Hands off the Hummer: Does the king of SUVs really deserve such hatred?

It's the symbol of everything the eco-set detests. Sean O'Grady offers a case for the defence

Thursday 17 January 2008 01:00
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I know what you're thinking. This car is an SUV. Worse, it's a foreign SUV, so, unlike a Land Rover or Honda CR-V you aren't even going to be protecting British jobs for British workers (copyright G Brown) when you buy one. Even worse, it's an American SUV and big, brash and blingy with it. Not only that, but it's a Hummer, a brand forever associated with images of army Humvees driving through the front doors of Iraqi shacks and President George W Bush's ill-starred foreign policy.

And it has a petrol engine – a big one. No sign of a hybrid drive or a stop-start mechanism ever gracing this baby. This Hummer is the pits, an evil symbol of all that's wrong with the automotive world, its drivers blithely killing the planet in the name ofsome silly fashion statement. Guilty, right?

Well, yes, that is broadly correct. The Hummer can't really put up much in its favour to counter those charges, as it isn't that much fun to drive and is tiring on the motorway. No concessions to aerodynamics, you see. However, like a Nazi war criminal at Nuremburg, and I'm afraid the average 4x4 driver must feel a little like that these days, it is entitled to a defence. So, gallantly, I shall do so.

First, the Hummer H3 is only obeying orders. Not much of a line, I know, but it can be adapted. Pushing the barriers of taste a little further, you might say that the Hummer is like the gun a terrorist might use to kill innocent bystanders. You'd put the terrorist on trial, not the gun. The gun is merely an inanimate machine; a human decides to use it. Ditto the Hummer. We – the car-buying public – are the people who have summoned this creature into existence. If we didn't want it, General Motors wouldn't make it. The Hummer, as a piece of intellectual property, doesn't do any harm. Only when we get behind the wheel to burn those fossil fuels does it become a real-world lump of planet-destroying metal. It follows our orders through its steering, brakes and accelerator. And some folk do need all-wheel drive and loads of power. So the Hummer is, in that sense, innocent.

Hmm, I think I can sense the jury shifting on their bottoms there. So let's move on to the next lineof defence. I need to call in expert witnesses and technical evidence from an American outfit named CNW Marketing. They found that the Jeep Wrangler is more environmentally friendly than the Toyota Prius, if you look at the environmental costs of the car and the trouble of disposing of it. A Jeep is simple to make, lasts longer than most cars, is easy to scrap and recycle, and its fuel consumption, whilst high, is not so outrageous as to outweigh those benefits. Just think about those 30- or 40-year-old Land Rovers you see wheezing round the countryside; actually a fairly green form of transport as they never need to be replaced.

Pay £26,495 for your H3 and you probably won't need to buy a new car again for 20 years. The Toyota Prius costs a lot in resources to develop, its battery packs are costly to make and dispose of, and not very green, and its fuel consumption isn't what it's cracked up to be. Taking all that into account, a Jeep, or a Hummer for that matter, is greener than a fancy hybrid.

Gosh, I think I'm making some inroads here. Now let's go for the emotions. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; don't you consider that the world is still big enough and free enough for us to enjoy diversity? Very few of us will drive a Hummer, as it's a niche product. And it's taxed on that basis; so the buyer is putting something back in the way of the VAT and fuel duty he'll be incurring. The Government can invest the cash in wind farms or buses. A fair deal.

Let me allow you to retire and consider your verdict. I doubt I'll get an acquittal, but thank you for listening to the case of the defence.

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