Brand identity is crucial for automakers. That’s why they protect their brand identities fiercely, particularly when it comes to styling. The most recent example of this is FCA’s lawsuit against the Mahindra Roxor. And Jeep’s lawyers could soon have another target in their sights. The upcoming electric Hummer truck was recently teased, and one of its most prominent features is the grille, complete with six inserts resembling slots. Which makes the electric Hummer’s grille look vaguely like Jeep’s. Although, this wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.
The grille connection between Hummer and Jeep
As with Lamborghini’s outrageous LM002, the original Hummer (aka ‘Humvee’) started life as a military vehicle. Although first introduced in the early 90s, the Hummer design is actually older than that. According to In the Garage and Autoblog, the Humvee was originally developed by a division within Jeep after it had been purchased from Kaiser by the American Motors Corporation. This division, later called AM General, was later sold off after Renault started investing in AMC.
All this means that, historically, the Hummer kind of is a Jeep. It even used a similar slotted grille, a grille that later appeared on the civilian H1, and later H2 and H3 models. A grille that later became a key point of contention, not just in the legal battle between FCA and Mahindra, but in Jeep’s and Hummer’s own.
At first, as Autoblog explains, the Hummer’s and Jeep’s grille similarities weren’t an issue. The first Humvee was purely a military vehicle. And even when a civilian version came out, it was several times as expensive as a CJ or Wrangler, with more extensive off-road tech like portal axles. The two SUVs just didn’t compete with each other, so there wasn’t an issue.
However, the H2 debuted with 7 slots in its chrome grille, matching the Wrangler’s. And so, in March 2001, both Chrysler and GM sued each other over design similarities. The case got a little heated, as Utah’s Deseret News reported. One GM spokesperson stated that comparing the Hummer’s grille to a Jeep’s was “sort of like saying Arnold Schwarzenegger looks just like Mr. Rogers because both of them have nice smiles.”
Then, in November 2002, the 7th United States District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hummer. The court stated that if Chrysler had truly felt threatened by the Hummer grille, it should have sued when the Humvee and H1 first showed up, not several years later. The court’s decision was also based on the fact that Jeep and Hummer had a shared history—nothing was ‘stolen’ from Jeep in order to produce the H1 or H2.
Could the new electric Hummer get in trouble with Jeep?
Unlike earlier models, the electric GMC Hummer truck won’t have actual ‘slots’ in its grille: EVs don’t need them. Also, unlike the Wrangler, the GMC Hummer will have 6 inserts (one for each letter in ‘Hummer’), not 7, avoiding the issue that started the lawsuits. However, recent developments could complicate matters.
As Jalopnik reported, the International Trade Commission is reviewing Mahindra’s case against FCA. Like Hummer, Mahindra has an extensive history of Jeep. In addition, as detailed in its press release, Mahindra’s Roxor doesn’t compete directly with any Jeep, similar to the H1 and H2’s positions relative to the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. Furthermore, FCA referenced a similar issue in both of its lawsuits: ‘trade dress’, a claimed set of brand-specific design elements. Specifically, grilles.
If FCA starts something against GM again, that could lead to the ITC using the previous Hummer decision to rule in favor of Mahindra. And even if FCA doesn’t sue, the ITC could still quote the earlier case and rule for Mahindra.
Also, there’s the matter of the Hummer HX. Initially, this was just a concept: a Hummer with removable roof and doors, to really muddy the Hummer-Jeep waters, albeit with independent suspension, not solid axles, according to Motor Trend. However, GM Authority has reported several HX concepts running around GM’s Milford Proving Grounds testing areas.
Initially, GM Authority mused that they could appear in the Super Bowl Hummer teasers, but that didn’t happen. It’s entirely possible the concepts are just carriers for the Hummer EV’s powertrain. Jeep did something similar, using Ram 1500s as Grand Wagoneer test mules. In any case, GM hasn’t officially commented on the operational HX concepts.
We’ll just have to see how this plays out.
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