By on June 24, 2011

I can’t say that I was completely surprised when, about two thirds of the way through Bob Lutz’s new book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, I caught a sideswipe at myself and The Truth About Cars, which the retired Vice-Chairman of GM describes as

a Web site that often offers anything but.

After all, TTAC and “Maximum Bob” have long been sparring partners, and were indirectly debating the fate and fortunes of General Motors well before I ever started writing about cars. What was surprising was that this passing shot at TTAC’s credibility would actually help bring us, two presumptive arch-enemies in the world of automotive ideas, to a better understanding of each other. The exchange that a single paragraph prompted taught me that, against all odds, Bob and I share a fundamental character trait: we are at our best when we’ve been goaded into action by a no-holds-barred call-out. In celebration of this shared value, let’s take off the gloves and give Car Guys the unflinching look it deserves.

Like almost everything that has ever issued from the mind of Robert Anthony Lutz, Car Guys vs Bean Counters is defined by his maximum maxim “often wrong, but never in doubt.” As you might expect, this perspective produces writing that possesses many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the cars Lutz oversaw. The prose is direct and authentic, as unmistakably the product of one man’s vision as a Viper or Volt. And like those definitive Lutz-mobiles, Car Guys offers a seductive vision that tickles every erogenous zone in the “car guy” worldview, resulting in a flood of uncritical fawning from the motor press. But, like the Volt and Viper, Car Guys is also a deeply compromised proposition, in which profound insights reside next door to excuses, misdirection and questionable self-congratulation.

Like Guts before it, Car Guys is at its best when Lutz is describing the inner workings of the companies he helped run. His ability to draw a straightforward narrative from the complexity of not only a giant multinational corporation, but its historical and economic context as well is not surprising given his well-known affinity for “cutting through the crap.” Lutz has long admitted to being something of a holdover from another era, a man who has reveled in being contemptuously out-of-step with mainstream American culture since the turmoil of 1960s. This perspective allows him to wade through the complexity of GM’s decades-long fall from grace, a topic that has inspired hundreds of “GM Deathwatch” articles here at TTAC, in fewer than 70 pages. And though the narrative slips by with disarming clarity, fueled by a writing style that is authoritative yet personal, like an after-class conversation over a stiff drink with a favorite professor, one can’t help but feel that Lutz is perhaps too talented at boiling down complexity for his own good.

After a fantastic preface and a brief introduction to his 2001 return to GM, Lutz opens his narrative with paean to The General’s post-war golden age, in which “true car guys” like Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell ran GM with inspired abandon, behaving badly while producing cars that became eternal symbols of America’s finest hour. It’s a natural subject for Lutz, who clearly identifies with this bygone era, and he blows through its good, bad and ugly aspects with insight and pith (if, perhaps, too much sympathy for those who failed to see the gathering stormclouds). But when the thunder starts rolling in the early to mid-1970s, not coincidentally around the same that Lutz began to see himself as a man apart from his times, Lutz’s unshakeable sense of certitude becomes more of a liability than an asset.

Any book with a title that includes the word “versus” can be expected to be well-stocked with villains, and certainly GM’s “bean counters” are the obvious candidate. After the excesses of the Mitchell era, in which design exercised haphazard (if successful) dominance, Lutz argues that GM’s “Empire of finance, accounting, law and order… struck back,” as design became a “link in the chain” rather than the ultimate source of GM’s success. The replacement of Mitchell with Irv Rybicki in 1977 is identified as the turning point in the balance of power between GM’s “car guys” and “bean counters,” and with that sea change, Lutz argues

Waste, arrogance and hubris are never desirable characteristics, but the company rid itself of these at a terrible price. The ebullient, seductive volcano of creation had been transformed into a quiet mountain with a gently smoking hole at the top, spewing forth mediocrity upon mediocrity. This shift to the predictable, so seductive to the bean counters, destroyed the company’s ability to compete and conquer.

It’s a compelling argument, and Lutz supports it well with insights into the accompanying shifts in culture at GM design and product development. But Car Guys‘ cast of villains isn’t limited to GM’s overly-left-brained, clueless-about-the-product finance chiefs. Or, as Lutz puts it, “not all wounds were self-inflicted.” And this is where things start to fall apart.

After devoting six pages of the chapter “The Beginning Of The End,” Lutz goes on to spend the remaining 22 pages blaming forces outside of GM’s control for the firm’s epic, slow-motion collapse. The UAW, which traditionally gets a lot of blame for not just the decline of GM but for the entire downturn of America’s auto industry, is actually let off quite easily, as Lutz argues that GM’s inability to confront the union was

a tragedy with no heroes, but also no villains.

But Lutz is not simply repeating the old maxim that success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. His cast of villains in GM’s decades of tragedy is legion: government regulators, Japanese currency manipulators, environmentalists, trial lawyers and above all, the media, are all attacked with vigor, leading to the distinct impression that GM was victim of the short-sighted stupidity of others. This is the ultimate contradiction of Car Guys: though the title sets up an internal conflict within GM, Lutz spends so much space blaming outsiders for GM’s woes that, by a third of the way through, it begins to feel more like apologia than clear-eyed soul-searching. And reinforcing this perception is the fact that the very first words of Car Guys are

This book is dedicated to the hard working men and women, at all levels, hourly and salaried, in the domestic US automobile industry. The problems, mostly, were not your fault!

Of course it must then be asked whether Lutz’s villains actually deserve their apportioned amount of blame, as this question of fact decides whether Lutz is a thoughtful student of GM’s (and Detroit’s) history, or an unrepentant apologist. On the issue of CAFE regulation, Lutz argues convincingly that

A programmed, gradual rise in fuel taxation, along the European model, would have caused consumers to think of the future consequences of today’s purchase and would have provided a natural incentive to move down a notch, opting for six cylinders instead of eight, midsize sedans instead of large.

Lutz goes on to explain in persuasive detail (with help from Jack Hazen) how the CAFE-inspired whiplash led to GM’s disastrous wholesale shift to front-drive and smaller cars. But his logic falls short in the sense that he fails to assign blame for GM’s inability to foresee energy constraints or to engineer competent solutions to it. The argument, in essence, is that foreign competitors hadn’t been lulled into complacency by artificially-low gas prices, and had long invested in fuel-efficient platforms and technologies. And yet no connection is ever made between GM’s “golden age” culture of style-driven excess and the erosion of engineering investments which led to GM’s desultory efforts in the 1970s and 80s. The government’s lack of foresight and and courage, rather than GM’s, is unfairly awarded the brunt of Lutz’s criticism.

Once on this trajectory, Lutz goes on to argue that Japan’s currency manipulation and “airtight protectionist umbrella,” a worn-out hobbyhorse of Detroit apologists with no strong documentation beyond vague Cold War geopolitical theory, combined with the fuel-efficiency experience of the Japanese automakers lent the foreign invaders a “teachers pet” image that was, in the words of Hazen, “eagerly snapped up by the liberal anti-US corporation media.” He only mentions Toyota’s crucial innovations in production and corporate culture only to note that they did not initially spread from NUMMI to the rest of GM with much success, but then goes on to indict Toyota-inspired “Total Quality Excellence” consultants for misleading GM’s leaders into a fog of meaningless numbers.

