By on September 7, 2011

The theme that’s emerged most clearly from my interview with Bob Lutz was, somewhat counterintuitively, compromise. Every vehicle that’s developed and built is the product of nearly countless compromises, on everything from performance to efficiency, and from weight and materials to cost. The question isn’t so much if you compromise when developing a new car, but how you compromise… as was demonstrated in our last Lutzian anecdote. And even during my interview, as the conversation bounced from GM to Chrysler, from mass-market products to niche halo cars, I was thrilled that this issue kept coming up. Why? Because this theme played perfectly into the question that was at the top of my list of prepared questions. After all, there has been a mystery haunting GM followers for some time now… a mystery that I’d never seen a journalist ever ask about. And there I was, sitting with one of the few people who was even capable of fully answering it. So I just waited for a pause, opened my mouth and asked:

Why do GM cars weigh more than other cars?

I had no idea what kind of answer to expect… but I definitely wasn’t expecting the answer I got.

To be perfectly honest, I half-expected an angry denial or a brush-off… possibly even a signal that the interview was over. In the car world, weight is extremely important to engineering cultures and enthusiasts alike. The former see low weights as the achievement of engineering excellence in the abstract, while enthusiasts enjoy a low mass vehicle’s inherent advantages in handling, acceleration and efficiency. Ever since Colin Chapman built Lotus around the philosophy “simplify and add lightness,” curb weight has been the measure to look at for in-the-know-enthusiasts. And there I was asking a guy who was still informally advising GM, and would be officially back at the company a week later, why his cars were fatties.

Of course he couldn’t exactly deny the fact. Chevy, for example, won’t let you use its online “competitive comparison” system to compare weights, but if you go through the comparisons by hand you’ll find the weight of every GM car is at least a little heavier than the competition. Sometimes the extra weight isn’t much: for example, a base, four-cylinder Camry weighs 3,307 lbs to the four-pot Malibu’s 3,421. But go to the C-segment and you’ll find that a Cruze with automatic transmission weighs 3,102 to the Corolla’s 2,800 and the Civic’s 2,672. Similarly, a base Equinox is four hundred pounds heavier than a comparable CR-V. No wonder then, that Chevy struggled so long with fuel economy and the perception that it “couldn’t make a good small car.”

But if Lutz thought through all this before answering, he didn’t let it show. There was only the briefest pause as he considered the question, before the answer came:

Um, I’ll take part of the blame for that…

Huh? Really?

I said look guys, these vehicles are going to be robust, strong, I want a great ride, an absence of any noise, vibration and harshness, I want these things to be super-silent. So the guys put in heavy-duty components… also, Ed Welburne and I like big wheels, and the minute you say the minimum wheel size is 18 inches, you’ve automatically  bought yourself an extra 50 lbs of weight. We willingly and knowingly made decisions in favor of design and appearance and noise, vibration and harshness… all the things that make a vehicle feel substantial. You know, everybody cries and moans that the Buick Enclave is 400 lbs too heavy, but it’s the last thing on the customer’s list. They don’t worry if it’s 400 lbs overweight or not, they love the way it rides and drives.

And, you know, we did a lot of programs very fast, so there wasn’t always time to go back and say “gee, could we make this part out of something else?” So I will cheerfully admit that making weight reduction targets was my lowest priority… and it shows. But other than the automotive press, nobody cares about it.

And there you have it: if Lutz were simply a “car guy” in the mold of the most fanatical enthusiasts, there’s no way he would have run GM’s product development that way. But, beneath his “true-believer,” “engineers-first,” “car-guys-versus-bean-counters” image, Lutz is still a corporate executive first… a species more closely related to the “bean counters” than the “car guys” we all know from outside of the industry.  For all the passion he puts into his cars, he’s not developing them for himself. And for all of his public contempt for finance and “running a business by the numbers,” he’s always got an eye on what the majority of car buyers, not the aficionados, are looking for. In fact, it’s quite likely that most self-identified “car guys” who don’t work inside the industry would argue that Lutz’s priorities are as anti-car-guy as possible. After all, how can you truly claim to love a car in which you’ve concentrated all of its compromises into extra weight, the enemy of fun and efficiency? Since when do “car guys” trade hundreds of pounds of extra weight for a quieter ride?

Lutz didn’t provide too much more insight into this issue, sticking with his assertion that consumers simply don’t care about extra weight. And if asked in the abstract, it’s hard to imagine many “average consumers” placing “low weight” high on a list of priorities. But it’s clear that Lutz’s absolute emphasis on ride and refinement won’t last at GM, because weight simply isn’t abstract. Even if consumers don’t care about its effects on handling, as gas prices rise, they’re starting to care more about its effects on efficiency. And Hyundai certainly doesn’t seem to have compromised style, the all-important priority in the Lutz approach to product development, in order to bring down weight and achieve leading  fuel economy. So, is weight reduction going to become more important for GM? According to Lutz

Is it something that is being addressed? The answer is “you bet it is,” because it’s going to be harder to make fuel economy regulations with a heavy car. The guys are already doubling back on it. In the next generations they’ll get the weight out and hopefully still maintain the structural rigidity.

