Officially, the military Humvees are for off-road use only. But a Texas entrepreneur sees an opportunity with a tweak here and another there. Doug Smith is president of the Hummer division of Jetran, which is based in Horseshoe Bay.
“I sell the only street-legal Humvees that are around,” he says.
Humvee is short for High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled vehicle. These aren’t the colorful, oversized Hummers you might see in a shopping center parking lot. The military Humvee has a much wider track, a fully-loaded top speed of just 55 miles per hour, 15 feet long and nearly two tons of serious business. Until Smith gets his hands on them.
“I purchased them from the Department of Defense, and I take them and turn them from a war machine into happiness and off-road fun for American citizens that have no interest in stepping foot in a war zone,” Smith says.
It’s an idea that has been tried before, most famously by General Motors. GM designed the commercial version to be shorter and lighter. The Hummer wasn’t an actual copy of the Humvee – it was basically a regular SUV with a body style that only imitated the military version. Despite early success, by 2010 demand was so low, the Hummer division was shut down.
Now, five years later, with gas prices down and an economy on the rebound, are potential buyers ready for the real thing?
“Most car buyers have moved away from the truck based sport utilities and what they’re buying now are kind of the tall cars more than what we think of the sport utility vehicle,” said Todd Lassa from Automobile magazine.
“But there’s always going to be a minority, and often a well-heeled minority, who can buy whatever they want and some of them will want to have those authentic off-road style trucks,” he says.
Texan Doug Smith is banking on it. The road to making a Humvee street legal is paved with proper turn signals, plus brake lights, seat belts and a horn. And lots of little things that might be easy for a do-it-yourself-er to overlook, like little lights to illuminate the license plates. But the real bucks begin with customization.
“I can do anything to them: I can Rhino-line them inside and out, pressure washable inside and out, marine speakers, it has bluetooth sound, it links with my iPhone and runs the navigation,” Smith says. “This particular one in front of you has the most advanced lighting kit for a four-wheeled vehicle in the world.”
“They are computerized, they all move on tracking and have infrared technology so you can actually drive it with night-vision goggles,” he says.
Still, these decommissioned Humvees don’t exactly scream environmental friendliness. No smog laws in the army. Now they have to be adjusted to state emission regulations.
“Let’s call it an anti-Prius attitude, where you believe that you should be able to drive whatever you want and as long as it meets emission and safety regulations and you can drive it on the street, you can drive a big thing like this,” Lassa says.
“There’s probably a lot more of a negative attitude from the general public when they see one of these vehicles, but when gas is only about $2 a gallon, it’s not so tough.”
Once the armor is stripped out, you can get fuel economy up to 15 miles per gallon. That’s not too far off from a Mercedes E class, which gets 20 miles a gallon according to the manufacturer. Add to that a certain cache in recycling a real military truck.
“My clients tend to be big kids, like me,” Smith says. “Now you can’t get the off-road culture out of America and I certainly don’t intend to.”
At a price tag of $25,000 to $50,000 depending on options, Smith thinks he’ll be able to start up a whole new love affair with what’s arguably the most American truck of them all.