It was a military bake sale of sorts. For the first time in history, the U.S. military auctioned off some of its surplus Humvees to the public.
And truck-lovers responded in kind, paying as much as $41,000 for the iconic military vehicle that entered service in the mid-1980s, spawned a commercial version called the Hummer in the 1990s and was replaced in the 2000s by bigger, more blast-resistant trucks known as MRAPs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In all, the online auction house IronPlanet Inc. on Wednesday auctioned 25 of the vehicles on behalf of the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency, netting a total of $744,000. Bidding started at $10,000 and escalated quickly, indicating a high level of interest from buyers for the light-duty utility trucks, even though they can't be driven on roads and can only be used for off-road purposes.
The lowest winning bid was $21,500 for a 1989 AM General M1038 Humvee HMMWV, while the highest bid was $41,000 for a 1994 AM General M998A1 Humvee HMMWV, according to the website. The acronym stands for High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, pronounced "Humvee." The average successful bid was about $30,000.
The auctioned Humvees, made by AM General LLC, had long been retired by the Army. In fact, they were sitting, gathering dust on a lot at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, according to an Army Times report.
The DLA has about 4,000 of the surplus vehicles, which have some sort of defect, Army Times reported. Whichever ones aren't transferred to local law enforcement agencies will be offered to IronPlanet for public auction, he reported, despite lingering controversy over the militarization of police departments across the country. The trend was highlighted earlier this year by the tactical response to protests following the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
On its website, the manufacturer notes that it doesn't sell Humvees -- or parts -- to the general public.
"The Humvee was designed for a military mission and was not designed to meet civilian safety standards," it states. "AM General does not endorse nor support the sale of these military vehicles to the general public or private entities. AM General further opposes any use of these military vehicles by individuals or entities outside of the military context for which the vehicles are designed. AM General does not sell the military vehicle or service parts for the military vehicle to the general public."
The company has built almost 300,000 Humvees for the U.S. military and its allies. The civilian version reportedly came about after Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger saw a convoy of the vehicles while he was filming a movie and approached company officials about building a version that he could drive around. General Motors later bought the brand and build the vehicles until 2010.
While AM General no longer makes Humvees for the U.S. Army or Marine Corps, the vehicles still roll off its production line in South Bend, Indiana, for such customers as the Army National Guard and international clients including the government of Iraq.
The Humvee's vulnerability to roadside bombs was exposed during the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, in response to questions from troops who said they were adding scrap metal to vehicles to better protect themselves from so-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously said, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
The Pentagon ended up adding more armor to Humvees, but, under a rapid-acquisition effort headed by Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, spent far more money – close to $50 billion – buying a fleet of about 25,000 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to better protect troops outside the wire. Humvees were relegated to transporting troops within well-fortified bases.
The Army last week officially began the next round of competition to build a replacement to the iconic Humvee. The service released a request for proposals, or RfP, from companies that want to manufacture production models of the so-called Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, designed to replace about a third of the Humvee fleet.
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@military.com.