And on that note, Lutz whip-cracks back into “car guy” mode, singing the praises of beaming and torsional rigidity, saying “if you get that right, you’re 90% of the way to a great car.” Then, as I’m still struggling to remember a time when someone said “I love this car, but next time I’m going to buy one with more beaming rigidity,” the subject shifts again to CAFE regulation. I’m hardly an experienced interviewer, and my head is still spinning trying to make sense of what I’ve just heard, so the conversation flows on. I’m still not sure I understand why GM’s cars had to be so much heavier, but at least I know who to blame for it… if anyone actually cares.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

91 Comments on “Bob Lutz: “I’ll Take The Blame For GM’s Weight Problem”...”


  • avatar
    Type57SC

    That answer just makes me that much more impressed with Hyundai and less with GM.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      Even very recently Hyundai models used to always be suspiciously heavier than the top sellers but to my genuine surprise they’ve done a great job of using newer high strength steels and aluminum blocks to bring the curb weights into line. Used to be a time when the Elantra was several hundred pounds overweight.
      Also notable is that Toyota actually made the new Camry lighter, since there’s always the tendency to make newer models more humongous and heavier, so there’s definitely a trend towards weight savings now. At 3190 (LE) there’s a good 230 pounds between it and the Malibu.

  • avatar
    Doc

    I have never thought that GM vehicles were especially rigid or solid. To be fair, I have not driven a GM vehicle in a few years so maybe their newer offerings are better.

    However, a heavy car having more forward momentum seems to feel more stable, especially on the freeway. This feeling of stability might be used to replace actual rigidity and stability which takes money, experience and constant refinement to create.

    • 0 avatar

      Both the Cruze and the Regal I drove have impressed me with their solidity and refinement. Better than many current Japanese car’s I’ve driven. Personally, I prioritize the same things as Lutz, weight is never a consideration.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Pretty much all the reviews have stated that the Cruze has a more “grown-up” ride than the other cars in the segment and GM seems to have little problem getting top-notch MPG with the Eco-Cruze.

        On the other side of the stick, the Civic still gets complaints about the amount of road noise intruding into the cabin.

        Diff. drivers will like one or the other better depending on what they deem more impt.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Um…hello…Cavalier anyone???

        Maybe these cars were/are nice. I hope the Cruze is very successful.
        However, as far as “solid” and quiet…what the F happened to the Cavalier?!
        I was so happy to finally get rid of it and get my daughter into something better…even if I was the only one bothered by it.
        LOUD 2.4 and the most awkward front seats I have ever been in.
        And noise haunted me the entire time we owned it. These came from every where.
        Dash.
        Front end.
        Liner.
        Everywhere.
        IF this was the quality this guy was demanding…no wonder we had to bail his company out.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      maybe they’re better now, but the squeaks and rattles and parts falling off of the ones I’ve driven and ridden in don’t say “a great ride, an absence of any noise, vibration and harshness” to me.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      No one will accuse the GM W-body, U-body or F-body (along with a long list of other products) for being rigid and solid. The W-Body and U-Body in particular is about as rigid as a wet sponge.

      However their newer platforms, Epsilion II, Zeta, Lambda, Delta II, etc. etc. are very solid and it shows in ride, vibration and handling. But it also shows in weight – oink oink!

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      For example, the Colorado is supposed to be several times stiffer than the preceding S-10; My dad bought his first (of two- he leased an 04, then bought an 08 when that lease was up, and noticed that they fixed a lot of minor teething problems, too) Colorado while I was still driving a 1995 GMC Sonoma, and the Colorado definitely felt better-constructed. It was tighter, quieter, and just didn’t feel like it was made of compressed wet newspapers.

      Then again, the 82-04 S10 was never a paragon of refinement and driving dynamics. Many of the suspension bits are interchangeable with the G-body, for example.

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      I put a thousand miles on a rent-a-Cruze last summer in Europe. it was an impressively solid car. It was like a high quality big car cut down in size. Far nicer than the price suggests.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Interesting, sort of like he said, “Sorry that you’re dancing with a fat girl, but I told the boys to give yah a sturdy one.”

    FYI I’ve driven a Buick Lucerne which is a smidge lighter than the equivelent Town Car (based on stats I could find online) and the Town Car was smoother, quieter, and more refined. Although all the reviews I’ve seen have raved about the quietness of the Buick. The Lincoln was more rattle free too even though the examples I compared the Lincoln had 65,000 miles on it and the Buick had 30,000 miles on it.

    FWIW I’ve driven a Malibu LTZ 3.6V6 and to me it felt like the engine was struggling aginst the cars mass, the reflexes of the Malibu seemed slower to me than the Impala in fact when it came to changing direction.

    • 0 avatar

      The Lucerne is based on a much older platform and so doesn’t share the strengths and weaknesses of GM’s newer cars like the Cruze, Regal, CTS, Thetas, and Lambdas.

      • 0 avatar
        CamaroKid

        On a much older platform than the Town car? WOW! I didn’t think that was possible. Doesn’t the Town Car platform trace its roots back to the Reagan Presidency? Its older than most of the kids that post here.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The Panther platform was almost all new for 2003 only the basics of the rear suspension date back to the 98.

        The only thing the last of the Panthers share with the first, chassis wise, is the internals of the rear axle and the U-joints.

    • 0 avatar
      areader

      “FYI I’ve driven a Buick Lucerne which is a smidge lighter than the equivelent Town Car (based on stats I could find online) and the Town Car was smoother, quieter, and more refined.”

