Hummer, the sport utility vehicle (SUV) brand which symbolised Americans' love for hulking gas-guzzlers, is being put up for sale by General Motors because its customers have deserted in droves since petrol prices soared higher.
GM, tied with Toyota for the title of world's largest car-maker, unveiled the strategic review of the Hummer brand as part of a restructuring designed to shift production towards smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Coming a fortnight after rival Ford announced similar cuts to SUV and pick-up-truck production, GM's move reflects a change in consumer behaviour that is pinching the company's financial results. It said yesterday that it sold 28 per cent fewer vehicles in May compared with the same month last year, with the steepest declines in SUV sales.
Rick Wagoner, GM's chief executive, said: "High gas prices are changing consumer behaviour, and changing it rapidly," said . "We don't believe it's a spike or a temp-orary shift. We believe it is, by and large, permanent."
GM said its strategic review would examine bids for the whole of the Hummer business, and also consider the sale of a partial stake or a complete overhaul of the brand.
The company also said it would stop making SUVs and pick-up trucks at four North American plants, cutting overall production by half a million vehicles. And Mr Wagoner said he had given the green light to production of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric car which he said could be on the market in 2010. GM said its vehicle sales in May fell 28 per cent to 268,892, with SUV and pick-up truck sales plunging 37 per cent.
Ford, too, unveiled US vehicle sales figures for last month, showing a 16 per cent decline. Sales of its F-Series pick-up were down by 31 per cent and the Ford Explorer SUV plunged by 41 per cent, while its small car, the Ford Focus, was almost alone as a bright spot, up by 53 per cent.
Unions called GM's decision to shut four plants "a betrayal", saying they should be retooled for smaller vehicles. And analysts expressed disappointment at the timing of the Hummer review.