Dear EarthTalk: Is General Motors’ new “H3” Hummer any friendlier to the environment than earlier models, or is it just a little smaller?
—Fred Poisson, Bridgton, Maine
Indeed, everything is relative. While the new Hummer H3 is smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient than its larger predecessors, it is far from an environmentally friendly vehicle. Hardly fuel efficient, the H3 gets just 16 miles per gallon (MPG) in city driving and 20 on the highway.
According to the non-profit Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, General Motors (GM) developed the less-expensive Hummer H3—in the wake of shrinking sales of its larger H1 and H2 models—to compete with other midsized Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) in the mid-$30,000 price bracket, such as the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The move paid off, as GM turned a spiraling downward sales trend for the Hummer line into a 200 percent overall sales boost for the brand with the introduction of the H3 last year.
As the biggest and most visible of the large SUVs, previous Hummer models raised hackles among even more moderate environmentalists (as well as highway safety proponents) for their excessive, imposing size and weight as well as their fuel consumption and contribution of polluting emissions. Far worse than its offspring, the Hummer H2 gets only 10 MPG in the city and 13 MPG on the highway, and generates more carbon dioxide per mile than almost any other light truck. The vehicle’s debut prompted a number of anti-hummer websites and campaigns, including “Hummerdinger” from the Sierra Club, complete with facts, figures and a few short films, and a “Hummer and Hummerer” ad parody circulated widely on the Internet.
Probably the only way to really “green up” a Hummer—or, for that matter, any SUV—would be to follow the lead of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who drives a one-of-a-kind Hummer H2 modified by GM engineers to run on compressed hydrogen instead of gasoline. The prototype car’s primary tailpipe emission is water vapor. GM owns the vehicle but shares it with Schwarzenegger’s office in order to raise awareness about the possibilities for the cars of the future. For his part, Schwarzenegger, who expressed interest during his gubernatorial campaign in vehicles powered by alternative fuels, likes to drive his hydrogen-powered Hummer in order to “demonstrate the economic and technical viability of hydrogen.”
With the exception of Arnold’s H2, the H3 does qualify as the most environmentally responsible Hummer on the road today. But that’s not saying much, as SUVs are notorious for their poor fuel efficiency and heavy emissions. Environmentalists in need of SUV styling or functionality would do better to look into gasoline-electric hybrids versions of the Ford Escape or Toyota Highlander, each of which get about 33 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highways.
CONTACTS: Consumers Union “Greener Choices” website, www.eco-labels.org/greenconsumers/home.cfm ; Hummerdinger, www.sierraclubplus.org/hummerdinger ; “Hummer and Hummerer” ad parody, www.electrifyingtimes.com/hummer_hummerer.html .