By on September 2, 2011

The original car czar is headed back at General Motors, as the company announced today that it was officially retaining former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz as a Senior Advisor. The General’s press release notes

Lutz will be available to executives on a part-time consultancy basis effective immediately. He brings a wealth of experience built over the course of more than 40 years in the industry, including two stints at GM. He has also been a senior executive at Ford, Chrysler, BMW and was CEO of Exide Batteries.

Lutz has been providing advice to GM executives informally since retiring from the company in 2010.

I spent nearly three hours with Lutz last week, and he never mentioned a possible return to GM. He did, however, discuss his entire career, his experiences at Chrysler and GM, his product development philosophy and much, much more. You can read all about it starting on Tuesday, when we begin to publish content based on our interview.

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54 Comments on “Lutz Back At GM, Check Out TTAC’s Exclusive Interview With Him Next Week...”


  • avatar

    Maybe they should just go ahead and un-retire him…again.

    I hope to also have a review of his book next week.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    A ray of hope arises at GM.

  • avatar
    tikki50

    why do I have a feeling the last batch of concept models were shown and they all looked horrid. Captain Dan Flipped up the red phone…Ya get lutz back here quick….blah blah blah….

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Lutz: “Thank you Alfred. This will be a big job, please prepare both the Lutz-mobile and the Lutz-copter. Oh, and please check the polish on my utility-belt.”

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It seems that he didn’t retire, he just took a sabbatical that allowed him time to get a book published.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Hopefully his role as senior adviser means actual advising instead of being a blowhard moaning about perception gap to the media.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Love him or hate him, Maximum Bob is Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacccck!

  • avatar
    NN

    I, for one, am thankful and may consider buying some GM stock in the near future. In my lifetime (30+ years) no upper level executive at GM has put as much emphasis on creating good product as Bob Lutz. There’s new hope that GM won’t be completely watered down into offering glorified Daewoo’s.

    Also, it seems Mr. Lutz holds respect for this website, given the attention is is willing to show Ed. That shows a good bit of objectivity on his part.

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Let me know how that works out for ya.. I know of lots of people who bought GM stock the LAST time that GM hired Lutz in 2001… too bad they are printed on single ply paper or they would make for perfect ass wipe.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Bob Lutz and Saab: Not Going Away Since 2009.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    All is right with the world again.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Will he continue to advise Lotus, or is that over already?

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    General Motors Death Watch Number 261.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    BTW, the filename of the banner pic says something like “Bob-Lutz-Fighter-Jet” … Actually, that’s no figher jet, at least as designed, it is the (IIRC) L-39 Albatross, a soviet-era Czech advanced trainer.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I was just wondering if anybody knows who is the oldest person, never-retired, in full-time, non-disability, employment at GM?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well if he gives Cadillac an honest-to-god flagship and gets GM to build an Impala with six round tail lights in total (NOT 4 YOU IDIOTS!) then I say welcome back Bob.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    STOP SHOWING PICTURES OF BOB LUTZ!

    Although Educator Dan already has the funniest avatar ever, stop giving him suggestions!

  • avatar
    Mike

    Having worked with Bob at Chrysler and being most distressed when he left I would think the GM people would be joyous at his return.
    Mike Dowd

  • avatar
    msquare

    I think on balance Lutz’s influence has been positive. GM product across the board is much better than it was even three years ago and he had a lot to do with it. Even failures like the GTO may yet have a positive net effect. The Volt is seen by some as a dud, but the technology is anything but.

    The Buickman has gone on record saying that the thing GM needs to fix right now is its marketing, so let’s see what Maximum Bob can do with that.

    • 0 avatar

      +100. He’s as close as it’s come to the GM icons from pre-1970…just as long as they don’t allow any more Smale/Zarella/Roger Smith types into the RenCen…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        He’s as close as it’s come to the GM icons from pre-1970

        If you’re trying to argue that he’s a dinosaur, then I’ll have to agree with you.

        The market has changed in the last four decades. I have to wonder whether Mr. Lutz realizes that.

