By on August 21, 2008

The right guy at the wrong time?What if GM Car Czar Bob Lutz is the kind of hero General Motors needs, hurling Volts from high atop the Ren Center to stave off Chapters 7 and 11? What if he's fighting the bureaucratic beast from within, under the guise of corporate tool, a double agent, if you will? Could Maximum Bob be one of the good guys? Double Lutz?

The General has had a tough couple of decades. Lutz arrived at his current job in 2002, hopping on the continuous market share slide. He is Vice Chairman, charged with global product development. During his tenure, the General has leaked significant levels of everything used to value a corporation: cash, investor confidence, consumer confidence, brand strength, hope, faith and charity. GM kissed away 23 percent of the US market since 1979, five of that during Lutz's stint.

Yet Lutz and his boss Rick Wagoner are still calling the shots, with the full backing of the Board. In most companies losing seven million dollars an hour, this is not the case. So why aren't these guys sitting on the curb with cardboard boxes on their laps? 

There are several possible explanations. 1. The Board is stupid. 2. Inter-mingling with other blue-chip boards has created a web of complicity. 3. They invite bankruptcy. 4. They're telling it like it is: the Board believes in what Wagoner and Lutz are doing to turn the company around. This one is the hardest believe– unless all is not as it appears.

Robert A. Lutz is a retired Marine Corps aviator who speaks three languages. Born in Switzerland, 1932, he joined General Motors Europe in 1963. He worked at BMW in the early 70s, where he took part in the development of the storied 3-Series. At Ford, he rose through the Chairmanship of Ford of Europe all the way to the Ford Board. From there, he jumped to Chrysler, where he oversaw the Viper, Prowler and LH platform. Four years as CEO of Exide brings him back to GM.

Lutz has never been cocooned in Detroit. He's continuously championed European driving dynamics and technology in America. He's lead and lost political battles at each of the Detroit marks. It is difficult to accept him as a clueless– or even disinterested– Hindenburg pilot. The alternative, then, is Lutz at the stick of a Raptor.

The Chevy Volt project is being run unlike anything in GM's recent corporate memory. No curtains. No tarps. Everything everyone is doing is out in the open, blasted at the press and rocketing forward at twice normal development speed. This is GM's moon shot. 

The Volt is anti-GM culture to its core.  Literally.  They ridiculed hybrids not five years ago and shot their own electric car in the back. Now, The General is throwing resources it doesn't have and what's left of its reputation at a vehicle that, as of right now, will not work.

Lutz is the father of the Volt. At Exide, he became enamored with batteries and electric drive and saw potential freedom from Saudi and Venezuelan oil. In 2006, he commissioned something striking for the 2007 Detroit Autoshow, telling his engineers and designers he wanted a game-changer.

The game he wants to change, though, is inside the Ren Center. A full century of corporate calcification has made it near impossible to do anything, let alone anything well. GM is notorious for tall decision trees, needing months to climb, and middle managers who've learned that sticking your neck out is the surest way to get cut down to size. 

All of this is antithetical to a way a fighter pilot thinks. Marines understand chain of command. They are not above their brand of bureaucracy, but they are trained to get their orders and get the job done. The job in this case: overtake the former axis powers and regain US supremacy of the roads.

For victory, the Volt will need to zap GM's corporate mindset on sustainability, environmental policy, accountability and resource allocation. It has to turn around the crowd that killed the EV1 and dozens of other start-stop projects that sapped GM resources and credibility for a generation. And that, even more than build a cool car, is what Lutz really wants to do.

Lutz has repeatedly stated that this project is important not just to GM, but to the whole US auto industry. Yeah, he blankets the media jungle with crazy-palm. He has to. He needs to stoke what fire is left at GM and he can't use the truth to do it. How could he not sound ludicrous most of the time?

That expression about turning around an aircraft carrier doesn't apply to the General. It's more like a whole fleet. Maybe, just maybe, Maximum Bob is using the Volt to light the way.

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42 Comments on “Double Lutz?...”


  • avatar
    ex-dtw

    Not a completely off-the-wall analysis.

    Consider it, Lutz is in effect, a successful guy who “gets” cars and yet GM’s product portfolio is changing at an arctic pace.

    to be sure it is getting better, but when you actual consider the enormous hurdles this guy is facing, the job he has done does seem more reasonable.

    Still, why on g’s green earth does Wagoner still have a job? We are not talking about a Steinbrenner 80′s style of impatience, but when is enough enough?

  • avatar
    jaje

    The very end of #4 should have a reference “see #1″

  • avatar
    CT_Jake

    Puh-leez!! This guy is as calcified as the rest of the over paid sheep in the bored,oops, board room :-). This reads like a PR script from his office. “Took part in the storied 3 series”. Give me a break. Every idea he’s championed at GM so far has been a looser. The Volt will be an collosal failure. No one who can utter the nonsense he does can have a plan that’ll get them on track. Of course, somehow getting rid of “Wagoneer” would be a great start.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    In 1997, hybrids first hit the Japanese market. While they weren’t lighting the world on fire, they did sell. At least, they sold in some quantity to the gizmo-crazy Japanese.

    In 1999, Honda brought the Insight here. People were getting 70mpg or so and, while it did not sell well, it was also easy to see WHY it did not sell… it was a two-seater. They don’t sell.

