How Sichuan Tengzhong Can Save Hummer

The sale of General Motors' Hummer brand to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. is all but finalized, and this will surely upset a few of the brand's diehard fans. I, for one, think the sale is a great thing for a niche brand like Hummer.

Despite some pundits' reports that Hummer vehicles are actually little more than rebadged, boxy versions of existing products like the Chevrolet Tahoe or Colorado, all Hummers are extensively modified under the skin to improve off-road ability and durability. Now that Hummer is poised to be free of its GM ties, the vehicles can be even more distinct, and there's a good chance their off-road abilities will be even better once development work resumes.

One of the biggest drawbacks with GM owning Hummer was that all Hummer products had to pass the same durability and quality tests as other GM products. That made it all but impossible for Hummer to offer larger, more aggressive off-road tires, burly winch bumpers, or other accessories that off-roaders immediately purchase for a new vehicle through dealerships. Accessories like these simply couldn't meet GM's internal requirements. That isn't to say the products weren't durable enough to stand up to the needs of off-roaders, just that getting a certified accessory for a GM product would include tests that make no sense for an off-road vehicle.

While Hummer was a part of GM, it was difficult to find and keep good employees, because GM's corporate structure favors people who quickly change jobs and gain experience in diverse disciplines and divisions. That's not good when your products are as specialized as Hummers. Now that Hummer is its own brand, qualified employees can stick with one role and do it well. It's no longer likely the guy in charge of the H4 suspension will have previously been working on family sedans.

Hummer will also get a lot more attention from its new owners because Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. doesn't have a plethora of other automotive brands that require research and development, marketing, and operational budgets. Since Hummer will be Sichuan Tengzhong's only automotive brand, it should, one presumes, get much more attention and the funding it requires to succeed. Being the smallest brand at GM certainly didn't help Hummer, especially after gas prices spiked and GM executives headed to Washington to beg for bailout money.

It's still far too early to say Hummer has a rosy future but, frankly, I can't see Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. being a worse owner than GM. At least the brand's future looks a little more secure at this point, though the Saturn ordeal prevents me from being too optimistic until the money actually changes hands.

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