In 2003 , Hummer delivered 34,529 H2s.
Considering a base price just shy $50,000 for an H2, Hummer
owners are not what you'd consider "low-buck"
SUV owners. H2 buyers may not all have off-roading in their blood,
but they do have a thirst for adventure. Some act on it and
some don't. But the aftermarket proves that even those who don't
act on it still want to look like they are the outdoor
type. They buy lifts, tires, roof racks, tire racks, bumpers,
But what about those who want to really test their
H2's abilities and find out what it can really do? Many of them
have never been off-road and don't even know where to start. Where
can they turn to learn the basics? The Hummer
Driving Academy is where.
(pricing when we attended), Hummer H2 owners
can attend the 3-day-long academy. A 5-day H1 Academy is also
held for H1 owners at a higher cost. In order to attend the
academies, you must be a Hummer owner.
Getting to South Bend is up to you, but once you
get off the plane, everything is taken care of, including ground
transportation, a wonderful room at the Marriott, all of your
meals, use of an H2 (of course), and tons of goodies throughout
Located in South Bend, Indiana, the academy takes
place at the AM General Test Track. The facility encompasses 320
acres of land owned by AM General on the very same trails used
to design and test the first Hummer HMMWV (Humvee) in the early
My trip got off to a rapid-fire start as soon
as we were picked up at the airport. I had just enough time to
go visit the Studebaker
National Museum down the road from the hotel before
the events began that Wednesday night. South Bend's automotive
history is rich, being the home of Studebaker since 1852. Studebaker
produced everything from wheelbarrows to horse-drawn coaches (Abe
Lincoln's, in fact), to military vehicles, and right up to some
of the most unique automobiles ever produced. To a car guy, the
museum was an hour-long visit to automotive heaven.
HMMWV at Studebaker Museum
visit, I was picked up and whisked back to my hotel room where
I frantically got ready for the welcome reception. Food and
brews were in abundance as the group of attendees got
to meet the Hummer staff and get to know to each other. There
couldn't have been a better way to start off the evening than
We spent a couple hours learning about each others'
off-road experience (or lack of), what everyone did for a living,
and how they were enjoying their new H2s. We talked, laughed,
and carried on until the hotel staff had to practically have us
removed so they could clean up and go home for the night.
around quickly and we all met for breakfast in the beautiful
hotel atrium. Afterward, we all loaded up in the van (Chevrolet,
of course, since H2s are built under GM's wings) and took a
ride out to the H2 plant. For me, this was one of the highlights
of the trip. We were instructed to leave our cameras in the
van and go upstairs to the meeting room, where we were outfitted
with wireless radio receivers so we could hear our guides in
the plant and were issued jewelry and watch covers. Everything
must be covered before going into the plant. The H2 plant is a state-of-the-art plant and is operated much like any other GM plant - and very unlike the H1 facility.
Larry Day, Program Manager for Operations, gave
us an overview of the plant, complete with slide show and we then
split into two groups for the plant tour. In order to build the
H2 plant next door to the H1 plant, Hummer had to purchase 51
homes. Built in just sixteen months, the $245million facility
and parking lot now sit where those home sites were. In fact,
the former Bolson Street is now the main walk-way through the
One of the biggest boasts for the H2 plant is
that it has the first RoDip-3
system in North America.
RoDip-3 process in action on an H2
The RoDip-3 is designed to move vehicles
through e-coat materials as an alternative to the conventional
pendulum conveyor approach. The RoDip-3, explains, Kosta Milojevic,
director, Product Development, in the Paint Automation Group,
literally flips a vehicle 360 degrees, end-for-end, in the tank.
(Automotive Design & Production)
We got to watch the RoDip-3 in action and it was
simply amazing to watch, as it rolls a complete H2 body assembly
through an acid bath prior to moving it to through the painting
Though 24 robots are in use throughout the plant
(22 do welds), 60% of the welds are still done by hand. UAW #5
is the oldest auto workers union still around and is the same
union that produced Studebakers. The workers operate in teams,
cranking out around 86 H2s per shift.
The total body tolerance goal for an H2 is to
be less than 2mm. Currently, however, the average is more like
3.5mm, which is not world class, but is acceptable. Hummer's goal,
of course, is to move H2 closer and closer the goal. Each day
in a specially-constructed floating room designed to isolate the H2 from vibrations, robots check tolerances
of every seam on an H2. In addition, an H2 is systematically pulled
apart, weld by weld to check quality. By studying the tolerances
and welds, Hummer hopes to reach their quality goals.
Walking through nearly every aisle in the H2 plant
was simply amazing. Watching the workers hand-assemble so much
of the truck reminded us that there really is still a human side
to the auto-building process.
Currently, the plant covers 630,000 square feet.
Construction was already in progress for an additional 43,000
square feet where the H2 SUT will be built. In fact, we caught
a sneak peek at a pre-production SUT in the paint booth.
H2 Plant (front) H1 Plant (rear)
A few of us could have happily spent the whole
day milling around the plant, but it was time for the real academy
activities to begin, so we saddled back up in the van and headed
out to the test track.
Tim Bonadies was at the track to welcome us and
give us an overview of what the academy had in store for us. He
wasted no time and immediately began our classroom training.
Knowing that we were all eager to climb into the
H2s parked outside, he wasted no time and we were headed for the
controlled obstacle portion of our training.
The gang at the test track constructed a specially-built
obstacle course to show the H2 owners the outer limits of what
their trucks can do in a safe and controlled atmosphere. The course
included steps, moguls, off-camber sections, rocks and mud, metal
roller sections to show 4WD system operation, and a water-fording
The obstacle course was really an amazing tool
to show what the trucks can do. Perhaps the most impressive part
of the course was the off-camber section. The 22-degree side-grade
would have easily toppled just about every truck or SUV on the
market, but the H2 held its ground beautifully. It made some drivers
understandably nervous, but once they got through it, they came
out with a new confidence in their trucks.
The entire course really made the drivers feel comfortable in situations they had likely never been in. The majority of our group had never even been
off-road - let alone driven over steps, through moguls on three
wheels, or through water. Watching their faces as they traversed
the obstacles unscathed and finishing on all four wheels was a
lot of fun for me and the trainers. The course has proved to be
such a great learning tool that Hummer now offers building plans
to its dealerships for them to build courses of their own.