  • avatar
    burritolikethesun

    Bob should be flying a T-38 like a real ‘murrican.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Well, this should definitely take some heat off Sergio Marchionne getting picked on around this neck of the woods.

    Hopefully he will be on the new CEO hiring committee, and this may be a good time to pick up a few shares.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Gag me. Lutz is a hack and General Motors bringing his loud mouth back in yet again is just further proof of how intellectually bankrupt the “New” GM really is.

    I get it, the interwebs loves Maximum Bob because he’s constantly getting his picture taken in front of jets with his trademark cigar. He’s the last of a dying breed of executive, you say. Well whoop-de-doo. If Lutz finally retiring for good means that there are no more executives who think buyers will automatically buy his halfassed cars just because they’re what he would drive, I for one will be pleased.

    Enthusiasts always get wound up at the thought of diesels, stick shifts, wagons or some outmoded thing from the Land Down Under. But here’s the sorry truth: not nearly enough people want a wagon to justify their sale here, manual transmissions died the moment the “Low Priced Three” started offering slushboxes, GM killed diesels 30 years ago with their wretched Olds LF9 and hybrid/EV greenwashing will keep them dead and buried, and the last two times GM imported a Holden the car failed spectacularly…why would any sane person think it’d be a good idea to try again. Everything tied to Lutz over the last decade has underperformed, at best. Are you really that excited about a Buick Regal that was supposed to be a Saturn until two years ago? Or a silly CTS-V wagon that’s supposed to wave the flag for a Cadillac brand that really hasn’t grown in sales or prestige in the decade since its “renaissance” began? Sure, there’s Corvette and Camaro, but those vehicles have such a loyal following, it almost doesn’t matter how good or bad they are. Nothing else GM makes really stands out, just a bunch of mediocre sedans and CUVs competing against everybody else’s mediocre sedans and CUVs.

    Lutz also has a bad habit of taking credit for every vehicle that happened to be under development while he was working at any particular company. He left Ford too early to have any real impact on the Explorer (a four door SUV was a no-brainer, anyway), the Sierra’s believable and the Merkur absolutely stinks of Lutz. Lutz was in sales at BMW, outside of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline, he had nothing to do with 3-Series. And Chrysler? While I was as impressed as anybody when the LH sedans and original cloud cars came out…did they really sell any better than the Dynastys and LeBarons that preceded them? No.

    You guys really want him back for another go round of ill-considered ideas and whining to the press about how his current employer would be #1 if only the general public would ignore their hard-earned reputation for building shoddy, unimaginative crap?

    My guess is Akerson will show Bob the door the second he publicly undermines Dan on new product decisions. So probably sometime next week…

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      Apparently you missed the fact that GM is #1- in the World, and in the two largest national markets, China and the U.S. where they are growing away from second place Ford.

      Lutz deserves a lot of the credit for the best selling vehicles in the world!

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Apparently you missed the fact that GM is #1- in the World

        GM was the market share leader not long before it filed for bankruptcy.

        It’s really bizarre how this volume mentality completely dominates the GM (or at least the Old GM) mindset, at the expense of everything else. Profitability and customer satisfaction take a back seat to total unit sales.

        Absolute, utter madness. The company completely imploded, yet still, you learned nothing.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    That was a response to the comment about Lutz whining about NOT being #1. Apparently you also missed the fact that the company made well over $5B in the first half of the year. They will make a lot more when the economy recovers. Volume is extremely important with businesses that have such immense fixed and product development costs. Volume makes money, but in this case, it also proves who has the most popular products.

    GM did not implode, their bankruptcy was precipitated by the global financial crisis and credit freeze that stopped car sales (that pesky volume problem) in late ’08 & early ’09. By far the largest player in America, GM was hurt the most, though Toyota went on to lose even more than GM in Q1 of ’09. They had deep pockets, the U.S. makers were tapped out, but for Fords massive credit line obtained before the GFC.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Volume makes money

      Volume loses money when the cost of production exceeds the revenue created by the production. To say that volume is always profitable is not only incorrect, but it’s frankly a bit nuts.