After defending the UAW (presumably also from the “liberal media,” despite the fact that his “solution” amounts to universal healthcare and little else), Lutz devotes much of the remaining blame to the media. I certainly sympathize with the frustration at a press crops that too often clings to convenient storylines rather than seeking a more complex truth, but what Lutz seems to miss as he rips into the media with gusto, is that his counter-narrative is no more subtle nor intrinsically true than the “import good, Detroit bad” perspective he savages. More importantly, his media-conspiracy boogeyman ignores the elephant in the room: had GM made even a few extremely good products during the 70s, 80s and 90s, its moribund reputation might well have been rehabilitated. At the end of the day, Lutz’s villains seem to be little more than glorified context, the backdrop for the real story: GM’s lack of vision, courage and competence.

Luckily, though Lutz doesn’t do enough to allocate blame where it was due, his return to GM gives him occasion to describe what decades of decline had wrought at the RenCen. Sclerotic bureaucracy, visionless leadership, enslavement to meaningless metrics and the resulting uninspired products are all on hand for Lutz’s 2001 return to GM, as if Japanese perfidy, governmental timidity and media criticism had somehow infected one of the world’s largest corporations with a cancer that had inexorably metastasized to corrupt every level of GM’s organization (except for trucks and SUVs, which magically continued to display an inexplicable immunity to these diseases). Of course these faults operate as implicit assignments of blame, but rather than dwelling on their causes (with the exception of Japanese-inspired “Total Quality Excellence experts”), Lutz uses them as his foil for the remainder of the book.

As he dissects inane corporate initiative after wasted resource in the immediate aftermath of his return to the RenCen, Lutz once again hits his stride. And yet, in an almost strange turn of consistency, his shift from apology for, to criticism of GM occurs without the sense of interpersonal conflict that one would expect in such a transition. In what is likely part insightful truth and part gentlemanly whitewash, Lutz frames his battle as being not with any one “bean counter” but a faceless (and therefore, blameless) culture in which management-by-the-numbers outweighed personal accountability. Lutz identifies individual “true believers” who he recruited in his design and product-led transformation of The General, but essentially absolves the thousands of others, including then-CEO Rick Wagoner, of any responsibility for GM’s continued decline and eventual collapse.

Luckily the portions of the book describing his efforts at turning around GM’s culture are extremely engaging, and will probably be the most insightful of the book to regular TTAC readers. As a commentator on GM’s fortunes over the last three years, I certainly wish I could have been more exposed to these internal battles over design conception, sheet metal techniques, perceptual quality, global vision and consumer-orientation as they were playing out in real time. The extent to which GM had gone down the “bean counter” rabbit hole is eye-popping, and Lutz clearly relished the challenge of working his “creative destruction” upon the staid, uncreative product development process.

The Lutz-led revolution at GM appropriately culminates in the Chevrolet Volt, a concept born wholly of the Lutzian gut and inspired by competitive pique at the Prius’s success and the conviction that Americans would not accept the limitations of pure-electric cars. The Volt’s genesis is both a tribute to the right-brained, inspiration-dependent, individual-driven culture that Lutz champions, but as I pointed out in the NY Times op-ed that Lutz disparages in the book, the single-minded pursuit of an epiphany can create serious compromises. To wit:

General Motors introduced America to the Chevrolet Volt at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a low-slung concept car that would someday be the future of motorized transportation. It would go 40 miles on battery power alone, promised G.M., after which it would create its own electricity with a gas engine. Three and a half years — and one government-assisted bankruptcy later — G.M. is bringing a Volt to market that makes good on those two promises. The problem is, well, everything else.

But Lutz remains convinced “Volt is the future,” and attacks “the lunatic left and the vocal right” along with “inveterate GM haters” who doubt the Volt’s promise (I wonder where I fit there). He blames much of the anti-Volt sentiment on the bailout, which, like GM’s initial fall from grace in the 1970s, he blames more on external forces than any fundamental failing on GM’s part. He concludes with optimism for GM’s post-bailout future, but waxes pessimistic about the state of American culture and business. His lessons here are valuable, and build to an inspiring call to substitute pride of product for short-term profit-seeking, a vision I certainly relate to as I seek to guide TTAC around the soulless, PR and SEO-driven “path to success” that so many blogs and websites follow and are well-rewarded for. At the end of the day (or in this case, the book), it’s good to know that intrinsic quality has a noisy advocate in the corporate world.

But with Lutz’s ultimate legacy at GM still undecided (as his goal was to create a sustainable culture of excellence that is not yet undeniable), it’s hard not to take much of his work with a grain of salt. After all, the Solstice/Sky may have defied most perceptions of GM at the time with its rapid, design-forward development, but couldn’t it have benefitted from some measured, left-brain analysis of such trifling metrics as interior ergonomics, and roof operation? Again, Lutz’s choice of title is instructive: in his “pre-complexity” perspective, the way forward was a war between two extremes… a reflection perhaps of what he describes in Guts as “a certain duality of mind.” Hopefully future generations can learn from the struggle that he frames, but with the recognition that his struggle is not eternal. After nearly 100 years spent under the spell of either out-of-control “car guys” or unimaginative “bean counters” one hopes the new GM (and, indeed, the entire business community) understands that sustainable success requires both sides working in harmony towards a common cause.

Car Guys vs Bean Counters is available at Amazon.com, and other fine book retailers.

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71 Comments on “Book Review: Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle For The Soul Of American Business...”


  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Excellent review, thanks.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    The focus or lack of focus by having to cover so many brands with products good enough for GM North America finally took its toll.

    I’m no more of automotive guru than the next guy, but at any point did anyone at GM think their focus should be to build world class vehicles that were competitive in each market segment, with regards to performance and reliability.

    For example: where does Chevrolet want to be as a brand? A discount brand? A me-too brand or a segment leader.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Read “The Decline and Fall of the US Auto Industry,” by Brock Yates. It was written 30 years ago, and documented the development of the international J car program. The song remains the same.

    Only part of Volt animus is due to the bailout. There is also the little matter of the concept car that had everyone expecting the return of the good looking domestic compact sedan, complete with pronounced RWD architecture. What styling element made it to production? Black tape mimicking the ridiculous two-plane sidewindows of the show car.

  • avatar
    86er

    I feel Lutz’s efforts would’ve been wildly successful if he had come onto the scene in that capacity in 1981 (or maybe even 1971) instead of 2001.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      It’s always been my opinion that Lutx’s best talent was self promotion.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      When GM had to take a $38 ($39) billion charge in 89′ for unfunded healthcare liabilities it was over, nothing anyone could do but ride the dinosaur (and hope you made it out in time), because no one was willing to kill the dinosaur (from the right, left and middle that’s america as well, were did it start??? how does it end).

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @rnc- You are right that the $38B writedown set the stage. GM might have survived the first $4 gas spike in early 2008. They successfully took aggressive steps to raise $15B in liguidity, though that proved inadequate to sustain the losses resulting from the market collapse precipitated by the financial crisis later in the year. Toyota, formerly the most profitable automaker in the world was dragged to their first annual loss globally due to the U.S. market collapse in just the last 2 1/2 months of ’08. They even went on to lose much more than GM in Q12009. Toyota had deep pockets, GM was broke. That is the reason for the government funded bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Nice review.

    “After all, the Solstice/Sky may have defied most perceptions of GM at the time with its rapid, design-forward development, but couldn’t it have benefitted from some measured, left-brain analysis of such trifling metrics as interior ergonomics, and roof operation?”