    In 2000, the Gen 1.5 Prius, somewhat improved over the 1997 model, arrived here and started to sell at 1.5K to 2K units/month. To the best of my knowledge, they sold fairly briskly (there were waiting lists). Clearly, they didn’t sell at the 40K/month rate of the F-150 but Detroit certainly had reason to be suspicious that this was a winning play. Also, it was not clear if Toyota could make any money on them… special arrangements had to be worked out on MSRP and markup between Toyota and their dealers.

    In late 2003/early 2004, Toyota brought out the Gen 2 Prius. Sales hit the 10K/month range pretty quickly and the vehicle is, clearly, successful.

    Now, 10K/month and up is serious production levels. Toyota was willing to build some real volume for the Prius and, clearly, was aiming for money, if not making it (Toyota claims the car started to make money in late 2002). If you don’t hope to make money on a car, you don’t build 10K of them (see the GM hybrids for an illustration of this principle at work). Clearly, Detroit should have strongly suspected that there was money to be made in such a venture.

    Now, we hear that Lutz was interested in gas-electric or electric cars from the git-go.

    If we accept that, how is it that the Car Czar didn’t get his car seriously under way by 2004? Why did it take 3 more years to get a concept going and now there’s a crash program/Hail Mary play?

    I see two possible answers to that…

    1. Lutz’ early interest in gas-electrics and electrics is PR lies. Lutz was no more prescient than anyone else. Beyond that, he’s a pretty bad EVP for Global Product Development because, in spite of clear signals of what was about to happen (Toyota successfully fielding a hybrid and GM helping ensure it would sell by ramping up worldwide oil demand selling wagonloads of cars in China), he was caught flat-footed by the market shift of 2007/8.

    or

    2. Lutz really was interested getting some electric drivetrain thing out but Lutz is just a very bad EVP for Global Product Development. In 2004 and earlier, he had some sort of vision for a gas-electric or electric but didn’t persevere to get a business case done and sold for funding and didn’t push the advanced research project teams to move up their gas-electric and electric programs to have ready in the near term. If an EVP for Global Product Development can’t influence the company strategy to the good, then he’s pretty useless, isn’t he?

    Now, the Volt project is being done out in the open… to some extent… That is to say, GM talks about it all the time. But hard numbers shift, the price shifts, they’ve got a cover thrown over it but will lift the skirt a bit for the cameras, they talk incessantly about vision, direction, future development (no current car but there’s still talk of the future e-Flexes) and on and on and on… But this is not an open project, this is hype.

    And GM’s hybrid programs, generally, are a shambles… They’ve developed a BAS system (not a bad idea but bad execution). They’ve implemented a two-mode system in a king-size format where it does not sell (and will sink further development into doing that for Cadiallac). The sales success of both lies is at the nexus of “too expensive to build,” “nobody in their right mind would want this lame excuse for a hybrid when a Prius is cheaper” and “super-thrifty 20 miles per gallon!” Their new Lambda platform can’t accept a two-mode tranmission (no room). The Delta platform turns out not to be electric-ready. They are downsizing the two-mode to the Vue (it fits!?) where it may have a chance but will be prohibitively expensive and will repeat the Accord hybrid V6 mistake. And, finally, the much-hyped Volt PHEV won’t even be the first PHEV from GM; that will be the Vue two-mode plus SuperSized battery, due in 2010.

    Right now, GM’s got nothing to offer that makes money and must talk about the Volt incessantly to stem the tide of defections to the Prius and keep the stockholders from revolting.

    Tell me why GM should keep Bob Lutz.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    Although it’s easy to hate on Lutz (and sometimes he seems to shoot too far… “hybrids will be made obsolete by fuel cells” , etc.) lets take a look at the GM of 10 years ago. Aside from the Corvette and possibly the Tahoe, can you think of a single decent product GM put out?

    One? Oh, right, the Oldsmobile Intrigue and Aurora (and later Alero.) The GM of 10 years ago also went out of its way to kill them off. And as dynamically capable as they were they were still fall-apart-when-the-warrany-expires machines. When they killed off Oldsmobile, just about every GM product was an embarrassment of sloppy fit, nasty plastics, and poor design. Their only selling point was the high feature content (auto headlamps, onstar, etc.)

    Look at GM under Lutz today- practically none of their cars are embarassments in the segment (except the Aveo.) They still need to floss out the seams (Read: Impala, Aveo, Cobalt) , but every single division (except Saab) has at least something class competitive. And Cadillac has been packing an ass whooping with it. GM’s problem is that its perception isn’t going to change until they have something that is class leading and is so for several generations.

    I predict the Volt is going to be like every other GM product we’ve seen come from them the past couple years- decent and competitive at first, but flawed enough to keep away the people crossing over.

    I’m going to say give him some credit- his strategy over his first few years at GM wasn’t too different than what Ford & Co. are currently pitching- “Let’s build/sell better cars.” Of course, back when this started the focus of the industry was on larger vehicles, so that’s where GM put most of their focus.

