Americans have big love affair with giant SUV |

Americans have big love affair with giant SUV

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

Tonka toy lovers unite. The Hummer has taken over the sandbox.

Americans’ love affair with the colossal, 10,000-pound bear of a vehicle has surged, with no signs of sales slowing down — despite its low gas mileage and high price tag.

Even with a $55,000 sticker, Winkel Pontiac-GMC-Hummer in Reno, the closest dealer to South Lake Tahoe, reports a nearly three-month waiting list for the civilian version of the Humvee military vehicle that saw action in the Persian Gulf War. The first models had a suggested retail of $115,000.

“It’s been unbelievable — the availability and demand,” Winkel Sales Manager Joe Green said.

It seems General Motors can’t make the original H1 — built for the street over a decade ago — and the smaller H2 fast enough. The company sold 18,861 H2s in 2002, after launching the behemoth last summer. The Hummer factory in Indiana can make 40,000 vehicles a year, and GM expects to sell them all this year, The Associated Press reported.

This trend proves provocative for a vehicle that gets as low as 10 miles per gallon in the city and fuel prices continue to skyrocket as the U.S. heads to the world’s oil hotbed to topple a leader.

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But according to those who sell them and buy them, the Hummer’s popularity transcends its gas mileage.

“I’ve sold 50 since June, and no one has asked about gas mileage,” Green said. He said Tahoe buyers are no exception.

Ari and Tina Makinen, who own Lake Tahoe Adventures in Meyers, have his and her models. But it’s the grandchildren, Jordyn, 5, and Kaelyn, 8 — with custom seats in back — who may get the most out of them.

The children get dropped off from the Hummers at school and that’s a big hit.

“Oh, they’re in the will,” Ari Makinen said Thursday of the youngsters’ requests. “It’s one of those things that women and kids find intriguing.”

When a Florida woman returned home after going on tour in one she coaxed her husband into buying one, he said. Makinen, in turn, ordered the 2004 H2 model that converts into a truck for his wife.

The big boys have remained the big buyers.

“For some guys, it’s like the Harley — it brings back (memories of) playing with toys,” he said.

The Makinens, who live in Hope Valley, swear by the vehicles — which he admits have become a vanity purchase for many buyers.

“It’s a status symbol,” he said.

“All the kids give me a thumbs up when I drive by,” Tina Makinen said.

To her, the tank of a car brings envy that far exceeds its looks.

“I like that I feel safer in it,” she said. Her favorite brawny amenity is an automatic air pressure valve that pumps up her tires on the fly.

With his Humvee, Ari Makinen drives the lead vehicle in his role of search and rescuer for the county. He got a glimpse of the car’s muscle during the blizzard and floods over New Year’s1997-98.

A few weeks ago his wife tested her Hummer by backing up a 6-foot snowbank while trying to pull out of a blocked-in parking space.

Other uses have crossed their mind.

“Say we have a terrorist attack and they blow up the highways — these vehicles will make it through,” Ari Makinen said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at