Monday, November 03, 2008
[It was exactly three years today in November of 2005 that this story was pushed out onto the internet, only to elicit a deluge of comments, links, and discussion. Recall that this was just months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had sent energy prices soaring and, while the housing boom had not yet gone decidedly bust, it was on its way and the popular Hummer brand was at its peak. The story is reproduced below in its entirety and I still think that second sentence is one of the best I've ever written. Enjoy.]
November 3, 2005
The word around town was that the Hummers weren't moving. It looked like high gas prices and a White House reversal on fuel conservation meant that fewer "W" bumper stickers would find their exposed sticky sides mating gloriously with the smooth rear bumper of an H2, somewhere between the tow loop and the access hole for a Class 3 hitch.
We were skeptical at first. Sources can be unreliable, but the scuttlebutt was that inventory had been building for months now and the local Hummer dealer had panicked. He had begun storing his Hummer inventory at an undisclosed location, far from the dealer showroom so as not to spook jittery, prospective buyers with the mounting number of unsold H2s and H3s.
When an anonymous caller phoned in with the location, we were off. "The rear parking lot of the Hyatt Westlake Plaza Hotel", he said, just before the line went dead.
TMTGM investigative sleuths Erik Ustin and Ray Pizzuti grabbed your still somewhat skeptical editor, and after stopping at Human Resources to pick up a few "half-off at Togo's" coupons we scurried past security, through the main entrance, and out to the parking lot.
A security guard spotted us and yelled, "Hey you three, stop right there!"
We froze in place, eyeing our surroundings, thinking quickly, instantly evaluating possible courses of action.
"One of you didn't scan out! Get back here and run your badge past the scanner again and make sure it beeps this time!"
OK, we're not sure where this was headed or how long and how silly it would be enroute, so we'll just get to it. The Hummer dealer in this part of Southern California is apparently having trouble moving his merchandise. After a row of Hummers was spotted behind the Hyatt Hotel, three of us went on a reconnaissance mission to find out more. Here's the first picture we snapped:
Click to enlarge
Doesn't look like much - about 25 H3s in the far corner of the parking lot, and the next aisle over was pretty much the same. But then when we came around the corner we saw this:
Click to enlarge ... really, click it
That's a lot of Hummers, all H3s, lined up neatly waiting for someone to take them home and love them. Looking to the right there were more, so we walked all the way down to the end of the row and snapped this picture:
Click to enlarge ... now here, we will insist - click it and make it bigger
That's the same view as the previous picture, just taken from about 30 Hummers further down to the right. Behind this hotel were about 150 Hummers - about 80 in this row alone - almost all H3s, along with eight or ten original H1s.
A police car drove by slowly - surely he wondered why we were taking pictures and laughing, but then he looked closer, recognized the unthreatening physiques of three software engineers, spotted our badges, and quickly lost interest.
Someone from the dealership pulled in with another H3, so we wandered over and asked how business was these days. He said something about hurricanes and gas prices, then we asked where the H2s were. He said, "They're at the other lot".
Thrilled and amused as we were, we'd only learned part of the story. After getting directions we proceeded to lot #2, while placing a few quick bets with an over/under quickly set at 60. The thinking here was that the despite looking like a Jeep Cherokee on steroids, the H3s were about $20K less expensive than the H2s and had respectable fuel economy (16 city / 19 highway is what the sticker said) - maybe the dealer had just placed a very large, poorly timed order, a few months back.
Surely the H2 inventory was under control.
Pulling into lot #2, the "under" looked liked it would be the clear winner - forty, fifty tops, from the first looks of it:
Click to enlarge ... this one's up to you
Then we walked down to the end of the aisle to see this:
Click to enlarge ... go for it
That's about fifty H2s on the left, and a bit of congestion in the middle as the Hummers appear to be entering the lot at a rate far exceeding the rate at which they leave. After walking down to the end of this aisle we spied another aisle of about the same length stretching around the corner:
Click to enlarge ... again, we will insist, make it bigger
When the counting was done, there were about 150 H2s in lot #2, for a grand total of around three hundred Hummers, just looking for someone to love them. In the above picture notice the attendant and the red 5-gallon gas cans - based on a brief conversation with this young man, we didn't sense any love from him.
Apparently the thrill of driving Hummers back and forth between the remote storage lot and the dealer showroom wears off quickly, as each round trip requires that another five gallons of fuel be dispensed in order to ensure a complete round trip.
We've talked about SUVs in these pages before, having developed a California SUV Fill Up Index which we then updated as gas prices in this area hit $2.80 and then $2.90 per gallon. What a person drives or how much fuel they consume matters little to us, so long as they leave some gas at the pumps for others and don't run us over on the freeway.
The reason that the story of rapidly rising Hummer inventory is so interesting and so amusing, is that America's most ostentatious Sport Utility Vehicle, the Hummer SUV, is a metaphor for America in the world today - overweight, overpriced, inefficient, and unloved.
UPDATE (11/5/2005 - 7:35 AM PST):
As discussed in the comments section, the following statement is incorrect:
"Apparently the thrill of driving Hummers back and forth between the remote storage lot and the dealer showroom wears off quickly, as each round trip requires that another five gallons of fuel be dispensed in order to ensure a complete round trip."
The remote lots are between one and two miles from the showroom, so five gallons of gas would provide many round trips for both an H2 and H3. It's not clear why the thrill had worn off - it had something to do with the gas cans.
An update to this story will be posted later today and a link will be provided here.
UPDATE (11/5/2005 - 11:35 AM PST):
The follow-on to the Hummer post is now available here - enjoy.
UPDATE(11/7/2005 - 6:32 AM PST):
The trilogy is now complete - the final installment is here.
UPDATE(12/13/2005 - 6:32 AM PST):
We've checked back in on the inventory - some interesting results here.