Hummer Owners Fuel Rage in Others

Dave Breggin eats no red meat, barely waters a drought- resistant fescue lawn and has a highly energy-efficient Arapahoe County home.

Dec. 26-Dave Breggin eats no red meat, barely waters a drought- resistant fescue lawn and has a highly energy-efficient Arapahoe County home.

All that good karma suddenly evaporates when he gets behind the wheel of his cherished Hummer.

Like most other Hummer drivers, Breggin is the target of clenched fists, single-fingered salvos and screamed epithets from the greener-than-thou crowd.

With fuel prices near record levels - up roughly 35 cents a gallon over last year's prices -- both owning and selling the gas-thirsty military clone may require more finesse.

General Motors is projecting a 20 percent drop in national sales of its Hummer H2 this year. Spokesmen said they're not sure whether the decline is attributable to high fuel prices or a normal leveling-off of sales after the initial wave of consumer interest.

The H2 is a descendant of the U.S. military's Humvee utility vehicle, a rough-and- tumble civilian model that seems equally at home in the driveways of off-roaders, society matrons and politicians.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly owns five Hummers, but even the Governator is feeling the heat. During last year's gubernatorial campaign, he spent an estimated $20,000 to $35,000 to convert one of his fleet to hydrogen fuel, prompting political rival Arianna Huffington to condescendingly dub him a "Hummer environmentalist."

If part of the reason for buying an SUV is to make a statement, the Hummer H2 -- at 6 feet 7 inches and 6,400 pounds -- is an iconic billboard.

Sales manager Ted Cranshaw of Medved Hummer in Castle Rock describes his buyers as "successful achievers and rugged individualists." Those who plan to drive their vehicles must also be thick- skinned enough to take the ample punishment dished out by critics. Breggin advises Hummer owners to carry disposable cameras and snap pictures of gesturing foes. That tends to defuse the most boisterous of the detractors, he said.

Like Breggin, Hummer owner Larry Dardano of Denver considers himself an environmentalist who is being unfairly maligned for his vehicle choice.

He's an ardent bicyclist and recycler and the owner of a home that he bought especially for its energy efficiency in the new Stapleton neighborhood.

The problem is, the Hummer won't fit in the garage. So he parks it at the curb, making it a frequent target of ridicule.

"People flip me off, and I give them the high sign right back," Dardano said. "After teaching DPS (Denver Public Schools) high school kids for 15 years, I know how to take heat." At its worst, Hummer backlash takes the form of vandalism and outright destruction. A Southern California Hummer dealership was firebombed last year, causing $3.5 million in damages.

More commonly, Hummer owners are targets of gibes and gestures.

A website is devoted exclusively to Hummer hatred. It features hundreds of pictures of people pointing their middle fingers at the vehicles.

At the Sierra Club, the Hummer is reviled as a gas-guzzling behemoth with no redeeming qualities.

"It's basically a dump truck marketed as a passenger vehicle," said Brendan Bell, a Washington-based global warming analyst for the environmental group. "We think the Hummer epitomizes the bad technology that American automakers are trying to pass off on the American public." GM plans to broaden the Hummer's market next spring with the introduction of the H3, a mid-sized SUV whose estimated mileage rating of 20 mpg makes it a comparative gasoline miser.

But that doesn't mitigate the cost of insuring a Hummer. State Farm Insurance calculates that the heftier H2 would require an annual insurance premium of $1,225 for a typical 35-year-old metro Denver male with a good driving record.

By comparison, insurance for a 2004 Chevy Suburban K2500 would run $1,066, and the gas-stingy Toyota Prius hybrid would carry an annual premium of $1,011.

The Sierra Club notes that the H2, with a full vehicle weight rating of 8,600 pounds, managed to elude the EPA's maximum threshold for mileage ratings. Vehicles heavier than 8,500 are exempt not only from reporting mileage estimates, but they don't count against the corporate average fuel economy standards that automakers must meet.

Unofficially, the H2 waddles in at about nine to 13 miles per gallon. Not that many owners are counting. If you're worried about fuel prices, dealers say, you're not the Hummer type.

"There's a lot of talk about gas prices affecting the SUV market, but let's face it, if you can afford the H2, you can afford the fuel," Cranshaw said.

In some cases, owning one can be financially beneficial. Until recently, owners of vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds (Hummers included) were eligible for a tax incentive that let them write-off up to $100,000. The loophole was recently tightened, but owners may still be eligible for a first-year deduction of $25,000.

Sales in Colorado -- the nation's leader in SUV ownership per capita -- continue to be brisk, Cranshaw said. He sold 16 in November, four more than last year, and expects 2004 sales to be close to last year's 136.

"Only a very few people respond to our vehicle as mediocre," said General Motors spokesman David Caldwell. "They run either very hot or very cold." Count Curtis Springs in the hot category.

The Colorado Springs chemical manufacturer's sales representative couldn't wait to sell his 2003 H2 before replacing it with a gleaming 2005 model.

"It's just a great vehicle," Springs said. "They're a blast. They're really fun to drive. You get into these heated leather seats, and it's hard to get out." He shrugs off the gestures from other motorists.

"I just kind of wave back at them," he said. "They're the whale huggers. They probably don't realize that this gets pretty much the same (gas) mileage as any other full-size SUV."

--Staff writer Christine Tatum contributed to this report.

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