Mishawaka: Awaiting Word of Hummer's Fate

Hummerhalfoff

By Eamonn Brennan
Cars.com

Large and foreboding, the Hummer H2 casts a long shadow over the road — a huge, rumbling symbol of America’s gas-guzzling history.

That same shadow hangs over Mishawaka, where employees have been building the hulking vehicle since late 2001. A few years ago, the plant couldn’t build H2s fast enough, but now with gas prices higher than ever, demand for large vehicles dwindling and Hummer sales in the tank, GM is talking about selling off the brand. Just yesterday, GM announced it would scale back production of H2s at the plant by one-third. GM spokesman Tony Sapienza said the company was confident AM General wouldn’t be forced to lay off any employees, but the people of Mishawaka are uncertain about the fate of the plant’s workers.

“It’s frightening,” said Phil Damico, chairman of business development at the South Bend Chamber of Commerce. “That we could have a number of employees out looking for jobs — it would be a huge deal.”

“The overall community could really be affected,” said Ed McNamara, owner of City-Wide Liquors, which has operated for 17 years on Bittersweet Road, just blocks away from the AM General plant where Hummer builds its SUVs. “That’s a lot of money being pulled out of the community.”

Hummerusedcars

An Uncertain Future
In the 1990s, before he became governor of California, movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger purchased two custom-built Humvee trucks, vehicles previously used solely by the military. In something of a seminal moment, the actor helped persuade AM General to build a street-legal Humvee, known as the H1. GM bought the Hummer brand in 1999 and, with AM General, developed the H2 for the 2003 model year.

After the H2’s release, Hummer blossomed. The model, like Cadillac’s Escalade, became a ubiquitous symbol of luxury and excess in a time before gas prices made large SUVs Public Enemy No. 1. Hummer dealerships sprang up like outlet malls — few in quantity but hard to miss — serving customers in search of an all-American status symbol.

Video 2: Mishawaka, Indiana

Times have changed. In 2005, Hummer added the H3, a more conventional SUV with a decidedly less military look that was better suited for suburbanites. By then, though, H2 sales had already started to fall: Its sales were at 23,213 in 2005, dropped to 17,107 in 2006, and dropped again to 12,431 in 2007. H3 sales have helped keep Hummer, well, humming, but the H2 continues to see sales tumble, falling to just 3,753 through June of this year — well below last year’s pace.

That steep decrease in overall Hummer sales — off 53.6 percent through June of this year compared to that point in 2007 — has GM on the verge of ditching the recently iconic nameplate.

At an annual GM meeting in June, chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said the company would consider “all options” for the brand, including an outright sale. GM spokesman Nick Richards said GM plans to continue producing the H2 for the “foreseeable future” and that the company hasn’t “committed to a set timeline publicly” to sell the brand.
Both practically and ideologically, Hummer’s era may well be over. Gas prices have made large SUVs and trucks prohibitively expensive for many consumers, while growing environmental awareness is making large, in-your-face gas-guzzlers less popular than ever.

“I don’t see it coming back,” Damico said. “I mean, do you see the price of gas going down?”

Hummerplant

Options
Fortunately for Mishawaka’s Hummer workers, sale of the brand might not mean a complete loss of jobs. Because the current plant is owned by AM General — which builds the military-grade Humvees widely deployed by the U.S. military — the loss of commercial Hummer jobs could be absorbed into the military side, according to AM General spokesman Craig MacNab.

What’s more, AM General is in talks with a variety of suitors to add production to its Mishawaka plant, like upgrading taxicabs for large companies in major U.S. cities.

Video: Mishawaka, Indiana

“They’re the top guy being considered,” Damico said of the cab deal, which hasn’t been finalized. MacNab wouldn’t name any of the plant’s potential deals, but said there are numerous options in the works.

“What I can say is that we’ve never viewed the Hummer business in that plant as the only thing we’re ever going to do,” MacNab said. “We’ve been consistently pursuing other opportunities to do other things. It’s just a matter of addition.”

In the face of a shaky future, that puts some local residents at ease.

“I’m not sure there’s a lot of people that realize the impact of the commercial side — everybody gauges it on the military side,” McNamara said. “Most of what you hear in town is about the military side. The big majority of people on the commercial side will think they’ve always got a job anyway because they can go back to the military side.”

