A self-proclaimed “car guy” at the launch of the Hummer EV.
Photo: White House/News Pictures/Shutterstock
The 2024 GMC Sierra EV Denali rolls slowly past toppled road signs and blown up buildings, piles of junk and debris reflected in its bronze exterior, which is eerily clean for a vehicle traveling through the ruins of society. The window rolls down to reveal Will Ferrell at the wheel, asking the first person to see his way. Unfortunately, it’s a zombie, but the Denali, a veritable fortress on wheels, makes escape easier. Whether the truck is electric is almost irrelevant. It’s not Ed Begley’s GM EV1 or even Larry David’s Toyota Prius. This is the car you want by your side when the world ends.
The GM announcement, which is part of a campaign collaboration between the company and Netflix for this year’s Super Bowlis the most recent entry in the Macho EV genre, which more or less debuted three years ago, appropriately enough, with another Super Bowl ad – this time for The GMC Electric Hummer. These ads document the EV arms race unfolding as companies bolster their electric offerings with taller profiles, sharper bodies and bigger grilles. It’s like the industry response to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s dig that “Democrats like Pete Buttigieg want to emasculate the way we drive and force you all to rely on electric vehicles.” (Buttigieg later went on Fox News to reassure the nation that his “sense of manhood” has nothing to do with how his car is fueled.) That it’s all ridiculous and predictable doesn’t make it trivial. The Big Car Good philosophy is also being embraced by the White House in its own way, as the President sings the gospel of electric vehicle speed and power – “You want one that’s quick in the quarter mile, buy American,” he said last October – and posed behind the wheel of a Hummer EV in a Tweeter of the White House on tax credits. (Never mind that the Hummer EV isn’t even eligible for credit; it’s too expensive.) These cars represent the worst possible future for electrification – dangerously powerful trucks driven by people who can’t see what’s in front of them, driving through neighborhoods that haven’t been designed for vehicles of this size. No offense to Will Ferrell.
Biden’s Hummer photo shoot, which recirculated last month, was actually taken at a launch event at the GM plant in Detroit in 2021. “These suckers are something else!” said the president. (They certainly are.) Later, as he stood in front of two Hummer electric vehicles, which also featured on a banner reading “A future made in America,” Biden continued, “This truck – three times as heavy, 0 to 60 in 3 seconds!” The 1,000 horsepower motor, 350 mile range, 9,000 pound weight – not to mention features like a “crab walk” – actually put the Hummer EV in a league of its own, leading GM to call it “great truck.” And the Hummer EV, with its handful of peers, is now being advertised as a indicator of the success of American electric vehicles.
After years of delay, Tesla’s Cybertruck could finally go into production this year.
Photo: Nic Coury/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Tesla’s contribution to the genre – the long-announced Cybertruck – isn’t in production yet, but one was recently spotted in Silicon Valley. (Elon Musk usually sends out prototypes at times when it might be nice to have other securities circulating.) Tesla does not advertise, but rather misleading videos which are shared on Musk’s Twitter – but the Cybertruck is marketed with the same Macho EV shtick, as a towing capability with “the ability to pull near infinite mass”. (If this were true, it could tow a planet.) After the 2019 unveiling, in which Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen threw steel balls at his windows as a show of force to finish break them, Tesla delved further into its pseudo-military “protective” features: “Starting with a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton, every component is engineered for superior strength and endurance, from structural skin of ultra-hard 30X laminated stainless steel cold to Tesla armor glass,” conforms to the description of the vehicle. Rivian’s R1T truck, like the Hummer and Cybertruck, is also marketed as a tough guy vehicle, with youtube videos showing them in the desert, traversing “8 modes, all-terrain” and doing “the tank rotates.” But like many such vehicles sold in the United States, most of the people who drive them go to the store to buy milk: a survey of pickup truck owners in the United States showed that one-third rarely or never use their truck for transport, and two-thirds rarely or never use it for towing. (Rivian, to its credit, has put its EV technology to good use elsewhere by manufacturing Amazon delivery vans and is build an electric bike.)
But the lightly traveled roads these vehicles travel make them unsafe. Tracking news stories and federal data by the advocacy group Children and Car Safety shows that “before” child deaths – that is, cars that run over children, without back off – have dramatically increased over the past decade, almost doubled from 2009 to 2019 compared to the previous ten-year period. During the same period, the front hood of the average American pickup truck increased by 11% and vehicle weight increased by 24%. according to Consumer Reports. And in addition to their size, the Macho EVs also have increased torque. Indeed, only two trucks can go from 0 to 100 km/h in 3 seconds, and they are both electric: the Hummer EV and the Rivian R1T. But being able to accelerate so quickly in such a large vehicle creates an extremely dangerous combination. This extra power – the Hummer EV calls it, appropriately, “WTF” – has Hummer EV drivers posting videos where they struggle to control the vehicle. “I had forgotten how heavy this car is” says a driver. “He didn’t want to slow down.”
Rivian’s R1T pickup truck is billed as an “electric adventure vehicle”.
Photo: Sebastian Hidalgo/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Macho EV market also shows no signs of slowing down: Demand for the electric version of America’s most popular car, the Ford F-150, is so high that Ford has stopped taking new reservations. Maybe that’s why Ford CEO Jim Farley said in june, “If you ever see Ford Motor Company do a Super Bowl commercial on our electric vehicle, sell the stock.” Instead, Ford is increase the prices of the F-150 Lightning to cover supply chain issues created, in part, by a global shortage of minerals like lithium. Macho EVs are incredibly lithium-hungry; they are creating a new brand of environmental devastation even as they claim to save the planet.
Whether “petro-masculinitydefined the past decade, as oversized, gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks came to offset more than 80 percent of all new vehicle purchases, we are now heading into an era of “bro-electrification”. We’ll ditch fossil fuels, but we’ll hold on to everything so toxic in American car culture – the road deaths, the sprawl, the costs of land and mineral extraction, the bombastic Super Bowl ads equating your masculinity to the size of your zero-emission mobile bunker. Will Ferrell was in norwaythe world’s best-selling electric vehicle market – hasn’t he noticed that the electric cars there are not built to zombie-escaping standards, everyone still drives just fine and the country records its lower number of road deaths in decades? Why design for the apocalypse when maybe you could just work a little harder to prevent it?