DETROIT (AP) – By Tuesday, General Motors Corp. will have to decide whether its struggling Hummer brand will die a quiet death or live on with a new owner.

The wounded automaker has told the federal government that it will make the decision to jettison or sell Hummer by the end of the first quarter as part of a plan to justify the government loans on which it is living.

GM says it’s still talking to several possible buyers, and many of Hummer’s dealers nationwide are hoping that someone, perhaps a Chinese automaker, will come to their rescue and buy the brand, which traces its roots to rugged vehicles used for transporting soldiers.

The automaker has told dealers it will make an announcement about the brand’s future on Tuesday, but until then, GM will say only that it’s still negotiating with some interested parties.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” about a sale, said GM spokesman Nick Richards, adding that the companies with which GM is talking are from “all different parts of the world.”

Hummer dealers, many of whom sell other brands such as Cadillac, are hoping for a sale and trying to concentrate on customer service. GM put the Hummer brand up for sale in June of last year, and dealers have been in limbo ever since.

Ed Williamson, owner of Williamson Cadillac Hummer in Miami, says GM has told him only that an announcement is coming Tuesday, but he’s optimistic someone will buy the brand, perhaps to use the dealer network to distribute other models not currently sold in the U.S.

“My understanding is that they’ve got more than one candidate,” he said. “One of the best assets as part of this sale is the dealer body, 160 of the best dealers in the country,” he said.

But Erich Merkle, an independent auto analyst in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that despite the deadline, Hummer’s situation isn’t much different than it was when GM announced the sale in June.

“I don’t know what’s going to make it look more attractive as time goes by,” Merkle said, adding that the dealer network isn’t large enough to be attractive to a foreign buyer.

Hummer’s relatively poor fuel economy could hurt GM’s ability to meet stricter government fuel efficiency standards that go into effect for the 2011 model year, he said.

GM has been living on $13.4 billion in government loans and has requested $16.6 billion more. Chrysler LLC, it’s Detroit-area counterpart, has borrowed $4 billion and is seeking another $5 billion.

Both face a Tuesday deadline to submit completed restructuring plans to the government to justify the loans and prove they can become viable and repay the money.

President Obama is set to announce a plan Monday for the government to provide more money in exchange for tough concessions from union workers, bondholders and others.

Under a viability plan filed with the government in February, GM also plans to sell off Saturn and Sweden’s Saab, as well as make Pontiac a niche performance brand. By trimming the brands, GM would focus on Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC, spending less on product development and marketing.

More than 90 percent of GM’s revenue minus variable costs comes from the four core brands, the company has said.

GM said in its viability plan that Hummer, Saab and Saturn combined post an average annual loss of $1.1 billion before taxes. It did not break out the Hummer loss.

Hummer sales were down 51 percent last year compared with 2007 as gasoline prices rose above $4 per gallon. In January and February, even with gas around $2 per gallon, GM sold only 2,275 Hummers, down 65 percent from the same period last year, according to Autodata Corp.

The H3, the only 2009 model rated for gas mileage by the government, gets 18 miles per gallon on the highway and 14 in the city when equipped with a five-cylinder engine. Hummer also sells the larger H2.

Hummer has always been a niche brand, with U.S. sales reaching a peak of 71,524 in 2006. By comparison, Toyota Motor Corp. sold more than 20,000 Camry models in February alone.

Paul Adkins, general sales manager of Independence Hummer in Charlotte, N.C., said new Hummer sales have started to rebound a bit recently with used sales holding their own or increasing month to month.

Until the announcement, all he can do is keep selling and focus on customer service, said Adkins, whose dealership sells only Hummers.

“We can take it day by day, business as usual,” he said.

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