    I think that it is unlikely no engineer or designer noticed the problem with the roof operation or the interior ergonomics. Based on my experience with large orginizations, the problem isn’t that everybody is either too stupid or too afraid to point out deficiencies. It’s that either they are literally not heard at all by the decision makers, who have their own vision and people to act as buffers against any challenge to that vision, or they are simply ignored.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I don’t know. There was a guy on a forum I visit who I believe was a supplier and consultant to GM. He basically said I had no clue about sports cars when I suggested that the almost complete lack of a trunk hindered potential sales of the Solstice. Apparently he was very comfortable that my sports car driving friends and I were all freaks for using them to grocery shop. Incidentally, I stopped at the grocery store at lunch today, where I saw a beautiful new black Corvette parking next to a recent SL Mercedes outside of Von’s. I also saw a woman balancing a 30 pack of beer on her lap while riding an old Honda Rebel, but I’m not sure why that should be necessary in a car.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        For the size of the car, I think the solstice has a large enough trunk space. My mom bought one on pure emotion. Saw an ad for it when I was visiting home, drug my drunk ass out of bed and took me to the dealership to help her ‘pick a cute one out.’ It’s a low VIN # and a hell of a car to drive. For someone that doesn’t have kids at home and just needs space for her golf clubs, the car is perfect. She drives her big assed truck around in the winter so she doesn’t get her ‘cute car’ dirty. Lutz’s strategy worked on that car. The ergo and the drop top don’t bother her one bit. The looks of it out weight everything else. The poor woman drove mini vans her entire life.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I’m not suggesting that the Solstice didn’t work for anyone, but that it could have worked for at least twice as many people if it had the luggage space of an S2000 or soft top Miata. I seem to recall that the similarly trunkless Toyota MR Spyder had comparable market success to the Solstice. They’re both rare sights here in San Diego, and there are more sports cars of all price points here than anywhere else I’ve been. I probably see more Sunbeam Tigers(could be Algers), Murcielagos, and Datsun Sports roadsters in any given month than I see Solstices, Skys, or MR Spyders. Forget about the common stuff like F430s, S2000s, and Miatas.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Kappa was very successful from a sales pespective- It far outsold target Miata pre-collapse:

        2006 -Solstice=19,710; Sky=8,671; Combined=28,381; Miata=15,075
        2007 -Solstice=16,779; Sky=11,263; Combined=28,048; Miata=15,075

        With Corvette selling 33,685 in ’07 and 36,518 in ’06, GM captured over half of the two seat market in N.America.

        @Bryce- Kappa, in fact, was engineered in the United States. There were never any left hand drive versions produced, though the Sky was shown as a Vauxhall and Opel and Daewoo versions were exported to Europe and Korea.

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      By Solstice /Sky do you mean the Vauxhall VX 220 that was rebadged for US consumption that Vauxhall got ready to run from Lotus that car was not engineered in the US

      • 0 avatar

        Bryce: No. Sadly, there wasn’t room to tell the whole Solstice story in the review… essentially it was Lutz’s “statement” right after he arrived at GM (Wiki article here). You might know it as the Opel GT or Daewoo G2X.

  • avatar

    How does TTAC not tell the truth? Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re biased.

    John

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Outstanding review! Thank you.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    It certainly comes as no surprise that Lutz views himself as both successful at GM and a savior. The facts however tell a much different story. IMO Lutz’s biggest failure was failing to understand GM needed high volume products. Instead he chose to concentrate on low volume money losing flops like the GTO, G8, SSR, Sky & Solstice. GM’s ultimate demise was caused by the inability to sell enough vehicles at a profit. Bob Lutz didn’t get it then and he doesn’t get it now.

    Lutz was never a champion of the Volt until it became obvious he had to get on board.

    Lutz stated (while still at GM) buyers would not change their buying patterns until gas was $5/gal, he couldn’t have been more wrong. And his infamous statement that GM’s problem was actually a perception problem tells everyone exactly how out of touch with the then current market he was.

    There is no place in a high volume mainstream manufacturer for someone like Lutz. His automotive talents are geared to a low volume specialty vehicle manufacturer.

    Great review of the book Ed.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I agree with you to a certain extent, but a company needs halo cars to draw you in to the dealer. Then it needs a more practical version to sell to you. If it weren’t for halo cars, there would be no passion in the industry. There’s a time and a place for people like Lutz. He just shouldn’t have had as much free reign as he did.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        My point is that in his position at GM he was a miserable failure. It was his job to oversee the development of all of GM’s vehicles. The most important of those vehicles were the high volume models. Another big mistake he made based on his perception of gas having to be at $5/gal to change buying patterns was continuing to devote massive amounts of development resources on trucks & full sized SUVs. Those resources should have been directed to the development of stylish fuel efficient cars. In the last decade of its former existence Lutz was as responsible as anyone for GM’s demise.

      • 0 avatar

        Halo cars haven’t made financial sense in decades. Enthusiasts and some car company execs love them, and will claim that they significantly boost the sales high volume models, but good luck finding a shred of actual data to support this theory.

        Instead, you’ll find the the number of halo cars offered by a company tends to be inversely related with the company’s financial success.

        Halo cars might have made sense before 1960, when a small number of companies each offered only a model or two, with all of them mechanically and dimensionally similar. With no strong objective reason to buy a Ford vs. a Chevy, the decision might come down to who had the most captivating halo car.

        Ever since each company started to offer a much larger number of more precisely targeted models people buy the car that best serves their needs. How many people bought a Dodge Anything over a competitive vehicle because of the Viper? Or a Chevrolet because of the Corvette?

        Chevrolet started selling more Malibus by offering a better Malibu, not by improving the Corvette.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        @Michael Karesh:

        Halo cars still work today, there just needs to be a reasonable connection between the halo and the lower level stuff.

        You really think that the relationship between the LT1/LS-series and Corvette hasn’t helped to sell Camaros, Trailblazers, Firebirds, V8 W-bodies, GTOs, and B-bodies? Just look at how Steven Lang used the “Corvette Engine” idea to sell a ’95 Roadmaster: R,S,L, or K: 1995 Buick Roadmaster Limited.

        There is also the idea that long-running halo cars can create delusional fanboys brand loyalists. I know that I didn’t buy two Grand Ams because of its stellar Consumer Reports scores.

      • 0 avatar

        They sold so many of the listed models that nearly all of them are now extinct…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        They sold so many of the listed models that nearly all of them are now extinct…

        Touche.

        But then again you did say “shred” of data.

        I still think GM is better off with the Corvette than without it though. Lots of people (not just enthusiasts) really like it. GM just needs to make the link between the Vette and other Chevys more apparent.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        If a company needs halo cars to draw you into the dealer, what halo cars did Toyota produce that drew people into their dealers and got them rolling?

        Same question for Honda.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        I need to see some financial data before I agree that halo cars don’t make sense. If a vehicle line even comes close to breaking even then you really need to factor in the value of the press exposure and road tests that new sports vehicle creates. And yes, it really does make a difference if a brand has an enthusiast base. Ever been to a brand specific car show? Everyone present has their market irrelevant car, and all of their absent spouses and family members are driving the more pedestrian models from that same brand.

        Also, the fact remains that GM cars got much, much better during and immediately after Lutz’s tenure. Since he, and others internally, have credited his (yes obnoxious at times) cowboyism and single-mindedness to this improvement I think it would behoove the criticizer to provide some reason for dismissing that influence. Arguing that GM doesn’t make better new cars now doesn’t pass the smell test, so that route is out.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I need to see some financial data before I agree that halo cars don’t make sense.

