out of General Motors’ portfolio along with Saturn and Pontiac, but rumors continue to swirl that may indicate the spirit of HUMMER still lives within the 2nd largest automaker in the world.
The Latest News
The latest is an article from The Wall Street Journal that indicates a “new vehicle” was discussed with dealers that “would borrow cues and capability” from the HUMMER brand. GMC has been working on such a vehicle in their design studio for nearly a year (that we know of), and the new boss at GMC, Duncan Aldred, mentioned working on new products like an “active all-road, Wrangler-esque type of vehicle,” in an attempt to shake the image that GMC can’t produce unique vehicles.
When there’s talk publically and privately about a potential new vehicle for an entire year, it typically indicates something very real. It’s not just idle conversation or design dreaming. More likely than not, it’s Aldred trying to make a name for himself and the GMC brand.
The Jeep Wrangler Market
US Jeep sales continue to climb – more than doubling their annual sales from 82,000 in 2009 to 175,000 in 2014. Those numbers reflect both an interest in lower-end, off-road capable vehicles and also Jeep’s dominance in that segment. Jeep currently has no direct competition.
The next closest in size and capability would probably be the Land Rover Evoque, which is nearly double the MSRP of the cheapest Jeep Wranglers and offers a more refined ride and stylish exterior – which is to say that it’s practically a completely different market. The Landrover Discover Vision concept may be getting closer, but even if that makes it to production, I still have a hard time putting it next to the Jeep Wrangler and calling it a true competitor.
GMC Wrangler Competitor Concept
Jeep has shown that there’s a market (and they own it) for inexpensive, off-road vehicles. Breaking into that market is easier said than done, and consideration to the following would be well advised:
It’s going to be difficult to beat the cheapest Jeep Wrangler on price alone. At an entry price of around $22k (well-equipped at $32), it’s going to be near impossible to differentiate on price. The best bet will be to come in at the same price point, or 2-3k higher, but make the step-up in price well worth it.
Jeep has a lock on the most iconic styling for about half a century. That said, it won’t be a sleek and stylish exterior that will win the hearts of this market or convert Jeep owners – it will need to look (and be) undeniably tough, rugged, and purpose-built. There must be no doubt upon seeing it that it is built for off-road driving. You need to be able to put it next to a Wrangler, and have people say they’d rather take the GMC off-road or through the snowstorm. This is a big reason why the H3 didn’t convert many Jeep owners. Yes, it was capable – but it didn’t look as capable to a layman. Laymans are the ones who make and break models and brands because they make up the majority of car buyers.
In order to win over the non-laymans (i.e., those who won’t be won over by styling alone), it needs to be a capable vehicle. The HUMMER HX had more impressive stats nearly all the way around when compared to the Jeep Wrangler (Approach angle, Departure Angle, Breakover Angle, and had 30% more ground clearance), and a GMC competitor would need meet or exceed a majority of these capabilities to truly convert those looking for an off-road experience.
Jeep is set to overhaul the Wrangler for 2017. That said, overhauls to the Wrangler haven’t been as drastic as every other vehicle – with styling staying nearly the same and offering marginal improvements in capabilities and creature comforts. GMC would benefit from a release date not too far off. That’s easier said than done, since a concept hasn’t even been produced and displayed to gauge interest (unless they take the HX concept feedback as proof of concept, which, is probably true to an extent – hence them working on the new vehicle). In all likelihood, a GMC concept would be revealed at one of the major auto shows this year or next. Depending on how ‘production ready’ it looked would help determine an actual release date. 2017 would be very fast, but not impossible if they’re already green-lit the vehicle. 2018 would be much more likely, since there are currently no indications that a vehicle is out of concept stage at and into pre-production and regulatory testing.
Jeeps are notorious for having few creature comforts and having a cheap, plastic, rickety feel. Jeep fans would describe it as “no-frills” and “rugged” – but when I drive around town when I’m not off-roading (most of the time), that’s not the experience I want. I suspect I’m not alone. If GMC made the interior a little less chincy than the Jeep Wrangler, it would likely win over those who don’t spend a majority of their time offroad (nearly everyone).
Of all the recommendations above, exterior styling and price-point would be the most critical for success followed closely by capabilities and a few interior refinements. I know there are a lot of off-road warriors that will disagree, but until off-road warriors purchase the majority of vehicles, those priorities will allow a GMC competitor have a fighting chance against the Jeep Wrangler. If the vehicle is a success, it will allow for more investment and design upgrades to increase off-road capability down the line.
This sounds cool, but I think I’m going to still prefer my H3. If it doesn’t say HUMMER on it, it’s not going to be the same