      I LOVE the way newer town cars look, but they have awful wind noise. Last time I drove one, I asked the salesman if the back window was open.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Could have been a build quality issue. I was in an Equinox once that was so noisy on the passenger side I thought I’d go nuts. I stopped, got out and had to reset the window seal in the channel. Cured that noise pretty quick. How the seal got out of the track… I’ll never know.

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    I think the compromise was realistic. Although not a GM, I can speak to my 2006 Ford Mustang GT, which I love. But if you look on all the Mustang sites you’ll see guys bitching for a lighter car, albeit with IRS. Out the door I think my stang cost about $26,500 with leather and upgraded interior. Again, people bitch about the plastic. So what? I got a fun car for not much money and it rides well and handles great (maybe no Lotus, but much better than I’ve ever had before), and the gas mileage is decent. I’m sure Camaro guys would say the same. Mr. Lutz isn’t building cars for fan sites, he’s building them for real buyers.

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    Oh and by the way Ed, thanks for agreeing to the blackout in exchange for the interview. I read the book and knowing its content any earlier would not have been worth as much as getting these insights later. No mater what the founder says.

  • avatar
    frontline

    Somebody at GM did a hell of a job “adding lightness” to the C6 Zo6. I believe it could be considered a benchmark in supercar segment, especially at that price point. I would love to hear more about the story of Bob coming into the 4th quarter of the C6 development and telling the designers that he would not accept what he saw for the next Corvette. I am dying to know what changes were made…

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Empirically, it seems to me Honda and Toyota B-segments are different than the rest, including Mazda/Mitsubishi, European, and American. Nissan/Hyundai perhaps a half-step away, but it’s hard to tell in the case of Nissan because they have so many truck platforms. The Celica was a bantum weight. My theory is that the Americans in particular design for an up-engine capability, 4-pots that really want to be 6′s, 6′s that can take a V-8, while using the same body stampings. Civic and Corolla break the design spiral by Only accepting fours, and keeping weight low by mothering all the little wrinkles (in the unseen stampings) to get I4th rigidity with less steel.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Toyota actually has a Corolla variant that packs the 3.5L six. Which is awesome.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        And where do they sell that variant? Fantasyland?

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        So why does Japan get to have a 276hp V6 hot hatch with a cool name and we in the States are stuck with the mediocre Matrix and xD?

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        Judging by the looks of their 2012 mid-size car, I’d say it’s called the “Camry”.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        Yep, it’s the Toyota Blade. I hear it’s like a rocket. Think of the possibilities if Toyota brought a car like that to the US. But then that would be too fun and too smart of a decision. And then even if they did they’d ruin it and badge it a shiton, er scion.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        @EducatorDan: Either Japan or Thailand, I’m not sure. I’ll check when I get back home, but if I recall it’s essentially a homologation special.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        It’s not the Blade, it’s the Blade Master and Blade Master G. (Available only in Japan according to Wikipedia) I would love for Toyota to have the balls to bring it over as a Scion. Imagine the marketing they could do on [AS] alone. It could be advertised as the Blade Master Shake Number One in the Hood, G! Or have Ignignokt say “NO, I AM THE BLADE MASTER!” on a bump. Something beyond the boring Scion lineup they have now, geeze.

        C’mon Toyota, I’m sure you want to lower your demo, aim t’wards the 18-36 year old males for once! And make the upcoming rwd coupe a Celica fer cryin’ out loud.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        @mazder3, that makes me long for a return to true “stock car” racing like back in the days when the Fabulous Hudson Hornet dominated the track. Go to the showroom, get car, make minor safety/tunning changes – run said car. Love to see 3.6VVT equipted Impalas running fender to fender with Toyota V6 Camrys. That for me would be true, win on Sunday, sell on Monday!

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        @EducatorDan,
        Damn straight, +1,000,000! A return to STOCK car racing would be wonderful! No more CoT. It would be infinitely more interesting to see dead stock (with MINOR mods) car racing than the bespoke carb’d V8 cars racing nowadays. We’d all end up with better cars because of it.

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      This idea that American cars are built to take larger engines doesn’t seem well grounded in fact. The Civic and Corolla both have I-4 only, but same for the Cruze and Focus. The Accord and Camry come standard with an I-4, with V6 optional. Same for Malibu and Fusion.

      The only recent, mainstream exception I can think of is that Hyundai purposely built the Sonata/Optima to accept only an I4 because they decided to go with a turbo 4 for the upmarket engine, rather than a V6. The result is equivalent performance, but better fuel efficiency. And very strong retail sales.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Speaking of beaming rigidity, we should have asked him about the frame beaming problem on the GMT800 pickups that GM refused to fix (those trucks shook horribly on concrete pavement), or the piston slap problem which plagued the V8 versions of the same pickups, which GM also refused to fix.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Interesting interview. I was driving my equinox this morning. After testing everything in the segment I bought it because of the feeling of quality. After 14k miles it feels more solid than my wife’s benz with the same mileage. Know we know why. I thgought it was becauyse it shared platforms with the srx and cadillac had to have quality so it made for a good chevy. Manufacturers rarely repeat a sucess, i hoipe the next equinox does not feel like a tin ca. The only conmplaint I have is the tranny, sup par in refinement compared to almost anything else.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Who is afraid to accept responsibility these days when NOTHING bad comes from it.
    If you don’t gotta pay anything, hell…so what!
    Just say My Bad! and get on.
    This guy still is around and in fact BACK involved after the bailout.