That’s little solace to Hummer employees in Mishawaka, like Carmel Hollars. A 12-year veteran of the plant’s military side, Hollars said that regardless of where job cuts are made, those with less seniority might still be laid off. For workers without the right skills to begin working someplace nearby — such as an area hospital or the University of Notre Dame, the county’s largest employer — that’s a frightening prospect.

“There really aren’t too many other options in Mishawaka,” Hollars said about local manufacturing jobs. “I don’t know of anyone who’s ever walked in and quit their job here. There’s nowhere else to go.” 

Worries

Video 3: Mishawaka, Indiana

The town of Mishawaka is fortunate. It borders South Bend, an old manufacturing town that has lost some of its luster but is home to Notre Dame. Unlike the smaller towns far to its south that have welcomed foreign automakers, the fate of Mishawaka isn’t tied to just one employer. If Hummer closes, blue-collar workers may lose their jobs, but they won’t lose Mishawaka.

Still, the potential for shutdown looms. At City-Wide Liquors, as McNamara speaks to a reporter, people mill in and out, buying liquor and soda, talking in hushed tones about a recent RV plant shutdown in nearby Elkhart. It’s not Hummer, but the situation worries them all the same.

“Did you hear about the layoffs?” a customer asks. “1,400 people.”

“We don’t need that,” McNamara’s wife responds from behind the counter.

“No,” the customer says. “We don’t.”

Indiana: The Pain and Promise of U.S. Automaking Part 1
Indiana: The Pain and Promise of U.S. Automaking Part 2


Mishawaka, Indiana in Pictures

By Eamonn Brennan | July 30, 2008 | Comments (19)
Tags: Indiana

Comments 

markt

its good that cars.com is showing the human side of this dilemma. i along with the rest of the U.S. is happy that the hummer is going away, however i can't stand to see americans losing their jobs. this country was built on industry and over the decades we have been robbed of this for "cheaper" operations overseas in india and china, which in fact arent helping their economy or ours. bring industry back to america and give us our identity back!

kj

Cry me a river. The idea that the Hummer plant can't be converted to making fuel efficient cars, motorcycles, or something else beyond a gas guzzling machines amazes me. The fact that American manufacturers can't modify quickly enough to market changes pretty much sums up why we can no longer compete with Japan, China, and Korea. Over and over again we get out butts kicked because we get stuck in a rut and think bigger is better Goodbye and good riddance to Hummer. You served a purpose, that being to sell to the snobs that were willing to waste a natural resource. GM deserves to lose money if it sells off Hummer.

kj,
out of all the plants this is probably the one that couldn't change because it is designed to build military grade vehicles. The fact that it can build a consumer H2 is kind of surprising.

The interesting thing to take away in my mind is that the military side is still doing well enough to absorb the jobs lost on the consumer side. Meaning, we need a lot of new Humvees for our troops!

Mart

...all those shiny new H1s waiting to replace the ones blown-up by roadside bombs you mean? I found the sight of all those new H1s (or whatever the military ones are called) rather depressing really.

Do they come with coffin handles pre-attached to the sides? Would make everything rather more efficient at the end of their lifecycle, no?

I haven't seen a hummer on the streets of LA in months. I think they've been moth balled till the end of the war.

Bowrider

Mart, your comment is what is "depressing." The military version is called the Humvee. It's not surprising that you didn't know that because your ignorance shines through in all of your posts.

Hummer will survive this. It is an iconic symbol that protects the freedom of this great country. To hate it just because it comsumes more gas than your moms station wagon is not patriotic.
Hummer may be sold but it will never be shut down. When technology reaches a point where Hydrogen will take over, you will see them back in full force

kj

You are wrong, Hummer will not survive because most people are smart enough to know either patriotism nor freedom has anything to do with owning one. You must work for Hummer to say such stupid nonsense. All Hummers should be smashed into little pieces and put on display to show how ignorant some consumers once were. Today's market decision is about choosing a car that gets good fuel economy, does less harm to the environment, isn't egotistic in wanting to drive a gas guzzler. To me is freedom in doing something right.