    GM Building fad-of-the-day “Hybrids” is fine, but I really just want GM to build class-leading vehicles. That should be their goal. That isn’t going to get the buying public’s attention (people are clamoring for a bunch of impractical hybrids that are likely to run a natural resource shortage of their own) , but it’d get mine.

  • avatar
    USAFMech

    I especially like articles that invite rebuttals. This should be good.

    Also, I wonder why nobody bothers to rebut the DW series’ seriously?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Robert A. Lutz is a retired Marine Corps aviator …

    According to Wikipedia, he served in the Corp from ’54-’59. He stayed in the reserves until ’65. 11 years isn’t enough to retire, unless he had some sort of disability. Can this “retirement” be clarified?

    As far as I can see, he last sat in a fighter aircraft in 1965. I don’t see why every article about him has to reference his Marine pilot background, as if it’s somehow relevant to his work today.

    I also wonder why every write up about him mentions him being a polyglot. There are literally millions of poor uneducated people in the 3rd world who speak several languages fluently – because they have to. Would I want any of them running GM? (Well, yes, any of them. Let’s give them a try) Apparently being able to bullshit in 3 languages doesn’t stop the slide in market share.

    All of this is antithetical to a way a fighter pilot thinks. Marines understand chain of command. They are not above their brand of bureaucracy, but they are trained to get their orders and get the job done. The job in this case: overtake the former axis powers and regain US supremacy of the roads.

    Maybe this is the problem. The job is not properly defined. The job isn’t to overtake the axis powers, the job is to improve product and service, thereby winning customers. Do that and overtaking the axis powers takes care of itself.

    Actions speak louder than words – his tenure at GM has coincided with continuing failure.

    Addendum –

    Lutz has never been cocooned in Detroit.

    With the exception of 4 years at Exide, he’s been in the car business since the year Kennedy was assassinated. Only 3 of those years – at BMW- were outside Detroit. He’s an insider.

    Addendum 2

    He attained the rank of Captian, according to Business Week and GM FastLane blog. 0-3 really isn’t that much of an accomplishment in 11 years. Not that I’m being critical really – I mean, I never could have made it as a Marine aviator, but the fact is 0-3 doesn’t mark him as one of the Corps best. He did earn his MBA with highest honors.

  • avatar
    ex-dtw

    USAFMech,

    See my last comment in the previous GM DW.

    Mikeolan,

    I agree, GM cars are not the overtly terrible cars of yesteryear; they are just not great. Consider the new Malibu, whollely inoffensive and midly attractive. But just not enough of one thing to encourage the huge perception change GM needs.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    I agree with CT_Jake and Kixstart.

    This sounds like a PR piece. If Lutz was a champion of hybrids why didn’t he start work on one? He’s had enough time. It’s amazing how this crumb of information is now coming to the forefront now that hybrids are popular. If diesels suddenly become popular, we’ll start to hear stories how “Bob became fascinated diesel powertrains during his time at BMW”.

    Now we have the Volt, his baby. A car whose technology doesn’t exist, funding is sparse and whose reputation is in tatters already because Bob Lutz staked it (and GM’s reputation) on it being ready for Easter 2008.

    Sounds apt for Bob’s legacy.

    Also, hasn’t Bob tried to push E85, too?

    I don’t think Bob is a double agent. He’s just a man who had golden era back in the 60′s and has been living off of it since.

    Which is actually a commendation, when you think about it. At least Bob had a golden era. Most Detroit execs get where they are because they go to the same golf club as the board of directors…..

  • avatar
    gamper

    I seriously love this guy. He’s brash, he’s bold and yes, a little bit crazy. I honestly believe that if you can somehow get past GM’s image and look strictly at product, that most observers would see great progress in recent years in execution and design. Unfortunately those were/are only a few of GM’s problems.

    Trucks and image. Or is it image and trucks. Ahhh…doesnt matter they are both killing GM in the marketplace. When the public sees GM as something other than a truck company, and you manage to convince a large portion of car shoppers that GM products are now approachable, even touchable without the aid of a 10 foot pole, things could really turn around for GM. A tall order. The kind of sensationalism that Lutz oozes is perfect for the job.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Dynamic88: Only 3 of those years – at BMW- were outside Detroit. He’s an insider.

    He spent several years at Ford of Europe, which is a whole different ballgame compared to Ford’s North American operations. Just look at the vehicles it has produced over the years…

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    geeber

    Thank you, I stand corrected. He has not been cocooned in Detroit.

  • avatar
    Steve-O

    I have to admit, his quotes are legendary. But seriously, Lutz was hired to inject life back into GM’s (too many) product lines. Now there is no question that GM products are head & shoulders more competitive today vs. the pre-Lutz days.

    Unfortunately Lutz will never get the credit he deserves for improving the lineup because of the overall bone-headed non-strategy that is employed by the CEO and BOD of GM. In my view, he is doing a pretty good job within the framework of a lousy organization…

  • avatar
    Revver

    At the risk of sounding like I’m not giving Lutz any cred, what has he done for GM? Are there specific cars that were his?

  • avatar
    mikey

    Hey! Lets not forget IMHO, Bobs best decision.Redesign all models to get rid of plastic
    cladding.