    Fact is, these days all you gotta do AFTER getting caught doing a bad thing today is blame your dad, your mother or something in your childhood.
    Just own up and get yourself to rehab…hopefully one that in fact does not require you to rehab…just get away from reporters.

  • avatar
    crackers

    I can appreciate what Ed is saying here. As an Engineering Manager and responsible for product design, I have been in his position. With substantial changes to be made with limited time and resources, he had to prioritize his improvements. To get them done quickly and at the lowest cost, the team went with what they knew would work – not necessarily an ideal solution, but one they are confident will get the job done. Once the priorities are taken care of, ideally the team can go back and start experimenting with better solutions, but in the mean time the company is selling cars and keeping the revenue life blood flowing (in theory, anyway).

  • avatar
    msquare

    +1 crackers

    What was one of the most common knocks on GM product pre-Lutz? A lack of perceived refinement in appearance and feel. So what does Lutz do? Put some more in. Could they have done it and kept weight down? Sure, but that would have cost, and GM didn’t have the money or the time to burn this time around. Lutz all but admitted to that.

    Now they have to double back and fix the weight problem to save fuel, which I’m sure they knew they would have to do eventually anyway. What’s the problem? They openly admit they made a compromise to hit an important design goal and now they’ll have to do it again to reach another. Just like EVERYONE ELSE.

    Maybe I’m cutting them too much slack, but what Lutz said made perfect sense. The cars are getting high praise for refinement, sometimes rated better than their lighter competition, and relatively mild criticism for their weight. Mission accomplished. On to the next one.

    One more thing: ALL cars, especially smaller ones, are much heavier than they were 20-30 years ago. Part of it is due to safety requirements, still another part of it goes back to guess what?

    • 0 avatar

      True. To compare Colin Chapman with Bob Lutz is somewhat ridiculous.

      Lotus never ever was “mass-market”, or even aiming at that market. They had to have other priorities. They were small, fast and nasty and did their best in this segment. The results of this design philosophy were hard to drive and a little bit too accident-prone, even for seasoned F1 drivers (as Graham Hill put it: “If you are being overtaken by a wheel, you know that you are in a Lotus”).

      Hardly a way for GM, given a home-market of spoiled brats, spoiled by low fuel prices, low car prices, wide roads, etc. Given, that in such a market there is no sex-appeal, no gain but a lot of effort in designing low-weight cars, I’m not too surprised that GM decided for a different route.

  • avatar
    Kevin Li

    There is a good reason why the new Civic and Corollas are lighter than the Cruze. The Toyonda offerings feel substantially less solid and refined compared to the Cruze. From my experience, most non-car enthusiasts would equate a more substantial weight to safety and refinement. Lutz is probably right in saying that most buyers will not care about the weight of their car.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    This is no great surprise. GM cars have always excelled at ride quality and quiet ride, including the new Cruze. Those big tires and sound deadening materials are heavy.

    “I’m still struggling to remember a time when someone said “I love this car, but next time I’m going to buy one with more beaming rigidity,”..

    I’ve read many auto journalists write this about older Mustangs, for instance. But most Mustang buyers don’t care.

    Lutz is exactly right on this point. All engineered products are a compromise, and you have to know what the primary development goals are so the other stuff can be compromised. Just ask any airplane or rocket designer. For cars, ultimately the program should be profitable. For rockets, every pound of payload adds 5-20 lbs of weight behind it to loft it up there, and physics works against you.

    Unfortunately, many people fail to understand these principles – politicians and environmental zealots for starters, who expect that simple legislation can overcome such tradeoffs. A good example is legislation mandating a certain much market share in a particular state should be comprised of EVs.

    • 0 avatar

      This is why I wrote “I’m still struggling to remember a time when someone said “I love this car, but next time I’m going to buy one with more beaming rigidity.” I was not referring to the automotive media, which as everyone knows, never buys cars.

  • avatar

    A lot of the extra weight is power this and power that–seats, etc. Those motors are heavy.

    I’m not surprised at Lutz, and I don’t think it means he’s not a car guy. But GM’s job is selling cars, and Homo americanus domesticus tends to prefer the least offensive possible product, whether it’s cars or other appliances. If I were in Lutz’s position, I’d hang onto my car guy soul for dear life and do roughly the same thing. I mean, if I ran the world, I’d make everyone under the age of 40 learn to drive a stick. But if I ran GM, I’d do roughly like Lutz, except that I would make sure the Corvette was totally awesome (he may be doing the same).

    My one question though: why didn’t they lighten up the Solstice/Sky? Don’t tell me those buyers also want that smooth but dull feel!

    • 0 avatar

      The Solstice and SKY are moderately heavy because many parts were used off the shelf and they were developed very quickly. Definitely not refined.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      A lot of the extra weight is power this and power that–seats, etc. Those motors are heavy.

      Not really, no. The motors and wires are heavy, but added up they weigh less than the bling rims that Messrs Lutz and Welburn are enamoured with. Heck, the seat frame and fabric alone (modern seats are heavy buggers) probably weigh more than all the motors in the car.

    • 0 avatar
      dgran

      The Solstice is a great example. I own one and love it, but you close the door and it has produces what can only be described as the “GM thud” sound. It feels solid, but it also feels like about 4 inches more door width than I need.