      GM did not implode

      Maybe you’re talking about some other company called GM. I’m referring to General Motors, a company that was already blowing it with second-rate products and a whole array of dysfunctionality before the financial crisis.

      As noted, you learned nothing. I can only hope that the new management knows better, and that the deadwood that helped the old company to collapse has been shown the door.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Your memory must be short; GM was a ticking time bomb for years…and they nearly went under in ’92. Unlike other, less inept companies that actually had a business plan and cash reserves, GM (and Chrysler) instead used the financial meltdown (that any idiot should have seen coming a mile away) as an excuse to throw their hands up in distress and force the taxpayers to forgive decades of bad products and stupid management.

      The fact that GM made $5 billion in the first two quarters means absolutely nothing to me when, as a taxpayer, I know that my essentially-bankrupt country isn’t getting its investment back.

      As for the #1 thing: you’re completely missing the point. Nobody outside GM cares that they’re #1 in the world. First place means nothing if you’re losing money, which GM managed to pull off for years. Lutz tried to excuse crap products and a crap bottom line with tired excuses about market perception and “What consumers really want is _____” when all they really want is a quiet, boring four-banger sedan that can go 150,000 miles without the paint peeling off, the headliner falling down and the head gasket blowing. Lutz can’t see past his own hype and out-of-touch tastes – the fact that GM thinks his “advice” is worth bupkis shows just how dim their future is.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      GM had massive exposure to fuel price spikes and credit crises because they had been building gas hogs and selling them to people with bad credit for years. If your GM SUV died while you were still making the payments and you didn’t have the wherewithal to eat the loss and buy a new Toyota, you went back to Uncle Rick for new wheels and a massively upside-down loan out the door.

      In 2009, they “discovered” that this business model had some drawbacks.

      The new GM may be stronger but that hinges on questions we don’t yet know the answers to, like, “Has GM figured out how to make money on small cars?”

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    The problem is that you know so much that is not so!

    My memory is perfect, and unlike some here, I really do understand the causes of the entire domestic auto industry’s financial decline and the collapse of 2/3 of it as a direct result of the GFC following on the $4 gas spike of ’08. It is true that GM was close to bankruptcy in ’92. It is also a fact that the company came back to the extent that they made $21B in the decade of ’98-’07 posting significant loss just one year, 2006 with breakeven in 2007.

    The point is that GM is in first place because of excellent products for which Lutz deserves credit. This is not to say that GM management never made mistakes, but that they are certainly not inept as you imagine.

    I do wonder how much the company will have to make before the sideline chatterers realize the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I really do understand the causes of the entire domestic auto industry’s financial decline and the collapse of 2/3 of it as a direct result of the GFC following on the $4 gas spike of ’08.

      This is hilarious. Not only were you there to destroy the company, but you’re in complete denial of what you did.

      You made lousy cars that people didn’t want. About the only thing that was decent by the end of the Old GM was a class of gas guzzlers that were protected by an import tariff (large trucks), since GMNA could never build a decent small car to save its life (literally) and generally couldn’t compete on its merits.

      And an even greater irony is that you’re making your comments on a site that came to fame and acclaim because of a column called GM Death Watch, which chronicled the very things that I’m talking about and predicted GM’s failure while the RenCen inserted its heads in the sand.

      You failed, and you learned nothing from it. I just hope that the new leadership doesn’t resemble the old, and that it sends packing anyone so clueless as to cling to the old ways that destroyed the company.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @pch101- You may acclaim yourselves, but those of us who know the business know the truth. You have virtually zero understanding of the truth about GM. As a matter of fact, GM did not die, but is now strong and very profitable. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for that Death Watch prognostication. I stumbled on this site and found distortions and falsehoods based on a clear lack of understanding of reality. That is why I have chosen to speak out here. You often remind me of 9-11 conspiracy theorists. Presumptuous yet ignorant.

        btw- As a matter of fact, tariffs on trucks are ancient history and certainly do not explain Toyota’s failure to compete in the full size truck segment in current times, despite their best efforts.
        @jplew- It is rather amazing that you cite 10 year old experience to support your expertise to criticize current GM products. No doubt GM had quality problems. I am intimately familiar with the causes of many of them, and also had the opportunity to be on the ground floor of the efforts to bring the Deming philosophy to GM. GM Powertrain engineering HQ has a conference room named for Dr. Deming, but you wouldn’t know that, in your presumption.

