EV Hummer’s hook for buyers: ‘Crab mode’

Source: By Miranda Willson, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2020

General Motors Co. will reveal next month its electric Hummer, a new, battery-powered version of the once-popular truck capable of driving diagonally in a bid to lure off-roaders into the EV market.

The company released a teaser video for the Hummer yesterday that promoted the vehicle’s “crab mode” diagonal feature, “enabled by the GMC Hummer EV’s four-wheel steering capability,” the company said.

The announcement is the latest in a series of EV updates from GM, which announced plans in March to electrify its products with the launch of its own battery system and the release of mock-ups for upcoming EV models (Energywire, March 5). Earlier this month, the company said it would work with EV startup Nikola Corp. to manufacture an electric pickup truck, would offer discounts to Uber drivers who purchase its EVs and had developed a small wireless battery that would reduce the weight of its electric models (Energywire, Sept. 10).

With production expected to begin next fall, the EV Hummer is one of a growing number of electric trucks from legacy automakers and EV companies set to hit the market in the next several years.

It’s unclear how much demand there is for electric trucks or Hummers, but analysts say the crab mode feature shows promise as a hook for attracting potential buyers who have not previously owned an EV.

“There are no other models that have it,” said Stephanie Brinley, a principal analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. focused on the automotive industry.

As GM breaks into EVs, it makes sense for the company to offer special features and capabilities in its models, given that the market remains unproven in the United States, said Sam Abuelsamid, a principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights. Other companies appear to be using similar branding strategies for their upcoming EVs, he said.

“Sell the customer on what they really want and are willing to pay a premium for and then provide EV as a bonus, basically,” Abuelsamid said in an email.

The crab-walk mode and four-wheel steering system may be similar to features offered in some GM trucks in the 2000s, but diagonal driving has not previously been designed to improve maneuverability in off-road settings specifically, Abuelsamid added.

“The crab mode is interesting because maneuverability is critical when you are traversing some of these off-road trails,” he said. “That’s actually something that poses a real problem with any of these big off-road trucks because they are so wide.”

The Hummer brand could similarly intrigue new customers who may not be EV loyalists, Brinley said. GM’s Hummer was a popular off-road truck in the 2000s, but the company discontinued production of it after emerging from bankruptcy during the Great Recession, she said.

“There was an aspiration to the brand, a premium pricing to the brand, and if you can carry those two elements over to EVs, it can help with image and with breaking through what’s probably going to be a difficult market,” she said.

The Hummer, along with GM’s forthcoming Cadillac Lyriq, will be among the first vehicles to hit the market using the company’s Ultium battery, said GM spokesperson Tara Stewart Kuhnen. The battery, which will also power the Badger truck made by EV startup Nikola, will enable a range of 400 miles or more after a full charge, according to GM.

Offering a high-range battery in electric trucks could be especially important for off-road enthusiasts who might have concerns “about getting stuck out in the wilderness” without enough charge, Abuelsamid said.

“Certainly, the rush of pre-orders for the Tesla Cybertruck as well as the interest in Rivian indicates that there is some interest in such a vehicle,” he said.