  • avatar

    Funny, now that I think about it, I can remember in the mid-60s, when I worshiped the One True Car Company (GM), those cars had softer rides, and felt heavier than their Chrysler and fomoco counterparts.

  • avatar

    wasn’t it Alex 3 sticks who revealed the tainted nature of executive interviews? lest we forget Lutz was alongside Red Ink Rick and that clown Girsky when they drove GM into BK. the three of them are bums regardless of what is said or penned. you could expand the story and call it thetruthaboutfrauds.com and interview Ebbers, Winnick, and Lay if you can find him.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    As for weight,I sure noticed the difference weight can make in a car. When I went from an 1800# 1983 Civic to a heavier 88 Honda Accord, I first noticed that even with the additional HP (120 or so with a 2.0L 4), the Accord didn’t feel as agile, nor as quick off the line as the Civic with a mere 67HP coming from a 1.5L 4 and with MUCH less weight.

    And thus even if the customer didn’t supposedly care, I noticed, but then again, I’m more of a car guy/driver than many who simply wanted a super compliant, quiet ride.

    True, the 88 Accord was light by today’s standard and it still had fantastic handling, but it just wasn’t quite the same as the Civic was. I miss that little Civic very much.

    Still, an interesting series on Lutz.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Hey, if being a “car guy” was a simple fanatical devotion to lightness and driving dynamics over everything else, would Jack and Sajeev drive Lincolns?

  • avatar

    Thanks, Ed for an illuminating conversation. I’m convinced that the reason GM’s offerings are too heavy is not about Lutz’s priorities, but about the accountant sub-culture which simply will not let the engineers spend the time to do the job right. Idiot top aside, the Solstice really was a decent little car, but missed the weight target of the Miata by 400 lbs. Mazda then added insult to injury by building a retractable hardtop version that still weighs 300 lbs less than the Solstice. The Cruze, which finally brings GM a decent little car, would be first in class if it came in at the proper weight target.

    Shame on you, GM bean counters. Why not let Baruth fire the next salvo?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Some enthusiasts obsess about the weight of a vehicle, but the other 99% of the car buying public has exactly the same priorities Lutz expressed.

    Honda would sell more vehicles if they applied another 100 lbs of strategically located sound deadening to get the bleeping road noise down. Hondas can very stressful to drive long distances thanks to the road noise over certain surfaces. I should know, as we own two of them, and road noise is my one big complaint.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      +1

      We’ve like our Hondas for durability, but for long trips they become tiresome. I don’t mind the extra noise for the morning commute – it’s only 6 miles. But driving 600 miles is torture.

    • 0 avatar
      mechimike

      I used to drive a 92 Civic, and never thought the road noise was excessive. Took it on several long trips, too. My 92 Dodge pickup has carried me cross country recently, didn’t really think too much about road noise in that, either.

      Pretty much any modern car is leaps and bounds over cars 20+ years old for road noise- both because of better design, and the fact that as cars age, they get noisier. Modern consumers have been spoiled, and expectations are higher.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        You had one of the “good” Civics, before they started decontenting them (ie removing all of the noise dampening materials). Toyota and others started doing the same thing in the mid-to-late 1990s.

        I have had six Civics between the 1987 and 1991 model years, and they were ALL quieter than my 1997 Civic. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the 1997 Civic better overall as far as the power and driving dynamics, but darnit, I really wish it was quieter.

        And don’t even get my started on how loud our 2001 Odyssey is out on the worn concrete interstates! That is truly embarrassing considering how much it cost when new, it was NOT in the econobox price range!

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Lutz is NUTS and is trying to have it both ways. You can’t say that you are a car guy who is going to bring cars full of lust and passion and then COMPLETELY cave on the THE MOST important ENGINEERING measure of what instills passion into a car. Didn’t he in this same interview say that people would tolerate a rattle or two if the car had passion.

      Lighter cars are more fun to drive, cheaper to service, and get better mileage. Weight is one of first specs that I consider in a car purchase. In an instant you know how it will drive , how it will perform… The reason there ISN’T a 5th Gen Camaro in my driveway is that the car weighs as much as a new Deville.

      I find it funny that the interviewer was worried that Lutz might stand up and walk out… after this response I would ask what would it take for you to stand up and walk out.

      I hope the follow up question to this goofy response was,”OK Mr. Lutz if you are OK giving up some passion for NVH quality… Care to explain the G5?” Oh don’t ask that… He might walk out…

      Lets just limit our questions to “Nice tie Mr. Lutz, do you think stripes are making a come back this fall?”

    • 0 avatar

      I wear ear plugs on trips. I recommend it. I love my Accord (stick).

  • avatar

    Dear Mr. Lutz,

    Robust is not about weight, but about clever constructing. Comfort has a lot to do with having a decent wheelbase. Torsional rigidity may be one of the best arguments to do some out of the usual automotive box thinking. In the 80′s Detroit accounted for approx. 80% domestic market share. This dwindled down to approx. 40%, about the same as all Asian car makers put together. The less weight, the better the energy efficiency, performance (think Lotus) or range (think EV). The problem is that no one in Detroit is thinking ‘this one’ through, not really. Detroit is fixed on sending messages, not on listening to new ideas happening outside. On the long run energy is not going to get cheaper. Foreign car companies will profit. Should be enough reason to do things differently, don’t you think?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Why bother to do that when you can try to manage expectations with statements like: “In the next generations they’ll get the weight out and hopefully still maintain the structural rigidity”?

