Loathed by environmentalists, military-style Hummers have survived years of vandalism, arson and abuse. But the lumbering American gas-guzzling vehicles have met their match in the rocketing cost of filling a tank with petrol.
Alarmed by a slump in demand for vehicles that consume vast quantities of fuel, Hummer's owner, General Motors, is reviewing the future of the Hummer brand which was originally a civilian version of the US military's armoured Humvee. The struggling Detroit-based carmaker said it was considering off-loading the business - and with US sales plunging, its prospects are cloudy.
"The company is considering all options, from a complete revamp of the product line to a partial or complete sale of the brand," GM's chief executive, Rick Wagoner, told shareholders at the group's annual meeting in Delaware yesterday.
Weighing in at 2.6 tonnes, a typical Hummer can only do between 10 and 15 miles on a gallon of fuel (roughly 15 litres per 100km), compared with 30 to 50 miles for a Volkswagen Golf. The latest version, the H3, went on sale in Britain last year at eight showrooms priced at £25,000 to £30,000. Sales in Europe are still booming - particularly in Russia, where the number of Hummers sold has leapt 51% in a year.
GM only sold 12,243 Hummers in the US during the first four months of the year - a drop of 29% on 2007. The Hummer's problems have delighted green campaigners who view the vehicle as the ultimate in motoring irresponsibility.
David Hirsch, of Friends of the Earth in the US, described the Hummer as "the most anti-environmental vehicle in the history of the world". Among the earliest enthusiasts for the vehicles was California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At one point, the former actor owned an entire fleet of Hummers before giving them up after his election.
Opposition to these cars has occasionally turned violent. In California, radical environmentalists have set fire to several Hummer showrooms.
For GM, reviewing the Hummer's future is part of a broader shift towards smaller cars. The company is shutting four North American factories that produce pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles to save $1bn (£500m) annually. It is turning to gas-electric hybrid vehicles and is designing an electric car, the Chevrolet Volt.
Wagoner said the industry needed to acknowledge that high petrol prices are here to stay: "We at GM don't think this is a spike or a temporary shift. We think this is by and large permanent."
David Willett, of the Sierra Club, a US-based environmental pressure group, said: "They failed to look ahead and they've failed to make suitable vehicles."
© 2008 The Guardian