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Originally designed and built to provide the US army with ‘High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles’ (HMMWVs), it is believed that Arnold Schwarzenegger was instrumental in getting Hummers to the civilian market after they caught his attention when he was filming a movie. He was so taken with them that he approached the manufacturers and played a key role in persuading them to sell the vehicles to the American public.
In many ways, “Hummers fitted Schwarzenegger’s action movie, man mountain image at the time due to their size and appearance, and the vehicles sold well in the 90s and early-2000s. Fast forward a few years and Schwarzenegger turned his attention from making movies to politics and, as Governor of California, he worked on initiatives to tackle climate change. The downturn in Hummer sales coincided with his change of focus and it was thought that Hummers would never be sold to the American public again. There was surprise and scepticism when plans for a Hummer electric vehicle (EV) were announced in early 2020. Nonetheless, the Hummer EVs have proven to be very popular with the American public, so much so that the Hummer EV is sold out for at least the next two years and General Motors have stopped taking pre-orders.
This article examines some of the intellectual property behind the rebirth of the Hummer as an EV, highlighting how a once purely combustion-engine brand has successfully transitioned into the electric vehicle market.
A core part of any EV is the battery and the Hummer EV is no exception. General Motors developed Ultium batteries, which they refer to as their “energy revolution”. Ultium batteries comprise “smart” modules that are designed to accommodate either pouch cells or cylindrical cells and the cells can be arranged vertically or horizontally with multiple modules being used in each EV. The number and arrangement of the battery packs in each Hummer EV enables an impressive range, horsepower and torque. It also enables in-series charging, when the battery system acts as a single battery, and parallel charging, where the battery system acts as two separate batteries (see US 11358492 B2). General Motors have also developed EVs with two charge points such that a single vehicle can be charged by connecting it to two charge points simultaneously and such that multiple vehicles can be charged from a single charge point by connecting a first vehicle to a charge point and connecting a second vehicle to the first vehicle (see US 2022239114 A1). Although Hummer EVs do not yet include two charge points, it is clear that General Motors is researching ways to optimise their Ultium batteries for use in different vehicles, which should be to the advantage of many of their customers.
Apart from the new charging technologies, Hummer has also introduced a variety of other innovations that come with its EV. The names of these new features are registered as trade marks.
Its highly promoted CrabWalk technology (US TM Registration Nos. 6714186 CRABWALK logo and 6714187 CRABWALK covering “electronic controllers for steering systems for motor land vehicles”) is a four-wheel steer mode that allows “the angle of the rear wheels to mimic the angle of the front wheels” and therefore helps the truck move more diagonally. GM claims this mode is a unique and useful feature for parking and off-road driving.
The EV will also be equipped with a “Watts to Freedom” launch mode (US TM Registration No. 6901900 covering “electronic controllers for controlling the propulsion system for motor land electric vehicles”), which is a “quick-start” option allowing the vehicle to gain its full power for fast acceleration.
Another new system introduced within the Hummer EV is UltraVision (US TM Registration No. 6702604 ULTRAVISION covering “on-board vehicular safety system comprised of video cameras for improving driver visibility”), providing up to 18 available camera views of different areas surrounding the entire vehicle, including additional underbody cameras.
As to the EV’s branding, General Motors has decided to stay true to the old Hummer’s recognisable style. The new logo (US TM Registration No. 6695085) designed for the trucks consists of the stylised letter ‘H’ with the word HUMMER placed in the middle and the addition of the EV abbreviation to the right, which is consistent with the previous logos and brings back Hummer’s existing H-prefixed naming formula:
US TM 6695085
The overall appearance of the pickup also resembles Hummer’s old military-inspired design with squared-off corners, though modernised. With these familiar yet novel features, the new Hummer EV delivers state-of-the-art technology within its recognisable tradition.
The examples given above provide an outlook on the key role of IP in the automotive industry. From protecting innovations that give a competitive edge to safeguarding elements that create a unique brand identity, IP covers it all. This is why, for carmakers like General Motors, securing intangible assets has become crucial to protect their investment in innovation whilst commercialising their technology and to build a foundation for further developing their brand and further developing their technology. The new Hummer EV is an exciting product with new features that offer great scope for legal protection to unlock the value of research and development through IP. It also illustrates how automotive companies can stay relevant, while appealing to both their existing and new target markets, in changing times.
If you would like to safeguard your innovation or brand, just as the examples mentioned in this article were protected by IP, please contact Marianne or any of our Trade Mark Attorneys for an initial discussion.
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