        The New Beetle pretty much saved VW from withdrawing from the US. The main benefit of the Beetle is that it helped to sell Jettas.

        Nissan aided its US turnaround by bringing back the Z. The Z was a heritage badge that helped to give some credibility to the Maxima and Altima.

        Halo cars can help if they are done properly. But there has to be some linkage between them and the rest of the brand. A Corvette couldn’t help to sell Cobalts or Aveos; they obviously have nothing in common, but for the bowtie, and that isn’t nearly enough.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        pch101

        thank you, the Beetle is a great example. And to boot it was profitable, so the idea that halo’s don’t work is a bit extreme. Poorly done halo cars, or vehicle designs which don’t exploit the halo’s design language are what don’t make sense.

        I would also add that the practice of teasing a vehicle long before its actual release (which has infuriated so many here, especially RF), ensures an automaker gets their moneys worth on halo publicity. hence the Volt tease

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        And to boot it was profitable, so the idea that halo’s don’t work is a bit extreme

        Yep. It isn’t just extreme, it’s wrong, as there are examples to the contrary.

        I think that it’s fair to say that halo concepts are often botched and they end up not working. But that doesn’t mean that the idea itself never works.

        This would be hard to quantify, but I’m sure that the M-badged BMW’s cast a halo onto the regular-tier cars, as do the AMG-badged Mercedes. But (a) the halo cars help to serve as testbeds of technology that eventually end up trickling down and (b) there are clear brand connections between the upmarket versions and their lower level counterparts, so those work.

        GM has done a spectacular job failing with these. But it was complete folly to believe that a G8 or Solstice could help to sell G6′s, or to miss that the Corvette has evolved into a brand of its own that makes it difficult to create tie-ins to the rest of the Chevrolet lineup. Then again, GM has failed with a lot of things that others have used successfully, which suggests that the problem has been with GM, not with the overall concept.

        I would also add that the practice of teasing a vehicle long before its actual release (which has infuriated so many here, especially RF), ensures an automaker gets their moneys worth on halo publicity. hence the Volt tease

        I agree. “Surprise and delight” is a much better strategy than is “over-promise and under-deliver.”

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      Flops like the GTO G8 Sky Soltice are not even Merican cars . The G8 sells world wide as a Chevy Lumina it is a success in countries where large RWD sedan are popular Lutzs mistake was thinking Americans would want big powerful good handling RWD cars instead of the FWD shit usually on offer He tried to sell a traditional style car to people who have been sold crap cars for 40 years and he failed because Mericans like shit cars and shit pickup suv tanksand bleat and whine as soon as they have to pay for gas tough shit welcome to the real world

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    All Lutz needs now are a couple steel marbles; he makes more excuses and deflects blame better than Captain Queeg. The bean counters ran things long before the 70s, at least as far back as the Corvair that was hampered by cost cutting.

    The sad thing is that I’m sure this victimization excuse is still believed as gospel in some parts of GM. Their odds of long term survival are in inverse proportion to the level of its acceptance.

  • avatar
    NN

    In the 90′s, Chrysler staged an incredible comeback with a series of hit products. PT Cruiser, Neon, LH Sedans, Grand Cherokee, and the late 90′s minivans, which to my eye are probably still the best minivan design that has ever been introduced. Some of these cars are laughed at now (PT Cruiser especially), but when they were introduced, they were all hot. Bob Lutz was the person behind this product-driven comeback.

    GM was a much larger corporation and mired with more issues, but still, he made a lot of progress on the product front. The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu was a massive leap in competitiveness and design for GM’s midsize offerings (and, incidentally, was the best selling midsize sedan in May. A statistical anomaly partially due to the tsunami, but hell, still an accomplishment for GM). The GMT900 SUV’s (Suburban, Tahoe, etc.) are the best selling vehicles in their class, and their clean proportions are strong and timeless designs. The Cadillac CTS-V and Corvette ZR1 are halo products with Lutz’s stamp on them.

    Lutz was too late in saving GM, but I’d hate to see where they’d be without him. And I fear where they will go now without him, or other product focused people at the top. I hope I’m wrong, but I expect to be underwhelmed with GM’s products moving forward…I feel there just going to be more Daewoo-ish.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Given Lutz’s track record at GM I have some serious doubts that he deserves most of the credit for the 90′s Chryco hits. If Lutz came back to GM in 2001 why did it take until the 08 model year to produce the Malibu? The GM vehicles you mention are among the GM vehicles Lutz concentrated on while ignoring high volume models. In the case of the GMT900 SUVs based on Lutz’s erroneous assumption that $5/gal gas would be the tipping point in buying patterns. The Corvette has been a halo car since day one a ZR1 wasn’t necessary to make it one.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        The Silverado is not a low volume seller.

        Lutz was right to push ahead the GMT900 platform to keep the lights on while they rolled out the Malibu.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        I specifically stated the GMT900 SUVs not the Silverado. And IMO the Silverado would still have sold well in its previous iteration. Truck buyers are a unique market, whichever brand they buy is generally the brand they stick with unlike car buyers who frequently consider different manufacturers. My point is if Lutz was doing his job it would not have taken GM until the 08 Malibu to produce a competitive midsize offering. But he was not focused on high volume midsize & compact cars which should have been heavy contributors to GM’s bottom line. It is only now with the Cruze that GM has a competitive compact offering. No competitive compact car was marketed by GM during Lutz’s last tenure.

        Lutz’s interest was in the niche market and halo cars when it should have been the bread and butter high volume cars. Lutz was a disaster in his last role at GM.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        I specifically stated the GMT900 SUVs not the Silverado.

        Same platform, same difference. GM had to keep the lights on.

        And IMO the Silverado would still have sold well in its previous iteration.

        Like most TTAC commenters, you have little understanding of the evolving truck market. Where once the Detroit automakers could go 10 years without updating their platforms, it is now a compressed timeframe of more like 5, similar to that of passenger cars. In the “current iteration” you cite, the Ram was all-new for 2002; the F-150 for 2004. The Silverado/Sierra was all new for 1999.

        Next generation: the Ram was all new for 2009, putting it way behind the pack. The Silverado/Sierra was all new for 2007, and the F-150 extensively updated for 2009, exactly five years after its last all-new platform upgrade.

        GM stole a march on its domestic competitors, as well as the all-new full size Toyota Tundra, which at the time posed a significant new threat to the last redoubt of the Detroit 3.

        My point is if Lutz was doing his job it would not have taken GM until the 08 Malibu to produce a competitive midsize offering.

        I won’t argue that Lutz chased more than a few niche offerings. But he also was instrumental in bringing forward the GMT900 program, shoring up GM’s vital (I can’t stress this enough) truck program in order to keep the aforementioned lights on.

        You would also know that the lead time for a decent platform is roughly five years. So the best we can accuse Lutz of is sitting on a competitive midsize offering for one or two years after getting settled in at GM.

        You have to remember that on TTAC we give *way* more emphasis to passenger cars than the U.S. market indicates. While passenger cars are the #3 and #4 seller, trucks are #1 and #2 by a country mile (if you’ll excuse my homespun saying). Toyota had f**k all for an offering in the #1 and #2 segments until 2007, and their dominance of the #3 and #4 spots were a lot less profitable.