      Funny thing is that Lutz is just so dang much fun to observe and listen to that nobody ever really goes back and lists-up all the wrong things he has said… many, many, of his statements, have a ‘the next generation will be, have, or do what the competition is already doing’ chasing-the-end-of-the-rainbow quality about them.

      For years he was saying the domestics were just around the corner from closing the quality gap, but after a few cycles of this statement not being fulfilled, he zigged rhetorically and started flogging “perception gap”.

      • 0 avatar
        kowsnofskia

        “Funny thing is that Lutz is just so dang much fun to observe and listen to that nobody ever really goes back and lists-up all the wrong things he has said…”

        Yep…including the fact that *many* of the most overweight cars GM built during the Lutz era (*cough* Solstice *cough*) were not especially refined. His “we built them heavy for refinement” argument just sounds like pure BS to me.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Another point I’m surprised no one has mentioned is that less weight means less material. Less material means less raw material costs (unless you move exotic materials). Since a slimmed down car has less inertia, it is easier to stop, so the brakes can be smaller (and cheaper) while still being just as effective. The same goes for the engine. Lower weight also has recursive savings: You can transport more on a boat/train/truck reducing shipping costs. Since engines & parts weigh less, they can be shipped between factories cheaper. It takes less work to move them through the assembly plant, and the support equipment in the plant can also be smaller and cheaper.

      If you design the car well, reduced weight and reduced costs can go hand-in-hand. So, you can have improved (or maintained) performance (acceleration, braking, handling), improved efficiency, AND lower cost just by focusing on weight. I’m no auto exec, but that sounds like a pretty sound sales strategy, and wary be the fool who ignores it.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    “Hopefully?”

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    I agree on the quiet factor. My wife would probably be driving a previous generation Kia Sportage if not for the unacceptable road noise.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    “You know, everybody cries and moans that the Buick Enclave is 400 lbs too heavy, but it’s the last thing on the customer’s list. They don’t worry if it’s 400 lbs overweight or not, they love the way it rides and drives.”

    Actually, the extra heft made me HATE the way the Enclave drove. First, it seemed to gain speed at a ridiculous rate when heading down any decline. The handling was clumsy and I found myself carrying way too much speed into turns because it took considerable braking to overcome the energy that the Enclave had at 55mph. The 19mpg that I had over the duration of 1000 miles in Washington/Idaho/Montana was less than impressive. Weight directly contributed to me smiling when I turned in the rental keys knowing I’d not have to drive that beast again.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I made almost all of the same bad experiences with a rental Dodge Caliber, except for the downhill physics lesson, but in exchange, it was noisy inside and the power door locks worked intermittantly.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “First, it seemed to gain speed at a ridiculous rate when heading down any decline.”

      Bzzzt. Physics fail. Throw 500lbs of sand bags in the trunk of your vehicle and it will coast downhill just about the same as it would without the sandbags (minor aerodynamic effects causing the ‘about’ in this statement).

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        All things equal, a vehicle toting an extra 500lbs will be designed differently, especially in the transmission tuning, throttle*, brakes, etc, than one without. That design does impact the dynamics of the vehicle in different situations. It isn’t a cut-and-dry 1st year physics equation where we assume that the block is sliding down a ramp with zero friction.

      • 0 avatar
        stottpie

        you’re incorrect. the only case where weight does not affect the ‘downhill’ speed is in free-fall. on a hill, a heavier car has much more inertia. it will resist engine-braking, brakes, and friction more so than a smaller car.

        as an example, take a skateboard and set it on a slight hill. unless the road is perfectly smooth, the skateboard will probably stay still. put a load on the skateboard, say a 200lb sandbag, and watch as it rolls away.

        as another example, take a bobsled team. there is a maximum weight requirement, and if a team is under that weight, they will add ballasts to their sled to make it go faster downhill.

        so, to reiterate, you are incorrect and you shouldn’t BZZT people.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        stottpie: “as an example, take a skateboard and set it on a slight hill. unless the road is perfectly smooth, the skateboard will probably stay still. put a load on the skateboard, say a 200lb sandbag, and watch as it rolls away.”

        Where did you learn your physics? Or, logic for that matter.

        The extra weight that Enclave has is roughly comparable to several extra ounces on a skateboard, nothing that some fine tuning of the skateboard can’t handle.

      • 0 avatar
        stottpie

        @wsn.

        my logic is fine. since the original post stated that extra weight doesn’t affect downhill speed, we should assume that to be true in order to prove it as invalid.

        we are assuming extra weight doesn’t affect downhill speed,as stated in the original post. therefore, whether we are adding an extra ounce or an extra 5000 ounces, the downhill speed should be ‘about’ the same, as stated. then why do proportions matter all of a sudden? if you’re going to introduce proportions, the onus is on you to explain what difference that makes to the original statement.

        the bottom line is the poster i was responding to was incorrect in saying that weight does not affect downhill speed, it obviously does.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        John,

        I believe that you are partially correct, in that the friction of the wheels against the road should increase linearly in relation to the added mass. So the components of road resistance and gravitational pull should stay in balance.

        However, what you are overlooking is that the mass of the car has increased, but the air resistance against the body and the internal friction of the engine and driveline have stayed the same.

        Looking at it another way, you could say that air resistance and internal friction have been reduced on a per-kilogram basis.