    As a lifelong Pontiac fan I can’t thank Bob enough for dumping plastic cladding.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Like most folks, Bob has his strengths and weaknesses, the latter well (and easily) documented here at TTAC. I have followed Lutz’s career since the seventies; it’s hard to know about Bob how much of his success is bluster and how much is real ability. Probably some of both.

    I do give him credit for doing the absolutely most obvious thing in the world at GM: focus on making cars/vehicles that look good (at least to a healthy percentage, not so much for me), and stir some feelings of desire among the target buyers. The Malibu, CTS, and Lambdas are the testament to that. They are better than what was there before, to some degree or another.

    It’s clear that Wagoner has given Bob and the Volt team a big blank check and no corporate obstacles. Good/obvious move. Whether the Volt and Bob’s other efforts are enough to make a material impact on GM’s financial health is the big (C11) question. We live in interesting times; at least something is happening at GM, unlike the 80′s and 90′s, when it was all totally downhill.

  • avatar
    windswords

    I remember a story about Lutz during his days at Chrysler, well actually a couple of stories. When they were developing the LH and it’s 3.5 liter engine (not todays 3.5, which is the second gen 24 valve v6, this was the first) and engineer came to him and asked him what rpm limit he should design into the valvetrain. Instead of giving the engineer a number he asked him to use his best judgment. He championed pushing the decision making to the lowest possible levels. Another is that like all execs he was given a company car. In the 80′s when he joined Chrysler it was an Imperial. Not content with it he had hot rodded and the suspension tweaked so it handled more like the Euro cars he was used to. Then he would take it out and drive it at insane speeds. He also did the same treatment to a Dodge Daytona. The top dog version was the IROC-Z with the 224 hp 2.2 Turbo/intercooled 4 pot with the 16 valve head. He had the engineers hot rod one with the Mitsu 3 liter v6 the same motor that popped out 300+ ponies with the 24 valve twin turbo setup in the Dodge Stealth R/T and the Mitsu 3000GT. The Daytona did not have the same set up for it’s v6, instead the engineers put in a prototype variable valve or cam timing set up along with a turbo. This was fwd car. And he drove that too. He’s a car guy and not a bean counter. That in and of itself is refreshing.

    Lutz did not always play well with others – he conflicted with Harold Sperlich (the true father of the minivan imo) and eventually he was outsted from Chrysler. And his run-ins with Lee have been noted in many publications.

    Yet after Eaton (curse his name) was given the reins of Chrysler instead of him he stayed on. And this was while his star was at it’s brightest. He could have gone almost anywhere. There was a rumor that Honda wanted him to head up there NA operations. Today this would have been a TTAC Wild Ass Rumor of the Day. I don’t think it was true but just the fact that the rumor started shows you how much he was regarded in the industry. When Dumbler came a raiding he was one of the few executives or the only one who didn’t think it was good idea to mate with the Germans. He had worked in Europe and saw how Dumbler did things first hand and was the only Chrysler exec who spoke fluent German. Years before Lee was all for getting in bed with Fiat – this was before Chrysler’s rebirth in the 90′s and Lee thought they had to merge with a another company to survive long term – Lutz almost singlehandily derailed it. He believed that Chrysler could be a viable company on it’s own.

    Perot was right about things at GM but he didn’t have street cred with the other execs or the BOD. Lutz is not that much different from Perot – he knows they have to change the way they have always done things – but he has the credibility to pull it off. That’s not to say everyone is in love with him there. I bet there are more than a few who love to put a figurative knife in his back.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @ex-dtw

    “I agree, GM cars are not the overtly terrible cars of yesteryear; they are just not great. Consider the new Malibu, whollely inoffensive and midly attractive. But just not enough of one thing to encourage the huge perception change GM needs.”

    I don’t know of a single “attractive” mid-size sedan. At best you’re looking at “not too bad” , but most cars in this class are cribbed designs of more expensive models (Accord, I’m looking at you.) The Malibu looks pretty darn good and has a Passat-esque gravitas to it while still looking fairly American. It’s not going to sell well until it gets a good reputation, as it’s merely an equal with its foreign counterparts (still a stunning achievement for GM given it’s been 10 years since they released anything that could be called such) instead of better.

    That’s the problem- who is going to buy a Malibu when they could buy an Altima or Accord with ‘proven’ reliability records? My last GM product (an Oldsmobile) was inoperable by the 100k mark, and that was after religious care and thousands upon thousands of dollars in repairs just to keep the car operational. It was the only car I know of that made Jetta owners feel like they made a sound investment.

    My hope is that GM doesn’t get brand ADHD and do any more brand cutting and/or shifting. Each brand is right where it should be but needs to gather a good reputation before it can grow organically.

  • avatar

    mikeolan:

    I fear GM might simply find it more profitable to cheap out on its replacement and go back to crap.

    Or start to “de-cost” the current model later in its production run, again as Ford did with the Taurus.

    I think I’m in the minority (big surprise), but I thought a lot of GM cars of the nineties were attractive enough, in a conservative way — the final Riviera, the Buick Park Avenue, the ’92 Seville, the Olds Aurora. Their dynamic performance was seldom more than okay, and their reliability and interior quality was frequently vile, but they looked all right. The current crop is hard to like, stylistically. The Malibu is inoffensive, but the entire Pontiac and Buick lines make my head hurt, except maybe for the Solstice (nice proportions, frown-making detailing). It’s a weird mix of overwrought concepts and “clinicked-to-death” blandness (I’m lookin’ at you, Pontiac G6). It’s hard to believe GM once built some of the best-looking cars around.

