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Take My Hummer -- Please

John Moe

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Deal on 33-inch wheels
(Courtesy Dave Harmon)
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If you're planning a getaway by car this weekend, I hope it's downhill both ways. The national average for a gallon of gas nationwide is now more than $4. A lot of us are making changes -- General Motors even says it might sell off its Hummer division. Which makes GM sound like a lot of households: "We have got to get rid of our SUV!"

GM says domestic sales of Hummers are down 30 percent. But if you think about it, that means 70 percent of the Hummer business is still rolling! Who are these people? Weekend America's John Moe went in search of the modern Hummer economy.

Dave Harmon of Cedar, Minn., knew it wasn't exactly an economy car -- he describes it as a "jacked-up seven-inch lift with 33-inch mud tires on a Hummer H2, 2003. The gas mileage has been cut about in half to about six miles a gallon.

"And just like most of the stuff we purchase as toys, it proved I'm an idiot."

Dave's Hummer weighs three-and-a-half tons. And that's not counting the hate mail.

"Yeah, I get a lot of notes on the windows from people that I'm not patriotic and I don't support the troops and the whole thing, you know, for the gas mileage," he says. "I actually saw a lady at Home Depot putting one on my door. But she said the least I could do was put a 'Support Our Troops' ribbon on the back if I'm going to be using all the gas that they're losing their lives to get me."

Most Americans were introduced to Hummer in first Gulf War, with images of "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf riding one through the desert wastes of Kuwait and Iraq. The Hummer meant American power and victory. Eventually they became available to average American consumers like Dave Harmon, who bought his a couple of years ago for his new home construction business. But the economy sputtered, the business failed and the current war in Iraq became a mess. So, Hummer for sale.

And has he had any bites?

"No. No emails, no phone calls," Harmon says. "I can't even bring it to [car dealer] Rudy Luther's and find out what they'd pay me to buy it back. They just laugh. Nobody wants anything to do with it."

But some people still want everything to do with Hummers. "When I saw one, I said I got to get one of those, you know?" says Mike Bramel of Wisconsin. He's owned five Hummers. He belongs to a Hummer club. He's crazy about them. But will he break the habit with gas prices so high?

"No. Take it to the grave," he says. "There's nothing like driving one. It's almost like a tank. You got this little cockpit, it's nice and snug. You got a little control panel, it's almost like a fighter jet or something."

The military symbolism holds up for Bramel -- tanks, jet fighters. It's one of the reasons he'll buy more Hummers. Bramel uses his Mercedes for trips around town, drives the Hummer on weekends. He can afford to.

At Wally McCarthy's dealership in Roseville, Minn., salesmen stare out the window hoping for customers like Bramel to walk up to the lot. Sales manager Bill Emstad insists the mileage isn't that bad. "Our vehicles get fair, respectable mileage, mid to upper 20s," he says. "An SUV that will give you 20 miles per gallon? People find that more than respectable."

But the research that I saw said that it was between like 12 and 18 miles per gallon.

"Well, that's not our experience," he replies. "I happen to own an H3, and on the road it gives us just on the sunny side of 20 miles per gallon."

Emstad's claims are pretty different from what the government says you can expect. But that's not how they sell the Hummer anyway. The Hummer economy has shaken out people who need to care about that. A vehicle built for soldiers is now available exclusively to generals. Salesmen Jim York took me out on the test track, an ersatz rocky terrain in front of the showroom.

"The position we're in right now is called 'nothing but rock,'" he says during a particularly tortured maneuver on the test track. "So basically, if you look through your windshield, all you'll see is rock. Now we're going to go up this rock, now the next position is called 'nothing but sky.' See, all you're seeing now is clouds," he says as we roll along.

I ask him if the salesmen ever just drive around on the track for fun when sales are slow. "Oh sure. We do it," he says. "I'm a realist. I'm not going to sit here and say the gas hasn't hurt us. There's no question about it. But you know what? We still sell 'em."

Dave Harmon, the guy trying to sell his Hummer, has no test track. He has a driveway, a family to feed, an $800-a-month payment and a three-and-a-half ton reminder of his regrettable decision. But does he at least have good memories of how it was in better times?

"Yes, all the guys at the gas stations in their minivans and all," he says, recalling the friendly waves he used to get. Now? "Nobody wants to be in my shoes and be the idiot that actually did it."


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  • By Greg Erickson

    From Berkley, CA, 06/15/2008

    That "tax break" was not some special deal offered to hummer buyers, it was put in place in 1984 to allow commercial vehicle operators to buy vehicles over 6k to get a deduction. Thanks to bloating SUV's some smart folks discovered it and used it. It's not like the hybrid tax break by the democrats that offers a break for those who buy those cars with the batteries that will scar our ecosystem for decades. They should put a 10k "eco terrorist" tax on hyrbids.

    By kent strock

    From fort wayne, IN, 06/14/2008

    I love your show and the relaxed tone, but there was one major flaw in this piece. The contractor who bought his Hummer did so because of a special tax break given by the Republicans. He obviously wasn't using the Hummer to haul stuff for building. I find it hard to believe that this fact wasn't discovered during research

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