        Poor quality at GM is not the case these days, with Buick surpassing Lexus in long term dependability. Today’s GM product quality rivals the best of the best.

        These bottom line, incontrovertible facts remain. GM sells far more vehicles than anyone else, particularly in the Worlds’s two largest markets. They are making record profit while doing so, in spite of the still depressed U.S. market, where most of that profit is generated.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        but those of us who know the business know the truth.

        You don’t “know” the business — you destroyed the business. The old GM hit the wall because of people with your mentality who were running the show.

        Your laundry list of reasons for GM’s failures exemplifies what’s wrong with the Old GM: Your failed managers never took any responsibility for anything whatsoever. Too busy playing the blame game to bother with trying to run the company properly.

        Even complete failure doesn’t faze you guys. The inability to acknowledge mistakes and to connect the dots is truly astonishing. But seeing you defend it only illustrates how mismanaged the enterprise was, as you were entirely too blind to see it and too busy pointing fingers to acknowledge that there was a product problem. Again, I can only hope that the New GM is in better hands, and that this Old GM culture of failure disappears for good.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @PCh101- You presume to impugn me in absolute ignorance of what responsibilities I held in 40 years with GM. Since you have no idea who I am or what I did, how to you defend your conclusions? You simply prove that you form strong opinions with absolutey no data.
        Successful business people make decisions based on data, not emotion. As I have written, my 40 years in the business trumps blog reading as a data source to truly understand reality.

        I never claim GM leadership was perfect, just that the entire industry was driven down financially by forces no management could control. Could GM have done better? Sure. Could they have avoided collapse in 2008, not likely. By far the biggest player in the U.S. they were hurt the worst by the market collapse. Do you blame the credit freeze and car sales collapse on GM, too?

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      @doctor olds:

      Which excellent products are you speaking of besides trucks or SUVs? I sold GM products for a brief time, during 2000-01, and I ca speak from experience that the cars were complete, total, utter CRAP. When you have A) a car’s windshield…yes, I said windshield, damn near come off of a car while going 65 miles an hour, and B) transmissions that completely died at less than 1000 miles, “excellence” is not the first word that comes to mind.

      The only thing that GM built with any kind of care or quality during that period of time was their trucks, and that was only because truck buyers are extremely loyal and extremely knowledgeable about trucks. In other words, it’s damn hard to put anything over on a truck buyer. And as for your “volume makes money” comment above, I will refer you to W. Edwards Deming, who basically invented modern quality control, in his “Seven Deadly Diseases”. Pay close attention to number 2 on this list.

      1. Lack of constancy of purpose

      2. Emphasis on short-term profits

      3. Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance

      4. Mobility of management

      5. Running a company on visible figures alone

      6. Excessive medical costs

      7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers who work for contingency fees

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      doctor olds: “It is also a fact that the company came back to the extent that they made $21B in the decade of ’98-’07 posting significant loss just one year, 2006 with breakeven in 2007.”

      Is that the before or after of their various income restatements? One of GM’s chief problems was bad financial controls… Has everyone from Wagoner’s old department been shown the door, smart new ones hired, new processes developed, new software written?

      Somehow, I doubt it.

      Maybe GM didn’t even need to cheap out as badly as they did on so many cars.

