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The 2003 Studebaker XUV Attempted to Revive a Classic Name with an Illegal Hummer Clone

GM's lawyers were very busy that day.

Here’s a circle for you. Studebaker, a defunct automaker that began life producing horse-drawn carriages, built its last car in 1966, a Studebaker Wagonaire. The Wagonaire was most noticeable for having a retractable roof over the wagon’s cargo area for tall items—a concept that General Motors would revive (leaks and all) on the unusual GMC Envoy XUV in 2004. And that crossover’s painfully mid-Aughts Xtreme labeling would make its way to this uncanny Hummer H2 clone: the 2003 Studebaker XUV, the last, unoriginal gasp of a once mighty force in America’s automotive history.

The Studebaker XUV (XUV stood for ‘Xtreme Utility Vehicle, of course) was essentially a larger, uglier Hummer H2 produced by Avanti, revealed at the Chicago Auto Show back in 2003. You can bet GM wasn’t pleased, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The Avanti name might ring a vague bell to you, so let’s run through the quickest possible summary of how this all went down. Sources from Automotive News and Bob’s Studebaker Resource help tell the story.

One of Studebaker’s last cars in the 1960s was the Avanti, a strange-looking coupe penned by famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy. It was only built for a a year and a half between 1962 and 1963, but a pair of enterprising dealers loved the car so much they banded together to buy all the parts and tooling from the automaker when it went fully bust in 1966. The Avanti Motor Corporation was formed and kept producing the car in extremely small numbers under a succession of owners all the way to 2006. 


In the early 2000s, that owner was one Michael Kelly, who decided Avanti needed to get with the times and build an SUV. Along with the original Avanti tooling, the original founders had also bought the rights to make Studebaker trucks back in 1963, so Kelly was able to bring back the Studebaker name for his new ute. Built on a 2003 Ford Super Duty pickup chassis, powered by a 310-horsepower Ford V10 (or a diesel V8) and styled like a video-game Hummer H2, it was certainly of the moment. The sticker price was set to be $75,000 with 1,000 built every year.

It was unveiled at the 2003 Chicago Auto Show to instant trouble. General Motors filed a lawsuit against Avanti, claiming the Studebaker XUV was a blatant copy of the Hummer H2. Not only did it want to prevent the truck’s sale, it wanted the concept pulled from the show floor. That also might be because its reported 134-inch wheelbase and 216-inch overall length made it significantly bigger than the H2. No one likes a show off.

Avanti, as per the images, did not comply with GM’s request and decided to fight Goliath in court. It’s likely Kelly and Avanti anticipated all this given that most of the press release announcing the Studebaker XUV was dedicated to explaining the differences between it and the H2. Also funny in retrospect is the follow-up release Avanti issued in the wake of the lawsuit.

“Avanti believes this frivolous lawsuit was presented to the small manufacturer by General Motors in order for GM to create a monopoly on the market of boxy, utility-type vehicles, thus preventing Studebaker, Ford, or even Chrysler from producing this type of vehicle in the future,” it reads. “The Hummer H2 is no stranger to legal action. Ironically, last year Daimler-Chrysler sued GM over the design of the vehicle, claiming the grill [sic] was a knockoff of the Jeep’s classic seven-slot front.”

After some time spent arguing, the two companies settled by agreeing to design alterations that made Avanti’s vehicle look less like the Hummer. The result was the truck they showed the public at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show, seen below.

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Obviously it never made it to production, but maybe not for the reasons you’d expect. First of all, the man running the company, Michael Kelly, would be arrested by the FBI in 2006 after being accused of operating a Ponzi scheme with 33 others. He and his accomplices allegedly stole $342 million from senior’s retirement funds. 

Also, although Kelly supposedly intended on making one thousand cars per year starting in 2003—the same year the company revealed the first concept—the concept he presented at the Chicago Auto Show in 2003 looked like a construction site on the inside. We know this thanks to images from Bob’s Studebaker Resource website.

The Avanti Motor Company went out of business in 2007, and a few years later Hummer would as well. That might’ve been the end of the story for big, military-inspired SUVs, but not so fast. Hummer is back. Time for Studebaker to make another go, perhaps? 

No. Definitely not.

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