  • avatar

    I like the way this guy has hung on, or should I say, the way GM has hung onto him despite his age.
    Usually 50 is the kiss of death in the job world.

    Watch Charlie Rose’s interview of Lutz; notice how
    he has some young babe next to him in the helicopter scene. He is a car guy alright. He does not claim
    to be an engineer or a stylist in the interview; for that I give him credit. He claims only to be a marketing person.

    Regarding the “Volt”, Lutz boasted that he likes to leapfrog other’s technology. Then he goes on to say that his idea
    was to make an all electric car but the engineer
    guy told him the technology was here now for a hybrid which had a small gas motor and a (smaller)
    battery pack. When you consider that GM already
    did the EV1, you can dismiss Maximum Bob’s leapfrog rhetoric. Mr. Lutz goes on to say that
    the volt takes the environmental question out of the equation. Evidently he doesn’t understand that most electricity comes from fossil fuels and forgot that there is a gas tank on the proposed car.

    But take a good look at the ‘Volt’. This thing has
    such a low windshield that it looks like a chopped Mercury in a ZZTop video. This car will never make it to production. Because you could never see out of that windscreen and because GM will not make it to 2010.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    Companies that don`t make meaningful products or diversity of it, have to rely heavily on advertising. I see the same pattern, whether you look at 3 product Harley Davidson or 3 product Apple computer. Gm, with Lutz parading, also advertize Volt because they feel , that bleeding is so heavy that they have to advertize non existent products because the ones they make won`t cut it.Imagine, if the government issued a law that every advertizing has to show the engineering contents origin country. imagine those Chevy commercials all rocking with ` Designed and engineered in Korea, by Korean registered Daewoo`. Imagine Gm hasn`t created a single non-truck platform( non- leave springs equipped) in last 20 years. All are German engineered, german registered Opel Corsa, vectra, ASTRa derivatives, with zero US engineering input.When the hard part of platform engineering is done it gets transferred to Us and is modified by parts from suppliers, increasingly foreign. the restof car platforms are korean.Or japanese. The same old way of faking which lead to death of watch industry, consumer electronics, now is leading truck industry etc.The same old pattern. In what way Lutz stands out leading Gm from the rest of big 3? No difference. The same huge cash losses. Fit and finish challenges, faked domesticness ,etc.manufacturing 4 million cars a year and hoping on a single model, that even isn`t built yet, sounds pretty american. an you imagine Honda bragging about Clarity year after year, 7 years before release? See, American- complex-reliable never go together that`s why I don`t believe in Volt. Nor Lutz.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @JurisB: I thinky you’ve sorely mixed up GM and Chrysler.

    1. Everything in Oldsmobile’s lineup when it was killed was U.S. Engineered and designed. The Malibu and Cobalt are to a small extent internationally engineered on a global platform, but are not foreign products in the same way the Aveo or Astra are. They’re probably the most “American” sedans you can buy, given the Fusion is made in Mexico. Sure the platform isn’t exclusively American- why should it be? Global platforms are almost always superior as the additional R&D costs are offset by volume.

    Chrysler, by contrast, doesn’t have anything close to its own car or truck platform, aside from whatever garbage the Caliber rides on (and even that I’m not so sure.)

    2) Apple and Harley davidson rely on an image complemented by marketing and product, not on marketing alone. GM’s problem is it lacks such an image. Honda and Volkswagen have it.

    @argentla:
    It is almost shocking to believe GM had such daring designs. Even the mid-90′s Tahoes looked good in their boxiness. The problem was almost consistently interior based, and prior to Lutz’s arrival, would spread to the exterior as well. Cars like the Monte Carlo and Impala were nasty lumps (and still aren’t much.) The Aztek. Even the hyper-styled Bonneville. Just things that make you want to puke.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Jurisb, has commented on one of the two reasons Lutz will not succeed with the volt. That being, no Japanese company would have the hubris to pre-market a car for years. They also would know that it takes several model updates to get the car where you want it. The new accords, camrys, altimas etc are evolved not hatched products. They are good because they are perfected and tested over time by owners.
    The second reason for failure is even simpler. The volt at more than $40K almost doubles the price of the average American car which is in the $20+K range. The price of the volt is entry level luxury, where there are far fewer sales than there are at a Prius price point. If this doesn’t cripple the car at the gate what else will?

  • avatar
    AKM

    Bob Lutz, “Born from Jets”

  • avatar
    windswords

    “Chrysler, by contrast, doesn’t have anything close to its own car or truck platform, aside from whatever garbage the Caliber rides on (and even that I’m not so sure.)”

    The Caliber/Compass/Patriot reside on a heavily modified Mitsubishi platform. By heavily modified I mean it doesn’t even match up to what Mitsu has anymore. This wasn’t what Chrysler wanted. They were made to use the Mitsu platform by Dumbler. They already had a small platform in developemnt to replace the Neon.