        Taken as a whole, while Lutz wandered down a few garden paths, his tenure at GM can hardly be considered a “disaster” as you so uncharitably characterize it.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        Your argument completely ignores the fact that Lutz’s efforts did not keep the lights on at GM. Quite to the contrary his lack of understanding what kind of product GM needed to make a profit was instrumental in GM’s BK.

        While Lutz busied himself with numerous niche/halo products that were all money losing flops GM remained uncompetitive in the midsize & compact car arena. It’s common knowledge trucks & SUVs are much more profitable than mainstream cars but the problem was when demand shifted GM had nothing competitive to sell. That was due to Lutz’s erroneous assumption that buying patterns would not change until gas reached $5/gal. He was dead wrong. Had he directed the same resources spent on GMT900 to midsize & compact car development when demand shifted GM would have profited. Nothing I’m saying is my opinion, it is all historical fact.

        Lutz was completely out of touch with the realities of the marketplace. Buyers didn’t want full size SUVs or any of the niche/halo cars in profitable quantities. They wanted midsize & compact cars. Look at the numbers of vehicles that were sold in those segments by Toyota, Honda or for that matter Ford.

        As I said previously, Lutz was as responsible as anyone for GM’s demise. His job was to oversee the development of profitable products and he failed miserably in that capacity. Given that GM went BK how much worse could he have done?

        Having spent 30 years in the retail automotive business I think my understanding of the truck market is at least as comprehensive as yours, perhaps more so. I sold Ford, Chevrolet, GMC & Dodge and rarely did I see one of those brands owners switch brands. It is a fact that truck owners are much more loyal to their brand than car owners.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        I haven’t seen GM’s market share in full-size SUVs plummet, so I’d say they did a pretty good job of keeping their customers there. I don’t know why you insist on separating the pickup and the SUVs they’re based on when we both know that you can’t have one without the other. As I stressed earlier, the market is evolving and competitors aren’t standing still. Ford has made a point of making extensive changes to their pickup line every 5 years or less, and everyone else is going to follow the segment leader.

        I don’t know when you last sold a half-ton, but my experience in sales indicated that truck buyers, while on average still rather loyal, are getting more fickle as the “new normal” of lifestyle purchasers increases. While 2008 decimated this market in large part, the F-Series and Silverado remain #1 and #2 in the U.S.

        I don’t know why you keep comparing GM to Toyota. While on TTAC we act as though they have the same interests, as my previous response stated, Toyota (still) has nothing competitive in the top selling segment in the country, while GM does. So what GM did in pulling ahead the GMT900 program was not something Toyota would’ve done, but again, GM had all those truck customers to think about.

        If you looked at buying patterns after the drop in 2008, customers went right back into less fuel efficient vehicles as soon as gas prices dropped, so it’s still a debate as to whether it’s a permanent trend.

        Now, for some of that unfortunate realpolitik. Had GM went bankrupt in 2005 or so (when this website advocated for it) it would not have been wrapped in to broader shoring up of the economy, and likely all we’d have left today is a vastly smaller Chevrolet Motor Company with maybe 5% market share. So Lutz possibly did keep the lights on at GM, just long enough to get that bailout like the banks. I found that distasteful, but it worked, at least short-term. Maybe that’s something Ed could ask Lutz about, i.e. just how screwed were they circa. 2005.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        I never once compared GM to Toyota. All I said is reference the number of midsize & compact cars sold by Toyota, Honda & Ford vs. what GM sold in those segments because they didn’t have competitive product.

        In simple terms Lutz bet the farm on trucks & SUV’s shoring up GM’s profit as they had in the past and he lost the bet big time. According to Lutz himself he did this because he operated under the assumption buying patterns would not change until gas was $5/gal. Had he devoted the resources allocated to GMT900 to the development of compact & midsize cars GM would have been far better off financially. They would have lost very little in truck & SUV sales and gained enormously in midsize & compact car sales. Again, as a point of reference look at Ford’s Fusion & Focus sales numbers during that time period. Facts are facts.

        If your contention is Lutz made the right decision we shall have to agree to disagree.

        You have now reduced your argument from “at least Lutz kept the lights on” to “at least Lutz kept the lights on until GM could be bailed out by a larger economic bailout”. Did you ever consider that if GM had competitive midsize & compact vehicles to sell there probably would not have been a BK? Remember, at the most elemental level GM could not sell enough vehicles (make enough profit) to remain in business without BK. That was because GM did not have the right products to sell. We are talking about at the time the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer so primarily whose fault was it GM did not have competitive midsize & compact cars? Perhaps Bob Lutz who was in charge of NA vehicle development?

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        You put way too much emphasis on C and D segment passenger cars while ignoring the “facts”, such as the “fact” that the #1 and #2 selling vehicles in North America are the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado. These are sold at much greater profit.

        Your contention that Lutz would’ve staved off bankruptcy if GM had brought a competitive small and midsize offering in 2005 (the earliest conceivable rollout time since he took the helm in 2001) is risible, not to mention your other specious contention that GM would’ve realized immediate “enormous” sales increases in the C and D segments.

        That, my friend, is my contention and I stand by it. The “fact” of the matter is that, let me repeat for emphasis, GM has the #2 selling vehicle in the United States, Toyota does not. I don’t know how you could argue that GM should’ve rested on their laurels and gone after entrenched opponents in the C and D segments, at that point in time , and left their last redoubt undefended with a product that came out in 1999.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        Your contention is that if GM did not develop the GMT900 vehicles before developing competitive C & D class cars the Silverado would not have been the #2 selling vehicle and I disagree with you on that point. What vehicle do you think would have become the #2 selling vehicle since nothing else is even close to the volume of Silverados & F150′s? IMO the Silverado would have remained the #2 selling vehicle just as it has been for decades and GM would have gained market share in the C & D class segments, IMO a substantial amount from 05 to 08. (note I did not say overnight) You need look no further than GM’s current success with the Malibu & Cruze to see what I’m saying makes sense. All you and I can do is speculate on what might have been as we will never know if your position or mine was a better choice. But what we do know for a fact is GM did not have competitive C & D class cars to sell the first time gas spiked and full size trucks/SUV sales tanked as a result.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        Your contention is that if GM did not develop the GMT900 vehicles before developing competitive C & D class cars the Silverado would not have been the #2 selling vehicle and I disagree with you on that point.

        No, I didn’t say that, I said that GM had limited resources for product development, and I believe they made the right choice without our benefit of hindsight. You’re expecting Lutz to be clairvoyant. GM probably started work on the GMT900 platform in 2004 or 2005. Half-tons and SUVs sold like gangbusters around that time.

        None of the aforementioned is meant to diminish the argument that GM needed and needs competitve A/B/C/D/E/F/G…LMNOP segment vehicles. It’s easy for us to sit here in 2011 and say Lutz made the wrong call, but then you’d have to get into a turgid discussion about the fluctuations of fuel taxes, and the recovery of the light truck segment after they were at a low ebb in 2009, and where we’re at today, and where we might be in another couple of years.

        For it is Monday and moreover, there’s a lot people better qualified than I to get into turgid geopolitical and socioeconomic discussions.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        My bottom line is GM should have had competitive C & D class vehicles way before the 08 Malibu & Cruze and it was Lutz’s job to develop those vehicles. You don’t need to be clairvoyant to know as the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer those are two high volume segments that you need to be in. Doesn’t matter what the price of gas is. Name one other high volume mainstream manufacturer besides Chryco that didn’t have competitive C & D class vehicles. Maybe it’s more than a coincidence neither GM & Chryco had C & D products and both went BK.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        Maybe it’s more than a coincidence neither GM & Chryco had C & D products and both went BK.