Rick

kj,
Just because you work at McDonald's and can't afford one doesn't mean you have to be a jerk. "Everyone Hates Hummer"... Give me a break. You are a loser if you think everyone shares the same thought process as you. Continue to drive that Kia Rio of yours. When you get into an accident and become paralized don't come crying to us. Safety First! Hummer First!

mike

LOL... you are right. I have a Hummer H2 and have no plans on selling it. I love it's no non-sense looks. Not everyone hates Hummers. I've just adjusted by buying a BMW 3 series for around town so gas really isn't an issue anymore.

Infosaur

I've never really liked them, and isn't it ironic "the Governator" is leading the charge to push the GOP into the enviromentalist camp.

GM probably could have sold these as one offs or specialty vehicles though an existing line, GMC perhaps? But NO, they just HAD to invest in an entirely seperate dealer network!

The lack of forsight by people is appaling. And now it's gonna affect these people in Mishawaka too.

And I'm including Wall St., DC, the real estate business and Hollywood in this rant too.

Shortsighted thinking will tank this economy.

Infosaur

Oh and I've never liked the HMVV, either.

Yeah I said it!

It's too unweildly for urban combat, yet insufficently armored for anti-personell weapons, it's slow (always bad in military terms,) and thirsty, requiring an extensive supply line.

The all-purpose medium duty vehicle has to be rethought out from the ground up. This thing is the worst of government corruption and the old cold war planning mindset.

Also, how the heck did you get away with taking pictures of the Hummer plant without a knock on the door from Homeland Security?

I don't know what disturbs me more, that you would have had repercussions or you didn't.

Cj

Hummer could survive if they adjust to the current market. I think it's a good move to build less H2s, but I think that at the same time Hummer should try to make even smaller offerings. Jeeps used to be very popular smallish utility vehicles before Daimler decided to make ugly cheap looking crossovers. Hummer should make it's own wrangler type vehicle. 4 doors small fuel efficient (yet off road capable), but still carry that distinctive Hummer look. And maybe even something smaller than that. Today people want luxurious stylish small fuel efficient vehicles, and maybe Hummer could get into that market. There's rumors that Mini is making an SUV (Mini Crossman, I think I could be wrong though), so maybe Hummer could make a competitor to that. Hummer is a distinct iconic brand that has tons of potential, it just needs the right product.

Infosaur,
Those humvees are sitting outside on a lot with chicken wire fencing. Anyone could drive by and see them. We weren't snooping. I don't think Humvees are top secret regardless.

How can i buy Hummer car (Hummer 3) directly from this company. I need it urgently.
Regards.

Bob

It's all over but the crying . . . and that will begin very, very soon . . . AM General will shut down . . . feel bad for the workers

rush

best thing to happen around here that the hummer is dead, not only is it a oversized gas guzzling piece of junk, it's bad for our environment and the laughing stock for the world to see how backwards we americans really are. how come we see it as justifiable to waste a precious resource such as gasoline when the rest of the world is expected to reserve this commodity??? Are we gonna let a bunch of redneck white trash dictate policy of 'drill baby drill' to continue our desire to stay in the stone age??? They had plenty of time to find ways of developing fuel efficient vehicles, but chose to keep making primitive gas guzzling junk No wonder why our economy is in the mess it's in and nobody wants our products. I say good riddance to these junkmobiles

rush

that guy at the liquor store is crying the blues because he won't be able to create any more alcoholics once those guys at the Hummer plant shuts down. I'll be glad when they stop making that junk. As I watch all those Hummers constantly going down Bittersweet Road, one after another, and wondering why nobody is questioning where the money is coming from to pay for these pieces of junk. These so called republicans that support this venture are just hypocrites when they complain that our government is spending too much money and raising deficits. The government doesn't owe these hummer factory workers a living and the taxpayer shouldn't be asked to keep them employed. It's time they earn their own living and they have had plenty of time to make fuel efficient vehicles, but have insisted on catering to the local white trash and their craving for gas guzzling primitive vehicles and shows how backward we americans to the rest of the world when they are expected to conserve precious commodities such as gasoline. I'll be glad when the plant shuts down and give some other company the opportunity to produce a vehicle that is fuel efficient and of some use to the public.

HOW CAN I PURCHASE HUMMER SUV H2 6.2 2009 ANY COLOUR IS ACCEPTED THANKS

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