    From Bob Sheaves postings on the Allpar forums:

    “The GS was a Mitsu owned design that they were instructed to share with Chrysler by Daimler. Chrysler was supposed to refine it (which failed, sorta-they were able to develop it further, but most of the work was a waste as it did not all carryover into the redesign) adapt it to the Chrysler plants (not DSM – which failed) and then produce it (which failed). Mitsu continued developing the GS to meet their needs and facilities and it worked out well….for them. It was a Daimler mandated waste of time for Chrysler.

    The point to all this is the redesign of the Stratus and Sebring (as well as the “new” Caliber, Compass, Patriot, etc.) was done on the fly and in a much shorter time than Daimler had originally allowed, but still, was not enough time to redo everything that needed to be “fixed” on the cars. After the direct dismemberment of the GS platform, and only those pieces used that would adapt to the latest Chrysler methods of flex manufacturing were used.

    ADDENDUM: That is not to say the 2 platforms are not related, they are about as close, in human terms, as first cousins.”

    The LX (300/Charger) as has been covered before numerous times is not a rebadged E-class. Less than 20 percent of the parts you DON”T SEE can be exchanged. The PT Cruiser of course is based off the Neon and is not from anyone else.

    Now as for trucks, the Jeep GC/Commander, the Durango/Aspen, the Dakota, and maybe the Nitro/Liberty are all Chrylser and not shared with anyone.

  • avatar
    mel23

    I’d like to know just what Lutz does on the inside of GM. He’s credited with improved design, but does he do the sketches, modeling, etc. himself? I doubt it. I assume he’s more like a referee that approves the best option in his judgement. What does Ed Welburn do then? Does Wagoner not trust the judgement of anyone else? If not, what will happen when Lutz packs it in? Makes no sense to me.

    If Lutz’s personality inside GM is like what we see, I wouldn’t want him around. I don’t think he has dementia; I just think he lies. He sprays bullshit all over the place. And we’re supposed to believe he really does not believe than man is a significant contributor to climate change, but, in his corporate role, he just pretends he does. How the hell can anyone do that?

    I give Lutz credit for polishing his image; of course equal credit goes to the ‘journalists’. As for being a car guy, who cares. The Camaro, G8, etc. do squat in helping GM do anything other than waste money. What GM needs are some adult business types who understand that it’s about making products that sell at profit. Obviously the Wagoner/Lutz duo includes no such person.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The post offers an overly rosy perspective on Lutz, but the comments are quite interesting. Lutz is a complex character. He could not have survived this long as an auto executive for a handful of companies if he didn’t display some talent. We can debate how good he is as a “product guy,” but I doubt anyone would question his flair for self promotion. In the auto industry that matters a whole lot.

    I suspect that Lutz would not have been a better choice to lead Chrysler in the 1990s than Eaton, despite the latter’s tragic sell out to Daimler. For one thing, Lutz’s managerial style makes him a better No. 2 than a CEO. In addition, Lutz may be a gearhead but he’s pretty old school in his taste in cars (think Viper). He also has been one of the most aggressive nameplate killers in Detroit (e.g., if he had become head of Honda NA I could see him arguing for the replacement of the Civic and Accord nameplates).

    I don’t buy that Lutz is an alternative fuel visionary. He’s merely shifting with the winds. That said, I don’t doubt that he has been a breath of fresh air for GM because of his anti-bureaucratic style and decent design sensibility.

    Lutz arguably would have been a pretty good GM exec if he were on board 10 or 15 years earlier. In the auto industry timing is everything, and Lutz’s basic approach strikes me as dangerously dated. But because of the extraordinary group think at GM, Lutz is still viewed as ahead of the curve . . . despite evidence to the contrary, such as falling market share.

    In the end, Lutz is a presenting symptom of both what is right and wrong with GM. Yes, he brings a glimmer of reform to the corporation. But on the whole his initiatives are too little, too late. Most importantly, like some of his former bosses, Lutz apparently lacks the humility to know when it is time to leave.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    GMs single biggest product problem (IMHO) is reliability (look at the last 20years of Toy putting out yawners with great reliability, it works).

    It remains a problem.
    They have a few well built vehicles but most are mediocre and there are more bad (some gastly)than good.
    Regardless of which survey you look at their average is below the industry average.

    I remember reading a bit in one of Lutz books in a chapter called “Too much quality can kill you”.
    The examples showed me that Bob understood very little on the subject.

    I was excited when he came to GM. He has improved design, from a poor-to-mediocre range to a mediocre-to-good range.
    The competitors are offering designs as good or better with better quality. Ford and Hyundia have both out run GM on reliability during his tenure.
    Volt. Look at the Solstice to see what a GM rush job on a conventional car looks like. Styling great. Overweight. Numerous design diasters (ergos, top). Bottom of the industry reliabilty in CRs survey.
    Do you want NEW technology they have rushed through?

    Nope. Lutz has not impressed me.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @Mel23 I think Lutz does at GM what he did for Chrysler- setting a goal and/or design directive and putting forth a certain set of ideologies. He doesn’t design the cars himself, but he probably is responsible for coming up with the directive. If you don’t think that’s important, look at how good Chrysler’s designs were under Lutz in contrast to how awful they are now, and how much GM has improved.