        So it should now be easier for gravity to accelerate the car against the forces of air resistance and internal friction.

        How much difference will 500 pounds make? I don’t know. Maybe a few percent?

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I have to agree with Lutz’s decision. Given 1. Lightness 2. refinement 3. low cost, and I have to pick 2, I’d go with refinement and low cost too. In order to get refinement and light weight, you’ll have to dabble with exotic materials, like many luxury Europeans do, and that adds to the car’s cost, and makes the car really expensive to fix after an accident.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    For goodness’ sake, I can’t keep up with all the good stuff that pops up on here in the late afternoons/evenings as I don’t live on my computer. Late to this party!

    In regard to the weight issue, the advertising for my 2004 Impala compared it to a 1958 Impala where both cars weighed nearly the same, around 3,800 lbs! It boasted that it is a “substantial car” and I agree.

    The enthusiast community, regardless of area of interest, whether automobiles, railroads, aircraft is a small one, and manufacturers need to aim for what sells to as many people as possible for economy of scale. That’s why there’s an aftermarket industry for cars. Spend extra money and modify your car to suit your needs. Nobody said it was going to be a cheap proposition! I paid out some money for custom sidescripts for my Impala and a couple other cosmetic touches, but that’s all. Still wish it had three tail lights, though! Mr. Lutz – are you listening?

  • avatar
    Russell

    I, too agree with Lutz. I’d much rather drive a substantial feeling vehicle with a good ride and good sound deadining. Don’t really care if it weighs “too much”, especially in my family haulers and pickups. If I want light weight I’ll buy a sports car.

  • avatar
    snoproblem

    If Lutz et al are really serious about addressing curb weight, how about offering real choices when it comes to power options and convenience features?

    You can hardly find a car on a dealer lot anymore that isn’t loaded to bursting with power-everything & 100 speaker stereos & do-everything-but-burp-you seating, etc. I’d gladly broom most of this stuff to gain better fuel mileage, achieve greater simplicity AND have less stuff to break.

    To do the above would mean a major change in how dealers approach selling and maintaining cars… so I don’t know if it’s do-able. Still, you can count me as one consumer, at least, who would appreciate more flexing …on the options list.

  • avatar
    NN

    As far as I recall, Mercedes Benz has always traded on a reputation for solidity and quietness, and people don’t seem to judge them by their weight as much. That’s not such a bad act to follow. I can testify that my 2010 Malibu LTZ (4cyl) has a solid feel, build quality, quietness and refined ride that is eons ahead of any car I’ve owned before, which has included Mazdas, Subarus, Fords, Chryslers and other GM’s. I thank Lutz for these efforts. I’m amazed at the solidity and quality of the car. I don’t get the EPA highway average they advertise, but I don’t think I would trade off 1-2 mpg for the loss of the solidity.

  • avatar
    david42

    I think weight really matters (from a sales perspective) only for sports cars and BMW sedans. While it might be nice if Camry and Enclaves etc. were more lithe, tossability is so far down the list of priorities for buyers of those cars that it would be silly to compromise on solidity and silence to achieve better handling. There’s a reason why no one bought the old Mazda6.

    Manufacturers should build enthusiast cars for enthusiasts, and appliances for the masses. If the wires get crossed, you end up with a car that (almost) no one likes.

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Let me fix that for you.

      Manufacturers should build enthusiast cars for enthusiasts, and appliances for the masses. If the wires get crossed, you end up with a car that Lutz helped design (and that almost no one likes)

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      david42 “I think weight really matters (from a sales perspective) only for sports cars and BMW sedans. ”

      That’s not true. In the extreme situations what if an Impala weights 10,000 pounds? Will it accelerate or brake safely? No.

      Of course in reality, it’s not that bad. But 500 pounds more than the competitor still makes the car less desirable. Just not as obvious as the 10,000 pound car.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    The sad part is GM will work to get the weight out, and probably end up building tin cans again. Very few manufacturers can repeat sucess in a car, they usualy mess it it up, except maybe toyota and BMW and even then the changes are not always good.

    I remember my wife’s first acura MDX a great car in so many ways, steered great clean design smooth motor. Then the new model cae out, what a disaster, choppy ride, crappy tranny, gruff engine. Yet the magazines claimed to love it, I guess the brakes were good.

  • avatar
    pharmer

    Ed, how can you possibly try to turn Lutz’s comments into something anti-GM or anti-Lutz? His foremost claim in the book is that “at the end of the day, the product is all that matters.”

    That philosophy is borne out by his comments here. To get the product experience that customers want, compromises had to be made on weight. Big deal. Anyone who has ever worked in product development understands the trade-offs that are required. As much as I strive for “elegant engineering” in what I do at my job on a daily basis, building a product that is perfect in every way is impossible both fiscally and practically.

    Lutz is being very honest with his comments here. Tone down your anti-GM bent. The bailout happened, GM survived, and from what I can tell they are doing everything they can to build products that people will buy. If you think you can do better then by all means go out and get an engineering degree, get your foot in the door, and give it a try.

    • 0 avatar

      Umm… anti-GM? Anti-Lutz? I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, buddy… or you’re looking for the kind of fawning interview that the MSM has got people accustomed to.

      Re-read the piece and tell me I don’t understand the necessity of compromise… that’s the basis for this entire story. I don’t judge Lutz, he is who he is… I was simply trying to shed some light his philosophy. You can agree or disagree with his approach (and based on the comments here, some agree and others do not), but I don’t see how you can argue that I’m being unfair to either him or GM.