      GM is in first place because they did go into China a while back (nothing to do with Lutz, I am sure) and their JV partners allow GM to count the JV cars as GM volume. The JV partners don’t care about volume, they care about money.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Do not misunderstand the comments about GM financial controls. The accountants who made those claims disagreed with GM’s moving decision making for large expenditures down the chain of command. Most of them have no experience with the sums involved in the car business. A huge, one time $30B write down of the company came from new accounting principles for considering future liability for pensions, a factor that varies with the stock market outlook. That is like saying you have to account for all the costs you expect to incur over the next quarter century plus in this year’s financials.

        GM is a million units ahead of second place VW. If you want to count the Chinese joint ventures at half, VW’s volume will be reduced, too. Every carmaker in China must be partnered with a Chinese company. Ford, on the other hand, is 3 million behind GM globally. You can deduct all GM china sales and GM still wins. They are growing away from second place Ford in America, where almost all of their net profit last year was generated.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Let’s get some specifics from Lutz! Namely, exactly what needs to be changed. My beater is a ’94 Olds Cutlass Cierra V6. It’s comfortable, reliable, gets good mileage, and I got it cheap. But my God, how the hell did GM sign off on things like the idiotic “automatic seat belts” that are unsafe simply because they discourage use; headliners that would cling to the roof better if made from Post-It notes; or the Rule Goldberg-ish combination turn signal/wipers/lights/cruise lever. Non compos mentis! Did Lutz’s book say anything about such blunders and the organization/incompetence that produced them?

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      Lutz didn’t come back to GM until 2001, and the A bodies were long out of production by then. BTW-Cutlass Ciera was either the best selling or second best selling car in America back in 80′s. I have had a number of GM cars with the multi-purpose turn signal lever and thought it was fine, but apparently not for some. The falling headliners, though, were a disaster for many years. The problem did not show up until well into the car’s life. Apparently, no one was paying attention for quite a while. I had a ’79 Olds and an ’84 Camaro with the same problems. I think the problem was ultimately fixed, but don’t know when.

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    Are you going to have a contest of questions from TTAC readers?

    Might I suggest…

    “Bob, not counting the comment about Pontiac being damaged goods, what was the stupidest thing that you said during your last 10 years at the General?”

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    If I recall, one reason for the downfall of Detroit was the good-ol’-boy club management. With the return of Lutz, does that mean GM will once again concentrate on mediocre oversized brand engineered trucks ? As a taxpayer, shall look forward (once again) to bailing out a fat corporation that gives golden parachutes to executives that can afford personal fighter jets?

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    The “good-ol’-boy” myth of American business is alive and well! Lutz got nothing when he left GM. There were no golden parachutes for any of the executives. Wagoner lost $14M of his $24M accrued retirement benefits and gets a whopping $74,000/year in pension. The Japanese, German and Korean systems are far more in line with the good-ol’-boy stereotype than the America, but you believe what the sideline chattering class, the journalists report.

    The “downfall” of Detroit was the result of three primary factors:
    1- The UAW union monopoly of the industry gave them the power to impose unsustainable labor costs, particularly retirement benefits.
    GM alone was spending $8B right off the bottom line for UAW retiree health care on top of nearly $1B in cost for the Jobs bank. They had to make about $9B in profit to offset these costs before generating any net profit. Ford and Chrysler were under similar, though smaller burdens.
    2- CAFE requirements virtually banned the larger cars that Americans wanted to the great financial detriment of the American companies uniquely. They were forced by the UAW and Government policy to build small cars at a loss in order to sell profitable, larger cars. GM’s Small Car Group was losing an average of $1,600 per car on production volume of 1.6M – over $2.5B/year.
    3- Global competition. The Detroit 3 could not stop the Japanese (and now the Koreans) from making good products in lower cost foreign locations with government manipulated currency advantages to boot.

    GM commands the highest transaction prices of any full line maker, largely thanks to those “oversized” trucks you cite. GM’s large SUV and full size pickup platform production volume is over double that of second place Toyota (Lexus RX 330; Toyota Avalon, Camry, Camry Hybrid, Sienna, Venza), as well as third place Ford (F150,Lincoln Mark LT). This is very profitable business and GM is capturing a huge share of it. No one is making much if any money on small cars even today.


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