Much Ado About Nothing: The GMC Hummer EV

©. All we know about the Hummer EV/ GMC

During the Super Bowl, GM did a tease commercial for their proposed electric Hummer, with no information other than its ridiculous horsepower, torque and acceleration. I was thinking of doing a post where I talk about the fundamental problems with this, from 1) the huge upfront carbon emissions from making the thing, 2) the fact that it is going to suck a lot of electricity that still isn't all that clean in the US, and of course, 3) the deadly design of these big trucks. Then I decided that since it's all vapourware with nothing but a photo of the grill and a few very round numbers, I would wait until May when there was actually some real information about the beast.

But that didn't stop Kea Wilson of Streetsblog, who wrote not one, but three posts, one for each of the key points. This is hard, whipping up so much out of so little, but she pulled it off. So I am going to put on my old Hummer T-shirt (since we have no other pictures to use other than some imaginary renderings) and have a look at the points that she raises.

Is It Really Better for the Planet?

Hummer numbers

Hummer numbers/Screen capture

Wilson starts off in the second sentence calling it a "new 5,200-pound assault vehicle." I suspect it will be a lot heavier than that; it will definitely be over 6,000 pounds to qualify for what's actually known as the Hummer Loophole, where vehicles over 6,000 pounds or three tons are considered work vehicles, not cars, and actually qualify for a $ 25,000 tax credit. A Chevy Suburban has a curb weight of 7,300 pounds; I can't imagine that the Hummer will weigh much less, especially since batteries are heavy. So the problem is actually worse than Wilson states.

Kea spends a lot of pixels on the problems of lithium and cobalt mining, and quotes Wired's article on the spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction. The lithium issue is often used in critiques of electric vehicles and is definitely an issue, though the standard response is to note that the environmental benefits of electric cars outweigh this. But the amount of lithium and other toxic or blood minerals used can still be minimized by not building monster trucks that put out a thousand horsepower.

The point I would spend more time on is the upfront carbon emissions, or embodied carbon. Mike Berners-Lee has calculated that making a Land Rover Discovery has a UCE of 35 tonnes; it weighs 6592 pounds. The Suburban is 11 percent heavier, and electric cars have a 15 percent higher UCE because of making the batteries, so it's likely that the UCE is 45 tonnes. That's the equivalent of driving a gasoline car 115,000 miles.

Big Vehicles Mean More Emissions

My old Hummer T-shirt

My old Hummer T-shirt/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Here, Wilson makes the argument that in most of the US, the electricity is not very green, but this is dangerous ground, a standard talking point of e-car haters. The grid is getting cleaner every day; even in the Midwest that is powered by coal, plants are converting to natural gas because it is so cheap. But again, to have that much horsepower and acceleration, this Hummer is going to have big batteries that need a lot of power, and that does mean more CO2 from generation. And as Wilson notes,

Even if we succeed in reducing grid emissions, the Hummer EV that GMC wants you to plug into that grid will still be a Hummer. Turning the Hummer and its ilk electric is just a slight greening of the toxic car culture that made climate change into a dire planetary threat in the first place.

Wilson also doesn't mention particulate emissions from tire and brake wear. The Hummer may have regenerative braking but it is still likely very heavy, and these emissions are proportional to weight.

She concludes, as I do, that "Biking, walking and transit remain the only truly sustainable methods for moving masses of people with limited congestion, pollution and death."

Bigger Also Means More Deadly

Me with a truck with a front that's almost as tall as I am (not a Hummer)

Me with a truck with a front that's almost as tall as I am (not a Hummer)/CC BY 2.0

Here is a subject dear to this TreeHugger's heart, that we have written about many times: the deadly design of these light trucks kills at three times the rate of the disappearing regular car, which is why we keep saying that they should be as safe as cars or they should be taken off the roads. Wilson notes:

In the years since the original Hummer left the market in 2009, big cars haven’t gotten any safer — at least, not for the non-drivers they hit. There was a 46 percent increase nationally in pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2016, even as improvements in anti-rollover vehicle design and advances in medical technology have saved more drivers' lives nearly every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blamed that horrifying leap in pedestrian deaths on the rising popularity of SUVs and other mega-cars among American consumers.

But it isn't just the height or the design of the front end of the Hummer (none of which we know), it's also the stopping distance. Here's a truck that can go from 0 to 60 in three seconds, but how long or how far does it take to go from 60 to zero? JD Power says, "Most SUVs weigh more than cars and need a greater distance to stop than a passenger car traveling at the same speed." All vehicles need more space when they are going faster, and this Hummer is designed to go fast.

Final Thoughts

In the end, one can only be impressed at how Kea Wilson has done so much with so little, weaving three posts out of thin air. But you don't need much information to conclude that 1) the bigger the truck, the more upfront carbon; 2) the bigger the battery, the more pollution it causes; and 3) the bigger the truck, the more people outside of it that it kills or maims.

You don't need a lot of information to know that this is a bad idea.