    @Windswords: Excellent write-up, but I never implied the 300 was a rebadged E-Class. It is not, however, a unique to Chrysler platform. The good news is that for the current products, it has been an excellent platform. The bad news is that Chrysler can’t subsist off of Mercedes hand-me-downs.

  • avatar

    Lutz owns and flies a refurbished German Dassault Dornier Alpha Jet light attack aircraft/trainer and a refurbished Czech L-39 trainer, so I imagine he has been in the driver’s seat of a (privately owned) fighter jet recently.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    The world is moving on. You may be dedicated to your linotype machine but the reporters are using word processing software, the editors are using page layup software, and the results are going directly to the presses. The linotype machine and operator are no longer needed.

    You may be dedicated to using 70% of the oil you bought to make lots of noise and heat and 30% of the oil to move yourself and a few tons of steel and plastic around, but the world is moving on.

    We all know the limitations of electric powered vehicles: fast but only for a short distance, more distance but at low speeds, heavy batteries, long charging times, large space stealing batteries, should be charged at night when the power grid has capacity, and dangerous or hard to get chemicals for the batteries.

    But the world is moving on. 4th generation nuclear power plants use ALL of their fuel, in fact they can get power from the “spent” fuel from earlier nuclear generating plants. We need to keep our air clean, many countries do not have oil deposits and even some countries like the U.S. with oil deposits have nowhere near enough for our needs no matter how much we drill. The U.S. (and those countries without oil) absolutely cannot continue to send enormous amounts of money to countries that do have oil.

    A database software designer (not a car guy or even someone who plans on making his own car) has solved many of the problems with electric powered cars. Not all the problems but many of them. September “Wired” page 118.

    These new ideas will work best in small countries and in cities or anyplace with a high density population at first – the same as cell phones did. So for those of you in the U.S. Canada, and Australia dedicated to making noise and heat to move around a little you will probably be some of the last to adopt the new ideas so don’t worry. We will just have to follow way behind the rest of the world like we do with cell phones.

    Better generating plants, new ideas solving problems, and above all the ABSOLUTE need to stop inefficiently burning oil for both air quality and financial reasons are all coming together. The world is moving on. I think Lutz knows this.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack7G

    Revver :
    August 21st, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    At the risk of sounding like I’m not giving Lutz any cred, what has he done for GM? Are there specific cars that were his?

    Sure, there are.

    The sales successes known as the Buick LaCrosse and Lucerne, the Saturn Aura and Astra and Vue, the Hummer H3T, and a few others.

    Real list of winners, that.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack7G

    Oh, and the Pontiac G8. I completely forgot it existed. Has anyone heard or seen anything from that vehicle since the launch hoopla? Aside from five truck-fulls being delivered to Avis Rent-a-Car at Dulles Int’l Airport (they all were GT V8 models), I haven’t even seen any off dealer lots in the MONTHS since the launch.

  • avatar
    Martin B

    From Wikipedia:

    Guts: 8 Laws of Business by Robert A. Lutz

    Lutz organizes the book around his “8 Immutable Laws of Business” which he poses as strawmen to demonstrate that even the best principles can be harmful if taken too far.

    # Law 1 – The Customer Isn’t Always Right
    # Law 2 – The Primary Purpose of Business Is Not to Make small money.
    # Law 3 – When Everybody Else Is Doing It, Don’t!
    # Law 4 – Too Much Quality Can Ruin You
    # Law 5 – Financial Controls Are Bad
    # Law 6 – Disruptive People Are an Asset
    # Law 7 – Teamwork Isn’t Always Good
    # Law 8 – When You Inherit a Really Big Rat’s Nest, Don’t Try to Lure Them Out with Food. Use a Flamethrower!

    WTF!? Do we want this guy running a major corporation?

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    I could only imagine how frustrating Mr. Lutz’s job must be.

  • avatar
    Potemkin

    Lutz has given GM competetive cars now all that’s needed is for the competition to follow the old GM business model. Build cheap, unreliable cars serviced by uncaring dealers. Ain’t gonna happen. When it comes to cars people don’t usually change car companies for no reason. GM screwed their customers to the point where they went elsewhere. Now the only way to get them back is for the other guy to screw up.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Paul Niedermeyer: “I do give him credit for doing the absolutely most obvious thing in the world at GM: focus on making cars/vehicles that look good (at least to a healthy percentage, not so much for me), and stir some feelings of desire among the target buyers. The Malibu, CTS, and Lambdas are the testament to that.”

    Someone explain to me why the Malibu is better looking that a Camry. It’s the same damned overall shape. The grill and taillights are different and the beltline is, I think, a tad higher and that’s about it.

    For this difference, we often label the Camry as “boring” but the Malibu is often described as “bold?”

  • avatar
    geeber

    KixStart: Someone explain to me why the Malibu is better looking that a Camry. It’s the same damned overall shape. The grill and taillights are different and the beltline is, I think, a tad higher and that’s about it.

    Details. The Malibu shows a more deft touch regarding the details of the car. The car is cleaner and “smoother” than the Camry.

    Is it a huge change? No. Both cars share the same basic proportions, dictated by a front-wheel-drive platform and the need to seat at least four people comfortably.

    Or, to put this in classic car terms – compare a 1969 Plymouth Fury to a 1969 Chevrolet Impala. Same basic idea, same basic styling features, same design parameters, but the Impala just looks better, as though the stylists really sweated the details.

