Hummer, a unit of General Motors Corp., is relying on Itronix Corp., a manufacturer of rugged notebook computers, to offer a line of semirugged PCs that sport the Hummer brand. The PCs operate on the go as a portable PC or plug into a dashboard connection in the vehicle. "We are trying to create a complete experience from the vehicles to the PCs," says Jay Ostahowski, Hummer's international marketing manager.
Similar to its namesake, the Hummer PC is rugged enough to resist extreme changes in temperature and humidity, bumps, drops, and spills, says Matt Gerber, Itronix's VP of product development. "You can get up to three radio transmitters for communication purposes and a high-performance global positioning system built into the notebook," he says.
The semirugged and rugged notebook market is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 9.3% between 2004 and 2009, according to research firm Venture Development.
Itronix is one of several major manufacturers, including Panasonic Corp. of America, in the mobile-computing niche focused on rugged or semirugged notebooks, a segment geared toward in-vehicle environments for services industries such as retail and others that require connectivity on the go. The U.S. Defense Department also uses rugged or semirugged notebooks.
The Hummer PC is a slightly commercial adaptation of the Itronix GoBook VR1.The Hummer version sells for less than the enterprise version and sports a colorful metallic shell in yellow, red, or pewter to match colors available for the SUV.
When the Hummer Laptop begins shipping Nov. 1, the price will start at $2,988. It has a one-year warranty and an Intel Centrino Pentium M processor running at 1.86 GHz with an easy removable 80-Gbyte hard drive. Compare this with the GoBook VR1, designed more for businesses, which has a $3,329 price tag. The GoBook VR1 has a fingerprint scanner and smart-card reader. It's basically the same notebook, but without the colored metal on the lid and three-year maintenance warrantee specific for enterprise customers.
GM will sell the notebooks through Hummer dealerships and its HummerStuff.com Web site, where it sells branded accessories. Itronix also is taking advance orders for the Hummer machine through its Hummerlaptops.com Web site and says there have been at least "two calls." It's not clear if these are actual preorders.
To help sell and showcase the Hummer PCs and other branded items, GM is building approximately 167 new dealerships in the United States with "retail boutiques" to focus on creating the "ultimate consumer experience." The dealerships are a showroom for the latest in Hummer vehicles and related accessories and technologies. The dealerships also have a demonstration track in the back where consumers can experience off-road driving, from log rolling to uphill and downhill maneuvers. It's aimed at helping drivers learn to drive off road.
Each showroom will have a "retail boutique" dedicated to Hummer-related goods from $1,500 watches to $3,500 night-vision goggles, and now the PC. The boutique "was an expensive and multiple-year process" to determine a store layout that gives consumers the best experience, Ostahowski says. "We're about 47% of the way through building and designing the new facilities and should be nearly done by the end of the year."