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General Motors has revealed it is planning to offload its iconic Hummer business, because sales of the tank-like range of SUVs and trucks are, well, tanking.

The US car industry as a whole is suffering amid rising oil and steel prices and general economic malaise. GM plans to scale back production by mothballing four of its big vehicle plants, saving $1bn annually.

It seems Hummer, with its sub-13 miles to the gallon fuel economy and tonnes of military-chic metal, could be the first casualty, at least in its current form. At current US gas prices, a 100 mile round trip in a Hummer H3, the "mid-size" model, costs about $30.

Richard Wagoner, appropriately-named CEO of the world's biggest autowagon maker, told the firm's annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday: "At this point we are considering all options for the Hummer brand everything from a complete revamp of the product lineup to partial or complete sale of the brand."

The fewer Americans who are buying new cars these days are looking for a smaller, more efficient set of wheels, not the gaz-guzzling trucks and 4x4s whose high margins bolstered Detroit's bottom line as it failed to innovate throught the 1990s and early 2000s.

Wagoner acknowledeged the new religion, saying: "We at GM don't think this is a spike or temporary shift. We believe that it is, by and large, permanent." GM will begin production of a new small car in 2010 that'll aim for 45 miles to the gallon, AP reports.

The oil crisis of the 1970s provides a salutory tale for GM, Ford and Chrysler. It saw the rise of Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota, which made hay on small, cheap runarounds. Meanwhile Michigan communities were devastated and thousands of jobs lost as the US brands continued to churn out cruise liners on wheels.

If GM does decide to hold on to Hummer (after all, who'd buy it?) we suggest a range of flat pack trailers, powered by broken dreams. ®

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