        Well, of course it’s infinitely more complicated than that.

        Name one other high volume mainstream manufacturer besides Chryco that didn’t have competitive C & D class vehicles.

        That’s easy: Ford.

        My bottom line is that GM had more things to worry about, as the World’s Largest Automaker(tm) at the time than did its nearest competitor, like the all-important truck segment.

        While I am not arguing the point, per se, as I mentioned earlier, how do you define “way earlier”? Lutz came on board at the tail end of 2001 and so had no influence over the 2002 models. Ok, planning takes about 5 years, so at the earliest, these competitive products you speak of could’ve come out was 2007.

        Now keep in mind I’m now playing along with your thesis that GM should’ve de-emphasized the trucks and focused on cars. I think we’re both on the same page that GM, despite being World’s Largest Automaker(tm), had only the resources to devote to one or the other.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        How can you say Ford?? Ford had the Fusion & Focus both good sellers in their segments. If GM had had comparable products they would have probably sold more than Ford did.

        If Lutz had ordered the development GM could have had competitive C & D cars by 06. The Malibu in 08 was bad enough but the Cruze in 2011, ten years after Lutz returned?

        My guess is any auto industry exec (outside of GM) would agree that you can’t be a high volume mainstream manufacturer and either ignore or place little emphasis on C/D segment cars. As it turned out gas prices made those segments even more important but of course no one could have forecasted that. Even if gas prices had not spiked GM would have made more money if they had competitive C/D cars because relatively speaking they were selling next to nothing in those segments. IMO they still would have sold virtually as many trucks/SUV’s if the C/D cars were developed prior to the GMT900 platform.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        My guess is any auto industry exec (outside of GM) would agree that you can’t be a high volume mainstream manufacturer and either ignore or place little emphasis on C/D segment cars.

        We’re not in disagreement here. We were just working on the assumption that GM had the resources to devote to updating their truck line or their car line, not both simultaneously.

        It’s a matter of priority. GM prioritized maintaining its most-profitable line of vehicles (that combined (GMC/Chev) matched or outsold the F-Series), just as any other manufacturer would do.

        We could ask Toyota the same question as to why they waited until 2007 to bring out a true full size truck into the best-selling segment in North America. Lord knows they had the resources.

        As for Ford, the Fusion was brand new for 2006, and the Focus was six years old by then. Good products, better than GM’s, but again, the Fusion was pretty late to the party as well, and the Focus of the time was only best-in-segment for a short period of time.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      In the 90′s, Chrysler staged an incredible comeback with a series of hit products. PT Cruiser, Neon, LH Sedans, Grand Cherokee, and the late 90′s minivans

      Ram?

  • avatar
    LXbuilder

    Working 30yrs in the domestic auto industry I can find very little to disagree with in Mr. Lutz’s view of the industry.
    I’ve had the chance to meet a number of auto executives over the years and not one came close to the impression that Bob Lutz left me with.
    I understand where TTAC is coming from with criticism of Mr. Lutz, but there is no question in my mind that the only American three auto executive to equal him in the last 30yrs would be Alan Mulally, or Lee Iaccoca.
    Of course all that matters to me is product and Bob was/is the number one product guy bar none.

  • avatar

    Great review.

    I think Yates did a much better job, lo those many years ago, of explaining what was wrong with the US industry, especially sclerosis related to size. GM might have been so much better off, had it been busted up into several smaller corporations.

    Regarding the Volt, and the Solstice/Sky, they’re all porkers, the latter weighing ~400 lbs more than a Miata. Talk about lack of attention to detail.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      What depressed me from Yates’ book was that GM discouraged expressing ideas or questioning the status quo, hired an army of clones raised in isolation who matriculated from only two schools, required managers to conform to lifestyles that were clearly defined and had little to do with life in the rest of the country, and didn’t have any metrics for job performance that related to a quality experience for customers. I’ve spoken to people who made it part of the way up the ladder. Pashion for cars doesn’t survive years spent engineering ‘taillights, full size cars.’ Or repurposing second rate garbage year in and year out, since the tooling was amortized.

      The experience of all their division heads being the same, and including always keeping your hand down, it is easy to see how bad ideas at the top reached production. ‘The Decline and Fall,’ explained every design decision that made the Ascona 1.6S a stand out sedan in Europe while its platform mates in the US had nothing but chrome to help them in a comparison. Gone was the OHC engine, the good front seats, the expensive dampers and tires, the simple trim that was forward looing and classy. In its place, we got a coarse, weak engine that could be built on ancient tooling, and the availability of wire wheelcovers. They also rationalized their way out of shiny paint and out of using convincing chrome for the gingerbread they shoveled on. Then the Cavalier stuck around in the US lineup long after the Ascona was forgotten in Germany.

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        The division of GM that has been starved of finance since conception is Holden yet with nothing they build the best GM cars bar none Showering the NA divisions with money produced cars only fit to scrap GMs Chevrolet brand for world consumption has been built by Holden for years now try telling some body in South Africa that Chevy is a FWD penalty box they wont believe you a Chev is a V8 RWD sedan/wagon/ute but not from NA the ability to make real cars is gone from NA yet with all the experience of FWD platforms GM Ford or Fiatsler cant make one thats any good ie one with good road holding. American auto engineers get paid for nothing the proof is the crap product.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    “Chevrolrt started selling more Malibus by offering a better Malibu, not by improving the Corvette” -bingo!

  • avatar
    Doc

    It seems a bit odd to say that the Volt is the future. Did GM come out with the Volt because there was overwhelming demand for electric vehicles or electric vehicles with back-up ICE? Or was to help meet CAFE so that they could build cars that people actually want?

    I think that many people are resentful of the Volt because it seems represent the heavy hand of government forcing a company to build a product that they otherwise would not build. They want to see it fail miserably to show that government should not interfere to this degree. The government bailouts just exasperated this view.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Today apparently Lutz is willing to gamble on the Volt’s dubious future by proclaiming himself the father of it. The fact of the matter is Lutz originally wanted nothing to do with the Volt and if it had been up to him the car would never have been produced. As the Volt’s development got to the stage that there was no doubt it would be a production vehicle Lutz had no choice but to get fully behind the effort.

      • 0 avatar

        mtymsi,

        Are you a GM insider? If not, how do you know that?

        I’m not sure that your narrative is consistent with the historical timeline. From the dates of patent filings, it looks like most of the initial work on what would become the the Voltec drivetrain was done in 2005 and 2006, with some of the same engineers and managers who had worked on GM Two Mode Hybrid. Unlike the Two Mode hybrid, which is essentially a sophisticated Turbohydramatic with a couple of electric motors added, the Voltec system, like Ford and Toyota hybrid systems, involves hooking up a combustion motor and one or more electric motors to a planetary gear set.

        Lutz announced the Volt in 2007, but at that point it was far from production ready, so your claim that Lutz didn’t embrace the Volt until it was well on the way to production doesn’t make sense. As I understand it, Lutz was looking for something flashy to show that GM could compete technologically with Toyota. He and asked Jon Lauckner what GM’s R&D labs had going on that he thought was promising. Lauckner suggested the Volt’s technology. At that point, I don’t think you can say that the concept was anywhere near production ready.