    The problem is that, in today’s market, better styling alone isn’t enough to overcome the advantages that the Camry has built up in the areas of build quality, reliability and resale value. In 1969, GM owned the new-car market, so it set the styling trends and could use better styling to keep customers out of Ford, Chrysler and AMC showrooms. As we all know, it’s not 1969 anymore, especially for GM.

    If a car maker coming from behind wants to turn better styling into a real competitive advantage, it has to introduce something both earth-shattering and beautiful – think 1961 Lincoln Continental – that completely changes the design language for cars in that class.

    The Malibu doesn’t do that. So, you are correct – calling it “bold” is quite a stretch.

    But is better looking than a Camry or an Accord.

    To show the danger or relying too much on styling when coming from behind – given my mother-in-law’s experiences with her 2000 Malibu, and the 2005 Malibu that she has now, I have virtually zero interest in the newest Malibu. We’ll probably buy another Accord, or, if we do buy domestic, a Ford Fusion, based on Consumer Reports surveys and my wife’s good experience with her 2005 Ford Focus SE. (Although I do think that the Fusion is good looking – better than Accord and Camry. But if independent surveys showed that the car is in the shop regularly, I wouldn’t be interested.)

  • avatar
    KixStart

    geeber,

    In other words, taste?

    I don’t share your approval of the ’69 Impala over the Fury, for example and I can say why… The bulges around the hindquarters are jarring and the chome ring around the front end is not pleasing. If the ’69 Fury had been using that look since ’66 or so then, back in 1969, one might have considered it ‘dated,’ especially if others ’69′s were a radical departure from the ’68′s.

    I don’t consider the Malibu design to be cleaner and smoother, either, with the significantly lowered fender lines along the headlights and the sharp hood crease that goes along with it and the grille would best be described as a “slack-jawed grin.” Of course, that leaves me to describe the Camry as “buck-toothed,” so there’s no picking a winner, there, either.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Kixstart,

    To me, the 1969 Plymouth is awkward around the rear wheels – it looks “pinched” (the track of the rear wheels is too narrow) and the beltine is too high. At the front, the peaked fenders make the car look too high and narrow. The “tuckunder” of the lower body only exacerbates these problems. It looks as though there are about two or three “spacers” between the body and the chassis. Chrysler was going for the “fuselage” look with its 1969 full-size cars, and it just didn’t quite work. The full-size Chrysler pulled it off best.

    The 1969 Chevrolet looks lower and wider, has a lower beltline, and “fills out the box” better. The body “sits” better on the chassis.

    The new Malibu is very clean along the sides, and I like the “chopped tail” look. The weakest part is the front, as you noted, but the Camry is worse in this regard. The Chevy looks too “truck like” in the grille area, while the Camry just bulges out too far.

    But that’s not going to overcome the Camry’s reputation (and note that I don’t think that the Camry is an UGLY car.) Basically, for styling to completely ruin the Camry and dislodge it from its current position atop the sales chart, Toyota would have to come up with the 21st century equivalent of the 1961 full-size Plymouth.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    @geeber: Basically, for styling to completely ruin the Camry and dislodge it from its current position atop the sales chart, Toyota would have to come up with the 21st century equivalent of the 1961 full-size Plymouth.

    Or even worse, the 1962 Plymouth. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, supposedly the 1962 Plymouth and Dodge were downsized because someone at Chrysler engineering learned that GM had ordered tooling for a model with a 115-inch wheelbase and a ~200-inch overall length. Obviously, the all-powerful General was downsizing its full-sized offerings, and Chrysler wasn’t going to be left behind with a dowdy old car of yesterday’s larger proportions!

    Unfortunately for Chrysler, this tooling was for GM’s all-new, mid-sized “A”-bodied models introduced in 1964: the Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac Tempest, the Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass and Buick Special/Skylark (and these BOP versions were actually upsized from their 1963 predecessors).

    Hard to imagine that GM’s power was once so influential, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Sure, the Malibu is a better design than Camry’s, which has some weird flourishes like the inelegant front fender hump and the otherworldly third eye grille (why can’t they make it blink?).

    That said, I don’t think that the Malibu is anything close to a home run. For one thing, it doesn’t do a very good job of capturing the Chevrolet DNA. Indeed, it has an “any car” quality not unlike the original (1964).

    Toyota’s styling has deteriorated in recent years, so I suppose there is the potential for the equivalent of the 1962 Plymouth. However, I suspect that as long as the Camry continues to meet people’s functional expectations that it will do well. Recall that Plymouth was already a weakened brand entering 1962 because of quality control issues. In 1961 even Rambler outsold Chrysler’s supposed “bread and butter” brand.

    Interesting comparison of the 1969 Chevy and Plymouth. I’d agree that the Chevy looks a bit better. The irony is that the Chrysler platform was brand new whereas GM refurbished its 1965 design. Chevy’s wheel well bubbles were overdone and the massive donut front bumper fortunately disappeared after only one year. Alas, Chrysler really blew it with the fuselage shape. To my eyes the key problem was the overly high belt line, which was accentuated with a blocky front end and an overly squat roofline on the two doors.


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