      • 0 avatar
        pharmer

        Come on, I’m not looking for a fawning interview (that’s really a profile) with the guy. I fawn over him enough myself. I’ve read both books, and I appreciate the man because he seems like a marketing guy that truly understands and appreciates the technical/engineering side of business. In the world I live in this is a very rare thing.

        I have read and re-read your article several times and I can’t really figure out the point you’re trying to make…

        Are you trying to say that Lutz is not really a car guy because he prioritized the overall product experience over one technical parameter?

        …or…

        Are you trying to point out the cognitive dissonance that’s necessary to focus on the overall product, even if that means compromising on the principles that “car guys” and engineers hold near and dear?

        …or…

        Are you just pointing out that Lutz sometimes talks out of both sides of his mouth? Some may see that as a bad thing, but I kind of see it as a necessity of his job and that natural result of his Type-A personality.

        And you can’t deny that your (you personally, Ed) overall tone is generally unfavorable to GM. I can’t even count the number of articles you’ve published here that question the value of the bailout, the value of of the USA owning 30%+ of GM, point out the sometimes dysfunctional culture of GM, question their product strategy or brand positioning, and so on down the line. Yes, you treat all the automakers with a healthy amount of cynicism. I appreciate all of it…it’s your job to critique and comment on the industry, and it’s why so many of us count TTAC as daily reading.

        But, and this just might be my own personal take, it seems like the stuff about GM is layered with a tone of sarcasm and “look how dumb these guys are” that I don’t see in your other stuff (save maybe the ones about Saab). A perfect example of this is your continuing commentary on the Volt.

        Again, maybe it’s my own personal take on this, but I don’t see GM’s overall level of “dumbness” as being any greater or any lesser than their competition. That, and their overall current lineup is more compelling to me than it’s ever been in my lifetime as a car buyer.

      • 0 avatar

        OK, so you do get it… Lutz is a complicated guy and I’m trying to let his complexity speak for itself. That’s as fair as I can be… what you read into the complexity is completely out of my control. If you want to read this in the context of my previous work and conclude that I’m trying to bash Bob or GM, you’re free to do so. Frankly, the truth isn’t ever consistent with one worldview though, so I just try to write each piece in a way that it speaks for itself.

        As for GM, I’m inclined to agree with Lutz when he says GM management has historically been too smart for its own good. That’s just as likely an explanation for the mistakes of the past as simple endemic stupidity (if not more so). Whatever the cause of GM’s troubles, though, they speak for themselves… and GM can’t change or complain about the facts of their history. In fact, I’ll give new GM some credit here… they’ve taken some risks to give us access to cars and stories. I won’t ever pull punches editorially, but the fact that they don’t appear to be afraid of their critics is perhaps the most promising sign I’ve seen from that company culture-wise in a while. And I’m even inclined to give Lutz at least a little credit for it.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Tardy to the party –

    When I’ve bought sports cars, I have definitely cared about weight and weight distribution. When I’ve bought family trucksters or SUVs I couldn’t really care less. I couldn’t tell you the curb weight of my weather beater minivan to save my life. That was an appliance in my view. Couldn’t tell you the stats on the Altima to save my life either (nor the gone Grand Prix)

    I can tell you the G8 GT weighs 3995 pounds without me in it, and has a 48.6%/51.4% weight distribution. It is modified to 394 HP at the crank and 422 pound feet of torque, does 0 to 60 in 5.01 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 13.354 @ 105.85 MPH. It would tickle a 13 second car with some good drag radials – can no longer hook up well and get a lot of wheel spin on the 1-2 shift.

    I agree with Lutz that 98% of buyers don’t care about curb weight, won’t even look at it. The 2% that do care are hardcore enthusiasts.

    However I agree with Ed that curb weight manifests itself in other ways – like MPG stickers, and buyers do care about that.

  • avatar
    amca

    You know: now it hits me – the Eco models (Cruze & upcoming Malibu) have some of the solidity taken out of them. I know that there’s certain sheetmetal parts that are lighter gauge in that car. They’re just de-Lutzing it, taking out heavy, solid bits.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    “Since when do ‘car guys’ trade hundreds of pounds of extra weight for a quieter ride?”

    Ostensibly, since the MkIII Golf/Jetta.

  • avatar
    dwight

    Despite the extra weight in the Cruze, the car rides very well, quiet, solid and with a rather light feeling. One of the most solid feeling cars in it’s class. I tested a 1.8 L version with manual transmission. It is almost a revelation for a compact car (close to mid-size in size) to be so nice and have a Chevy bowtie on the front grill.

    On another note, I drive a civic coupe and you can feel the light weight chassis. Despite the aerodynamics, it still catches the wind on the highway.

    Sometimes a bit of heft is good in a car – especially in that class of car.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    Maybe GM should resurrect Fords mid 70s ad campaign.

    “More road hugging weight”

  • avatar
    jplew138

    Hmmm…I think it’s awfully ironic that out of the people babbling about the extra weight that Lutz admitted to in GM cars, none of these same people have made a peep about Mercedes-Benz, whose cars are almost always several hundred pounds heavier than their competitors. And last I checked, the average Mercedes is as solid as a rock. Maybe, just maybe, Lutz has a valid point.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States