  • avatar

    Pretty good stuff in this article. Irv Rybicki was a good guy though and said this about the car guy he always thought was the main main: “Harley Earl is responsible for more than half of GM’s greatest 20th Century milestones.”
    - Irv Rybicky, General Motors’ V.P. of Design, 1977-1986

    I think this TTAC story on Bill Mitchell was fair. Sadly, most people never heard this side of the story on the man:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/was-gm-design-head-bill-mitchell-a-sexist-bigot/

    This was a good quote from Lutz from when interviewed on 60 Minutes in 2006:

    “During the parade of GM’s greatness in the 50s and 60s Design ruled and the finance people ran behind to reestablish order and pick up the pieces. We’ve just lost the focus on Design.”

    Hopefully America’s Auto Capital will find the focus again, and soon.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    No Ronnie, I am not a GM insider. It was common industry knowledge that Lutz did not champion the Volt as a production vehicle until development had reached the stage where it was clear that production could be a reality. In fact at that time most of the automotive press was referring to the Volt as GM’s Hail Mary pass thus Lutz had no alternative but to get fully behind it. I don’t mean to imply that Lutz waited until the Volt was production ready.

    BTW, on the Volt I don’t necessarily disagree with Lutz’s position in the early stages as I think the Volt will be another money losing flop. What I take issue with is Lutz now claiming that it was he that spearheaded the Volt into production. If it was up to him the Volt never would have been a production vehicle.

    Let’s face it Lutz knows how to do one thing and that one thing is to make himself look good. His recounting of his last tenure at GM from what Ed covered in the book review is at stark contrast with reality.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      “It was common industry knowledge that Lutz did not champion the Volt as a production vehicle until development had reached the stage where it was clear that production could be a reality.”

      That wouldn’t surprise me, that’s the GM (political) way. Try to ride one successful program after another, but avoid the dogs (Corvair, Vega, X-car…). I grew up surrounded by real “car guys”. You could find them every weekend under the hood of their rod/4×4/Brit-Euro iron. I learned a lot from those guys. Ingenuity, resourcefulness, patience, tenacity, humility, and to admit when you had made a terrible mistake (I made plenty). I don’t see those qualities in Mr. Lutz.

    • 0 avatar

      mtymsi: If that’s true, Lutz spends the better part of a chapter lying through his teeth. He says that in 2005 he pushed the Auto Strategy Board for a four-seat EV show car, but didn’t get approval to even investigate until he brought Tesla’s press clips into a meeting to prove that “somebody out in California with far more battery experience than we had obviously decided that lithium-ion would work and was betting a lot of money on it.” Within hours of getting approval in that meeting, Lutz writes that he and Jon Lauckner were in his office working on concepts. Though he give Lauckner credit for sketching out the Volt’s basics at that initial brainstorming session, he insists that he was “sold” from the very first drawing and concept.

      One very interesting anecdote from the Volt chapter: After the series-hybrid concept had been agreed upon, GM’s hybrid engineers pointed out that parallel hybrids are fundamentally more efficient, and argued that they could make the Volt more efficient if they ran the gas engine every ten minutes or so. Lutz argues that “this isn’t about terminal efficiency. This vehicle is about giving the lover of electric vehicles a pure electric battery-powered driving experience 80% of the time. They don’t want to hear a gas engine cutting in all the time.”

      This, to me, is the fundamental problem with the Volt. If efficiency isn’t the end goal of a car like that, what is? In Lutz’s view, not validating the Toyota approach (parallel hybrid) was the key issue, the idea that customers would pay extra for pure-electric range and a gas-powered extended range in a single car even if the extended range was not particularly efficient flowed, it seems to me, from the divergence from Toyota.

      I see a little bit of tragic irony here: the idea was to built a totally unique car, essentially for PR purposes. GM’s board approved it because of the Prius’s positive PR effects, not because they expected profit or because it was a fundamentally efficient car. But because the Volt gave up ultimate efficiency to become a less-efficient, more-expensive not-quite-EV aimed at EV-lovers, the PR hasn’t really panned out (I disagree with Lutz that Volt skepticism is purely political or “GM hating”). It seems to me to be a pretty classic case of tragic hubris…

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        Ed, the only thing I can say based on your review of the book is Lutz’s view of GM versus reality are indeed two completely different animals. I completely expected that Lutz’s take would cast him in a shining light and he doesn’t disappoint. As GM’s “car czar” he was a complete failure. His role was to bring profitable products to market and he consistently did the exact opposite. He was the wrong person to be in the position he was in at GM. I regard his comments today on the Volt to be nothing more than an attempt to hang his hat on something and given his choices there is no other product for him to do so with. His take on the Volt today is an attempt to show he was in tune with market demand when in fact he wasn’t.

        For Lutz to have waited until the 08 model year to introduce a competitive midsize car (the Malibu) and the fact that the Cruze only came to market recently are proof positive that he completely failed to realize GM needed solid competitive entries in those segments. Instead he directed the R&D resources to the GMT900 platform where GM already had competitive entries. He thought buying patterns would not change until gas was $5/gal and we all know how that turned out. IMO the product development that occurred under his watch was a major factor in GM’s downfall. To me it is a simple math equation, GM could not sell enough product to be viable. Of course GM’s complete upper management/board deserves equal blame for allowing it to happen.

        I completely fail to see how anyone besides Lutz himself can think his performance at GM was anything but a disaster.

      • 0 avatar
        TomH

        Good review! Lutz pillories the bean counters, but fails to hold accountable the bean counter (ex finance wonk GM CFO then CEO) who brought him into GM. The irony of the title is priceless.

        Lutz was unquestionably the consummate “Car Guy” but his “Lutz vs the World” notion misses the fact that he needed a couple of good partners to offset his weaknesses. (Imagine if GM had a Mulally/Lutz combination instead of Rickey Bobby.) In failing to be a force in addressing GM’s mediocracy, his brilliant halo cars amounted to little more than putting lipstick on a pig.

        Lutz’s failure was not his inability to realize great cars, rather it was his complete ineffectiveness in culling the weak ones out of GM’s portfolio. Long before Lutz’s arrival GM had great cars, but then, as during Lutz’s tenure, they were overwhelmed by the dogs. Lutz did not appear to appreciate nor effectively deal with the corrosive effects of GM’s “crap-mobiles.” For too long under Bob’s product czar regime, GM produced a lot more mediocre cars with mediocre performance than cars/truck with his “gotta-have-it-ness. GM and the US taxpayers paid the price.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        As I see it, Parallel hybrids are a dead-end technology. Having a conventional drivetrain with the drivetrain of a battery-powered EV tacked-on only increases weight and complexity while providing at-best situational efficiency gains.

        Generator-Electric hybrids are much more reasonable I think and are a proven technology, using an engine (Gas, Diesel, Turbine, what have you) to operate a gen-set at a fuel-sipping consistently efficient RPM range and from there power one or more high-output electric motors, with batteries as a back-up and to provide on-demand power rather than spoiling fuel-economy by suddenly kicking-up the revs of the generators.

        The Volt’s Serial-Hybrid design though is pants-on-head stupid.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    It amuses me when US auto executives start blaming EPA and safety requlations, gas prices, and a bunch of other “external” factors in their failure. The fact is these factors existed for other manufacturers as well, many of whom prospered. Excuses, excuses.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @Bryce- I love Holden, but it is an exceedingly tiny part of GM, and reportedly is at risk for elimination because the RWD cars engineered there sell in such low numbers, and the Australian government is apparently revising tax laws that further harm the business case for maintaining vehicle development there.

