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GMC's First Electric Push Is Not The Hummer EV

GMC 8000-Pound Electric Truck Taken from 1914 Advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post


Last year, General Motors’ truck division literally generated a buzz of electricity in the air by the announcement of the HUMMER EV. The GMC brand’s trucks and vans have been typically propelled to internal combustion engines running on gasoline or diesel fuel but the changing tides of modern transportation is resulting in the introduction of the high-profile battery electric vehicle with up to 11,500 lb-ft of torque on tap. The GMC HUMMER EV is on track to be a very important product for realigning the public’s attitude of what a tough truck could be in a world in a transition away from fuel-burning engines. However, while the HUMMER EV will make an impact on altering the way we’ll see GMC when initial models end up on driveways in 2022, the sale will not be the first time the truck marque sold fully electric vehicles. Interestingly enough, electric powertrains were paramount to GMC’s establishment nearly 110 years ago.

In the 1910s, the war for automotive propulsion supremacy had not been decisively settled in the favour of gasoline internal combustion engines. In fact, electric vehicles were still seen for providing some charming attributes for commercial businesses. Electric vehicles were welcomed in urban areas for their quieter operations and their performance was comparable (in some cases better) than gasoline vehicles. Though the general public was starting to shift towards the cheaper gasoline automobiles, commercial enterprises continued to see value in battery electric power in their emerging truck fleets.


Founded in mid-1911 by General Motors after merging of Pontiac, Michigan’s Rapid Motor Vehicles and Detroit-based Reliance Motor Car Company, General Motors Truck Company (better known as GMC) did for the commercial truck industry what any industry titan should do; produce models to cater to every customer. In preparing their 1912 lineup, that meant offering GMC trucks with gasoline engines as well as electric powertrains. More than just a few models peppered into range of trucks powered by internal combustion powerplants, GMC’s electrified product selection in 1912 was introduced in eight load capacities with three lengths of frames available.

Image of 1,000-Pound GMC Electric Truck from 1914 Advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post

The GMC electric trucks utilized a drive system designed by John M. Lansden. Lansden’s design was billed as an innovative and elegant layout that placed as much components under the front hood as possible. Serviceability was also given priority with the battery located conveniently under the driver’s seat. In earlier advertisements for the GMC truck brand, it is interesting to see how the company marketed advantages of electric vehicles. GMC promoted the simplicity of an electric powertrain and the ease of maintenance as pluses for businesses. It’s important to take note this marketing was during a time that automobile buyers still had to face the anxiety of understanding newer, temperamental technology.


In what was the formative years of the GMC brand, battery-electric models played a major part in aiding companies in the transition not only to the young marque but towards the new world. GMC boasted the use of both their gasoline and electric products by a number of enterprises. The June 15, 1913 copy of “The Commercial Car Journal” mentioned the use of a one-ton GMC electric truck by a gun factory. The Frankford Arsenal of Frankford, Pennsylvania was reported that the vehicle cost-effectively took over a job that had previously needed 19 workers and three horse wagons. In one corporate ad published in 1913, GMC boasted how New Orleans-based moving company Gallagher’s Transfer replaced a team of six mules with a single electric truck. Hundreds of electrified GMC trucks were on the road according to another magazine ad posted that year. A final example of GMC showing off their brand’s capacity through electric vehicles was found in The Commercial Car Journal published in June of 1914. A 3-ton truck was shown as having a role in transporting water pipes for a civil project.


1914 GMC Advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post

In 1914, GMC’s electric vehicle selection remained plentiful with six options ranging from a 1,000-pound capacity version for $1,200 US to 12,000-pound capacity model for $2,500 US. This price did not include the cost of a battery. For the time, the Edison battery or better-known as a nickel-iron battery pack would be installed. Though a durable battery construction is actually receiving increased focus in modern times its long lifespan, nickel-iron battery pack used in many electric vehicles of the early 20th century was (and continues to be) expensive, heavy and required maintenance involving regular top-ups with distilled water.


As the 1910s progressed, internal combustion engines powered by gasoline had become the preferred propulsion source as automobiles crossed into the mainstream. GMC recognized a favourite powerplant was chosen and stopped selling an electric fleet by the end of 1915. Besides GMC, companies that have gone out of business or quit producing electric vehicles by the mid-1910s included the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, Waverley and Studebaker.

GMC was linked to few experiments with electrified vehicles and the introduction of hybrid models in the 2000s but the debut of the HUMMER EV models is bringing the brand back to its roots.  



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