David B.




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June 4, 2009

Hummer Drivers: Who’s Your Daddy?


It’s hard not to see Monday’s final implosion of the once-mighty General Motors as the ultimate kick in the teeth to Detroit, a city that has suffered from more such kicks – a great many self-inflicted – than virtually any other municipality in the nation.


GM was Detroit. Detroit was GM. The tacky, timeworn forbidding relic of a glass-and-steel monstrosity at the foot of Woodward Avenue, which serves as GM’s headquarters, the oxymoronically-named “Renaissance Center,” has been the emblem for this blighted metropolis since it’s construction in the early ‘70s. Since it’s firesale purchase by GM in the late ‘90s, it has stood as a telltale sign of everything that was rapidly going wrong with the corporation that Alfred P. Sloan built.


The thoroughly worthless “RenCen” was built upon the feeble-minded premise that bigger was always better: Why have one half-empty office tower when you could have five? Why have a few shuttered never-to-be-occupied storefronts in a veritable maze of an indoor mall when you could have hundreds? More, more, more  was the mantra behind this most ill-starred of urban developments, regardless of the fact that what it provided more, more, more of was bad, bad, bad.


Naturally GM bought it. It wasn’t a business decision; it was karma, it was manifest destiny. In Detroit, GM was king. Naturally, if it was big and hollow, it simply must belong to them.


Big and hollow was fast becoming, after all, the primary design principle behind GM vehicles. If the bloated, garish multi-ton Cadillac Escalade just wasn’t enough SUV to compensate for your insecurity or flagging masculinity, GM had an answer: The Hummer line. After all, what pea-brained, tiny-pricked yahoo wouldn’t want to be seen piloting a veritable mountain of steel around the cul-de-sac of his gated suburban community? In the Hummer, GM created the perfect synthesis of pomposity, arrogance, greed and stupidity and then put it on wheels, to the unbridled delight of cash-rich, brain cell-poor epsilon males everywhere.


And for a while it worked: America had no shortage of ostentatious dolts who didn’t mind that the cost of a fill-up was only marginally less than that of a monthly payment.


You didn’t have to be a latte-sipping Volvo driver with a Greenpeace bumper sticker to hate the Hummers, or the people who drove them. Few rational motorists – even Escalade owners – enjoyed the nearly-universal experience of having one of these absurdly-sized mini tanks careen into their lane at 80 miles an hour while its driver texted his secretary on his Blackberry. For that matter, it was evident that Hummer drivers hated themselves. Why else would they shell out thousands of extra dollars in fuel annually for the privilege of driving a vehicle that was nearly impossible to park? No one ever said that the inadequate couldn’t be masochists too.


Even as the rest of America fumed, as gas prices rose, as credit became harder to come by, GM went on making hollow vehicles for hollow people in a concerted drive to reinvent the Edsel. And this past Monday, it all came to an inglorious, screaming end in bankruptcy court.


The once mighty GM, which for nearly a century had had the power to bend the politics of a city and a state to its will, was revealed to be an echoing, empty shell. Its business strategy – if strategy is not too rich a word – of grasping for short-term profits from high-priced and environmentally unfriendly vehicles at the expense of developing a practical and environmentally sustainable fleet was outed as a consummate blunder by a band of consummate managerial incompetents. And now even the future of the white elephant tower at the foot of Woodward is in doubt: Rumor has it that a downsized, restructured GM is likely to open its new headquarters somewhere in the suburbs, leaving another corner of downtown Detroit to rot.


But there’s the biggest irony of all: A downsized GM has no room for big, bloated, stupid brands and vehicles like Hummer. So they sold it. To the Chinese.


The vehicle that symbolized the worst of American excess is now the trademarked brand of the nation that, more than any other, has usurped American manufacturing might – at the expressed invitation, it must be said, of management incompetents such as the clowns who ran GM for the past few generations. And for GM execs and Hummer owners alike, there isn’t enough Viagra in the world to compensate for that.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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