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Humming along

Speaking at the New York motor show last week, Hummer general manager Martin Walsh said the company is looking at an "electric solution" for future products but not necessarily a conventional hybrid.

"I am not ruling them out, but we have looked at hybrids and what we found is that -- because we are serious about off-roading -- you need a lot of torque at all four wheels and we haven't found a hybrid that can deliver that," he says.

"There are other alternatives like the Chevrolet Volt concept electric vehicle. In association with fuel cell, gas or diesel -- whatever your choice is -- that system can drive a lot of torque to the wheels."

The Volt, unveiled at the Detroit show in January, is a fully electric-driven system with a conventional on-board internal combustion engine driving the power regeneration generator for the batteries.

"We tend not to use the hybrid moniker for it but we are looking for an electric solution and that may be the one we want to move towards," Walsh says. While that development is the best part of a decade away, much closer is the often hinted-at H4, a compact Toyota RAV4 size model.

"Our growth will be downwards in terms of size," Walsh says.

"We currently have a strong presence in the larger size end of the market but our best opportunities for growth is in smaller and smaller segments.

"The two things we will maintain no matter where we go, because they have been the keys to our success, are the iconic design that makes a Hummer recognisable at first glance, and its unparalleled off-road ability. That is the real challenge. You can shrink any vehicle but as you do it becomes more difficult to package a genuine off-road ability."

Walsh says the compact vehicle will be unveiled late in 2009 or, most likely, at the January 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"I don't know that a smaller vehicle would be mean bigger sales than the H3 (56,000 in the US last year)," he says. "But I would expect that it would be responsible for additional sales." Available almost immediately is the 5.3-litre V8 option available in the H3 Alpha. Launched at the New York motor show last week, GM is playing coy on whether the engine will be offered in the Australian models.

"Of course we will consider it but at this stage there are no plans for the engine," General Motors Premium Channel spokeswoman Emily Perry says. "It is far too premature to suggest that the V8 will be confirmed for Australia."

However, Steve Garrity, Hummer's international operations director, is more positive. "I would see that engine being available out of the South African plant around the middle of next year," he says.

The Australian H3 models will be built in South Africa. Garrity also confirms development of a diesel program for the H3 is being driven by European, Australian and South African markets but doesn't expect the oil-burner to be available until well into 2009.

"It is definitely under way but the timing is still a bit back-and-forth at the moment," Garrity says. "There is no argument that the diesel program is to service Australia, Europe and South Africa ... without those three, there wouldn't be a great call for it."

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