2022 GMC Hummer EV First Drive: What The Halo EV Means For GM’s Future

Just five years ago, full-size electric pickup trucks were chiefly prototypes and rolling testbeds of predictive theory and engineering concepts. Now, over half a dozen major manufactures and startups have nearly-ready-for-prime-time EV pickups waiting in the wings, the 2022 GMC Hummer among them.  

Unlike the Ford F-150 Lightning, which is poised to move traditional pickup owners into the EV space with as little trepidation as possible, the GMC Hummer is positioned as a halo vehicle right out of the gate. Al Oppenheiser, Chief Engineer, GMC Hummer EV program, told Forbes Wheels that the Hummer was envisioned to be “an over-the-top, extreme off-road truck from day one. Of all the technical things I could talk to you about, it’s an amazing off-road truck first, one that just happens to be an EV.”

Halo Vehicle with Corporate-Wide Influence

The Hummer EV program serves as a testbed for rapid prototyping and vehicle development on a larger scale. The program was greenlighted on April 1, 2019, approximately two-and-a-half years to the 95% complete pre-production model we drove. Oppenheiser says, “the typical development cycle for any major manufacturer is four years, and we cut 117 weeks from that timeline.”

The key to that time saving was, not surprisingly, technology. Oppenheiser states they’ve always used computer-aided engineering models and driving simulators but previously would build numerous “mule” vehicles along the way to confirm the data and analysis in the physical realm. “But we didn’t have that kind of time with the Hummer development, so we decided to believe the analytical data directly from the source,” says Opennheiser. By integrating that data with GM’s advanced driver-in-the-loop vehicle simulator, the team developed the chassis controls for ride and handling in record time. Upon review, the results proved to be 95%-plus ready, requiring only fine-tuning for use in the production Hummer EV.

A small field of rocks proved to be little challenge for the Hummer EV’s 11.9 inches of ground clearance and 44.3-degree approach angle. GMC

The significance of this time-saving development program has wide-reaching corporate ramifications. “Once we proved we could believe in our math tools and not always have to rely on physical properties, every [product development] program that comes after us is doing the same thing,” says Oppenheiser. “For example, The BrightDrop EV delivery van has used some of our findings, speeding up their development.”  

Crucially, now that the science is proven, the upcoming Silverado pickup that utilizes the Hummer architecture uses this same formula. As a result, Oppenhieser says, “the Silverado team is working even faster, and I’ll say that it cuts the development time for all GM vehicles by half.”

This corporate-wide advancement tempers some of the early criticism GM received, claiming the Hummer was just a novelty EV, one out-of-reach of the average consumer. When you amortize its development cost over the entire corporation, the business case is clear.  

Behind the Curtain at General Motors Milford Proving Ground      

Located approximately forty miles northwest of GM’s HQ in Detroit, General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground enjoys near-mythical status among automotive enthusiasts. Over 4000 acres in size, the heavily fenced and wooded facility contains more than 130 miles of paved roads and countless off-road courses, the aforementioned driving simulator and around 4800 employees. It’s also a topographical anomaly designed to find and expose weakness in any vehicle, regardless of the powertrain.

Access to outsiders is limited, offered only when engineers are satisfied a product or technology is within a few percent of complete. Granted, the driving program at Milford was tailored to highlight the Hummer’s strengths, but we still got a good idea of its capabilities.

Five solid skid plates protect the suspension and battery pack. We bottomed out several times on a rocky section of the trail and escaped without harm to the vehicle. GMC

Driving the 2022 GMC Hummer EV

By now, even most casual readers have formed an option of the Hummers appearance. Like the old H2, it’s an extrovert, to be sure, but the connection is only skin deep. The Hummer EV’s braggadocio is backed up by its hardware, performance and cutting-edge technology. Pardon the cliché, but the GMC Hummer EV is both smaller and less extreme looking in person.

