Depending on where you are sitting — or more accurately what you are sitting in — the Hummer super-SUV is either a shining symbol of American consumerism gone mad or a 21st-century emblem of American frontier heritage and individualism.
It’s easy to understand the first view. The Hummer is a hulking, slab-sided truck built by the same company that makes the Humvee military vehicles; at 3,900 kilograms, the H2 model needs a gallon of gas to rumble 10 miles (24 litres/100 km). The case for the latter, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, is a little more complex. Basically, Hummer owners are aware of the criticism aimed at the vehicle but drive them anyway — not despite the critics, but to spite them. “As we studied American Hummer owners and their ideological beliefs, we found that they consider Hummer driving a highly moral consumption choice,” write the authors. “For Hummer owners, it is possible to claim the moral high ground.”
One of the authors, Markus Giesler, an associate professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says the idea for the study came about when he and a graduate student were leaving a restaurant discussing potential dissertation topics, and a Hummer pulled up to park. “Within no time, five or six people gathered and yelled at the poor guy,” accusing him of ruining the environment and sanctioning warfare, says Giesler. “Here we had our topic.”
The authors found Hummer attitudes go beyond defending the rights of other Americans to choose, to a form of patriotism, contends Giesler. “They think they are particularly American by consuming this vehicle.”
Marshall Henderson, the North Carolina–based president of the Hummer Club, a nationwide group of 700 enthusiasts, is well aware of the hostility Hummers attract. He tries to refute his critics, but most don’t “want to hear any logic.” Henderson says his members are in a quandary over the fact that Hummer might soon be sold to a Chinese automaker. “Nobody wants the Chinese to have ownership of it, but none of the American motor companies are in position financially to do much about it.