      New RWD architecture is currently being developed in the U.S.

  • avatar
    fgbrault

    Thanks for the review. I immediately bought “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters:…”. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the automobile industry. Although, I think your critique went overboard, I do agree that Lutz places too much blame on forces other than GM for its failure, but then he does place much of the blame on GM. Some of the stories of how GM approached the design and manufacture of cars boggle the mind of any person with an ounce of common sense. As to how much blame should be placed on GM vs. how much on other forces, I would leave that to the reader. In any case I found “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters:…” a very enjoyable and enlightening read.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I thought it was a very good book and gave a generally good and honest picture of what happened to GM.

    That said, the book is also a masterful excercise in self-promotion.

    I like Bob Lutz. He is arguably the most gifted US auto exec of the past 30 years. Just look at Chrylser BL (before Lutz) and AL (afer Lutz). Great product turnaround, despite Iacocca’s obstinacy. Had Lutz become CEO, he Chrysler today might remind us of Honda in the 80s and 90s.

    Lutz was key in prolonging GMs life and giving it enough decent products to be considered favorably by the US govt, which enabled the bankruptcy. I enjoyed reading about how he tried to ‘fix’ bad or mediocre cars, such as the Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse.

    But the fiesty sage demonstrates a lot of political correctness in his book. He is effusive in praise of Iaccocca. I like Lee too, but he overstayed at Chrysler, and his unwillingness to improve the product and inability to appreciate good product almost killed the cmopany in the late 80s. Then his ego blocked Lutz. Iaccocca was good at Ford and the right person to save Chrysler. But, his last decade was mediocre to lousy. Lutz also says positive things about people he liked who helped him, or can/could help him, and leaves off names of people we’d be interested in knowing.

    I remember at a GM “town hall” type meeting in the mid 2000s when I asked “why doesn’t GM sell a sporty sedan with a manual transmission to compete with the Maxima” and he told the the (very ugly–he acknowledges it was even worse BL) Grand Prix ‘tapshift’ feature worked for our customers. Then I realized he was an old man–either not as sharp, or being politically correct.

    Like Lutz, I lament the loss of Pontiac, and feel GM will live to rue the day. GM did not have to kill the brand. They merely had to starve it for product for a few years to winnow the dealers. They had two good cars in the G8 and Solstice. The dealers bundled with other GM stores would keep it, and the others would have died.

    Lutz’s failure was in allowing, or not being able to stop, the continued watering down of Pontiac’s image with the G3 (a rebadged Aveo) and the G5 (rebadged Cobalt). He doesn’t mention this at all. The G6 was launched in late 2004, fully 3 years AL. It wasn’t ready–the pushrod V6/auto was markedly inferior to the competion, and the electric power steering detracted from what was an otherwise very competitive car in appearance and ride and handling. Why didn’t they wait for the ‘high-feature’ V6 that was eventually put in GM’s Epsilons (G6/Aura/Malibu)? And GM had the audacity to charge $27k retail? C’mon Bob, you knew better.

    I was also surprised at the pot shot at TTAC. I don’t read it every day, but I’ve never seen anything bad about him, and I think you provide a needed, albeit cynical at times, reality check.

    But, still, my criticisms not withstanding, it his book is excellent. It could have been better, but at almost 80, he still forgets more than most of his colleagues will ever know, and I found the book and anecdotes interesting and amusing.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @tomLU86-”Like Lutz, I lament the loss of Pontiac, and feel GM will live to rue the day. GM did not have to kill the brand.”

      GM did not want to kill Pontiac. They proposed keeping it as a niche performance brand- G8, Solstice, and small RWD sport sedan planned platform mate of the upcoming small Cadillac would have been core products. It was to complement Buick & GMC as they planned to move from Pontiac-GMC to a Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel. GM was told their plan wasn’t good enough and sent back by Obama’s Auto Task Force to cut deeper.
      The G6 was a fine car, though certainly not a real enthusiast car. It never sold in the high numbers of its predecessor, Grand Am. I recall an event at the GM proving grounds where Journalists were invited to a blind comparison between the pushrod V6 engine and the high feature DOHC 3.6L V6. Most could not tell which car had the pushrod engine. It had plenty of torque for the application and provided better fuel economy than the Accord and Camry 4 cylinders, at the time. My wife, family and friends owned a number of G6′s, all were very satisfied with them.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I thought the book came across as hastily put together with not a lot of fact-checking, or editing of any kind. And Lutz’s troglodyte reactionary political views I could have gladly done without.
    He got the GM hierarchy wrong (placed Olds higher than Buick) and he also mispelled the name of Harley Earl’s original styling department, Art and Colour (the English spelling was used intentionally because, you know, it looked classier.)

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    re: Dr. Olds. I agree the G6 was a good car. It looked good, I liked the interior, especially the driver instrument panel, and the leather seats were excellent. After reading the very critical review in the Detroit Free Press, I drove one. The review bore little relation to reality, and I wrote the paper and told them so. I thought the car had an excellent ride–firm, not harsh, and great cornering.

    I didn’t care for the electric steering.

    I like it so much I leased one. I had NO problems during my lease.

    However, the car it replaced was my 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix GT with the updated, but still ancient, 3800 V6. I’m no expert, but for me, the GP steered better, rode a little worse, and cornered about the same. BUT, the GP felt quicker. It had a lot more pick-up in the real world, without downshifting–when the auto downshifted, it was smooth and the car MOVED. The G6 felt weaker–the auto would downshift, more abruptly, and the car still felt slower. WIth my stopwatch, from 5-60 the G6 was maybe a half second slower, but in real life, it felt markedly slower.

    Which I would not have minded, had the car gotten 3-5 mpg better. The MPG was about the same.

    When I rented the new Aura in 2008, with the GM 3.6, the car felt fantastic–no shortage of power. The steering was good. And that was my point–that this is the drivetrain the G6 should have had at the outset.

    The nice G6 did nothing to restore Pontiac’s performance credentials–and the G5 and G3 and Aztec and Montana detracted, making it harder to sell a smaller Pontiac to the feds.

    As for the journalists who couldn’t tell the difference between the 3.6 24V engine and the 3.5 pushrod relic of the 1970s, that’s not so hard to believe. Most journalists, as Lutz noted in his book, know how to write. The don’t really know what they are writing about. The Detroit Free Press panning of the G6 is a classic example–high on preconceived notice, short on fact.

    So, the G6 was a good car, I agree. But it could have been so much better..and that is the tragedy. The Aura was correct from the git-go, and the Malibu a little better.

    Also, G6 was a stupid name. The mindless alphanumerics don’t help, and people get confused. “I have a FOUR-cyl G6″. How dumb! Or a “SIX-cyl G8″. Audi uses A, and typically the number is number of cylindrs for the base car. GM took the higher-cost number–typicaly old Detroit, promise more but deliver less–UNLESS you pay extra to get what you thought you are getting.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @tomLU86- The G6 GXP had the High Feature 3.6L V6, exactly the same powertrain as the Aura you describe. I don’t think the name hurt the car so much as there was not enough money to promote the new nameplate. That was the claimed reason for dropping Pontiac- not enough money to develop distinct product characteristic and promote the brand. We had 3800 GP’s, too, and the character, particularly low end torque was different.
      I do agree that, other than styling, the G6 did not support the “Excitement” image. That’s why they were planning a RWD platform mate of the upcoming small Cadillac.


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