Inside, the vibe continues. The seats are uber-comfortable, the instrument panel filled with clear, legible le screen graphics and rear seating leg- and headroom are copious. As is the trend, numerous animations announce control inputs and the changing of driving parameters.

Five standard drive modes are Normal, Off-Road, Terrain, Tow/Haul and the driver-configurable “My Mode.” Pedal to the floor in Terrain mode on loosely packed gravel surface produced the type of acceleration you’d expect from a three-motor, 1000 horsepower powertrain with a maximum theoretical potential of 11,500 pound-feet of torque. The system is comprised of a single-motor front-drive unit with an electronic lockable differential capable of delivering up to 100 percent of the motor torque to one wheel and two rear motors contained in one GM Ultium Drive unit. All four wheels can be fully synchronized for true e4WD propulsion.  

The Hummer’s Watts to Freedom launch mode is “purpose-built for fun,” says engineer Al Oppenheiser, and the Crab Walk feature is equally as entertaining (video). GMC

It seems each new EV is required to include a sensationally named launch mode of some sort, the 2022 Hummer EV is no exception. Dubbed “Watts to Freedom,” engaging the launch software takes a few seconds to unlock full power, ramp up the cooling to the battery pack, lower the suspension two inches and cue up a little theme music. Next, watch the screen for the “Floor It” prompt, and the Hummer squats and launches like a funny car minus the excess wheelspin, destroying the zero-60 metric in 3.0-seconds. “Watts to Freedom unlocks the full potential of the propulsion system,” says Oppenheiser. “It’s unlike anything else and purpose-built for fun.”

Of course, we sampled the much-ballyhooed “Crab Walk” feature which allows all four wheels to point in the same direction to move sideways and forwards simultaneously at low speeds. The sensation takes a moment to get used to at the wheel, and the view from outside can be startling to bystanders.

The Hummer’s most sensational party tricks demonstrated, it switched back into responsible citizen mode and cruised the oval without drama. The tires are 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler All Territory Mud-Terrain tires, but Oppenheiser says it’s a specific formula for decreased rolling resistance. That helps with range. We did note tire noise, but the average ear is trained to recognize wind and engine noise of traditional vehicles; with both virtually absent, the tire noise is more prominent but nowhere loud enough to interfere with casual conversation. Highway travel is similar to that of the current GMC Denali, thanks to the adaptive suspension.

Several additional minor off-road obstacles were dispatched with equal aplomb, showcasing 18-different camera views, including an underbody camera with a washer to keep it clean after muddy excursions. Steep downhills were sometimes navigated with the two-stage regenerative braking paddle located to the left of the steering wheel. Oppenheiser says he was left to handpick his team, most of which are avid off-road enthusiasts with racing pedigrees, and it shows.  

Thanks to its four-wheel steering the GMC Hummer’s turning diameter is 11.3 meters (37 feet). The current Silverado requires almost 47 feet. GMC

Why Hummer?

When asked why they chose to resurrect the Hummer name for a forward-facing vehicle, Oppenheiser said: “Well, you either love it or hate it. If you loved the old Hummer H2, you’ll really love the new one as the off-road capability is so much more; if you hated the H2, it’s probably because it got [realistically] seven or eight miles per gallon. And this is a zero-emission vehicle. Plus, it’s a Halo vehicle, first and foremost. This is the headline vehicle, and things are coming, whether it’s the Silverado or something else, that will benefit from it.”

Given that comment and Oppenheiser’s history as Chief Engineer and patron saint of the Camaro program, we wondered if the Camaro, which is slated for discontinuation, will return as a new EV sports coupe in the next few years? Oppenheiser says, “I have no idea. But the Hummer is, in a lot of ways, like the Camaro. A lot of passion and horsepower. Then, with a smile, says, who knows?”

The 2022 GMC Hummer is set to arrive in dealerships in late 2021. The $112,595 EV Edition 1 First Edition model is sold out, but additional variants will follow shortly.