The H3 was Hummer's attempt to enter the SUV mainstream back in the late 2000s. This is the 2008 iteration.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - Hummer, the automotive nameplate that once epitomised wasteful gas-guzzling SUVs, could be poised to make a comeback - as a green brand!

General Motors is planning to build a new family of premium electric pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant beginning in late 2021, possibly reviving the imposing Hummer brand on some of them, several people familiar with the plans said.

The so-called BT1 electric truck/SUV program is the centerpiece of a planned $3 billion (R44.28bn) investment in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant to make electric trucks and vans, according to a proposed labor deal between the carmaker and the United Auto Workers union.

The investment would move the GM into a part of the EV market that is largely untested and where the company has a higher likelihood of turning a profit, analysts said.

"It makes perfect sense to hit the high end of the market in order to generate some revenue that might actually turn a profit," Auto Forecast Solutions vice president of global vehicle forecasting Sam Fiorani said.

GM is mirroring the approach that Tesla took by starting in the high end and then moving down the price ladder, he said.

That is important for a company that previously tried to sell the plug-in electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt and all-electric Bolt cars at lower prices and higher volumes, but failed to sell enough to make those efforts profitable, Fiorani said.

GM's BT1 project also includes an electric bakkie for the GMC brand and an electric SUV for Cadillac, both due in 2023, the sources said.

Before then, GM plans to begin low-volume production in late 2021 of the first BT1 model, a bakkie, under a different brand, the source said. A performance variant of the pickup will be added to that brand in 2022, followed by an electric SUV in 2023.

One of the sources said the Hummer name is "under consideration" but a decision has not been finalised. The pickup is codenamed "Project O."

Bringing back the Hummer name would take advantage of a still strongly recognised brand name, Fiorani said. Hummers were rugged, gas-guzzling civilian utility vehicles that were inspired by military vehicles and were popular with such celebrities as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former basketball star Dennis Rodman. 

Hummer tried to go mainstream in 2006 with the H3 SUV, which was more compact than the brand's other offerings. The H3 was even built in South Africa for export, but it was never a huge success.

"Putting a Hummer badge on anything is a great idea for General Motors because half the marketing is already paid for," he said. "Making it environmentally friendly is just icing on the cake."

New 'skateboard' architecture

The pickups and SUVs in the BT1 family will use a new dedicated electric vehicle architecture, including a "skateboard" chassis that bundles electric motor and batteries, the sources said. Fiorani expects the GM electric truck to sell at around $90 000 (R1.3m) or more, while the other vehicles will easily top $100 000 (R1.48m).

GM President Mark Reuss said in June at a UBS conference that the new EV architecture will be highly flexible, enabling the Detroit carmaker to build a variety of body types in different sizes, with the capability of providing front-, rear- or all-wheel drive models.

When the plant reaches full production in 2024, it is expected to build about 80 000 electric vehicles a year, the sources said. Fiorani called that figure realistic.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in April that the company would make an electric full-size pickup, but provided no further details. The company has said it plans to invest $8 billion (R118bn) to develop electric and self-driving vehicles, launching 20 new EVs globally by 2023.

Asked about the details provided to Reuters, GM spokeswoman Jordana Strosberg said GM doesn't comment on speculation. But she added the company is committed to an electric future.

"GM believes in an all-electric future and we are making great progress in that area," she said. "We have announced that a pickup truck will be part of our future portfolio, but have no additional information to provide."

GM is aiming to be one of the first in what is soon to be a crowded market for electric trucks and SUVs.

Well-funded Michigan startup Rivian has announced plans to build an electric pickup - a premium version of which will top $90 000 - followed by an electric SUV, beginning in late 2020. It also has a contract with investor Amazon.com to build up to 100 000 electric delivery vans for the e-commerce giant.

GM previously held discussions about investing in Rivian and using its electric vehicle platform, but sped up its internal EV program when the startup turned to Ford.

IOL & Reuters