It’s strange: When you talk to the big manufacturers in Japan, then they are worried by benchmarking Volkswagen and Hyundai. GM never comes up. When you talk to Bob Lutz, who has been re-hired as a part-time consultant to GM executives, then he is worried by benchmarking Volkswagen and Hyundai. Toyota never comes up. Bob Lutz thinks the Japanese have lost it. Germany’s Manager Magazin disturbed Lutz’s Swiss vacation with an interview, and Lutz, always good for explosive quotes, did not disappoint: Read More >
Whether agree that automotive PR needs to take more risks or you think it takes more than enough risks already, we can all enjoy the outlandish quotes that do emanate from industry executives in spite of the protective PR-professional bubble that surrounds them. And though TTAC has only had the institutional follow-through to hold a single “Lutzie Award” in the past, I figured that next week (when I’ll be presenting a flood of content based on my extended rap session with Maximum Bob) would be the perfect opportunity to bring them back. And in order to do so, we need you, our readers, to make the nominations. So fire up the search engine of your choice, and hit the jump for nominating criteria and the rules of this year’s awards.
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I first used this gem of a picture about a year ago. It certainly captures the essence of the man better than any other. I somehow stumbled upon it in an obscure site, and since then, it’s made the rounds on the web. But the story behind the picture was left to speculation, beyond knowing that it happened on an Opel test track. I helped a German site (oldtimer-markt.de) find the source of the photo, and in exchange, I got the story, from Florian Schwaab of oldtimer-markt, who wrote the following: Read More >
As many of you have probably figured out by now, I’m a firm atheist. You die, you become worm food, and your relatives divide up your estate. Life goes on. However, when I was learning religious education at school, I was told about the many different Gods on offer. We have God, Allah, Buddha (not really a god, but you get the gist), Zeus, Apollo, Thor and loads of others. But at no point did my teacher mention a Japanese car company. Bob Lutz just did. Read More >
Don’t bogart that joint: Toyota will recall about 8,000 model-year 2010 Tacoma pickup trucks in the US. Not for unintended acceleration, or brake gremlins, but for good old cracks in the joint portion of the drive shaft, says Reuters. The front drive shafts are manufactured by Dana Holding Corp, and the affected vehicles were produced from mid-December 2009 to early February. Read More >
Bob Lutz rode to Motown greatness on a wave of bombast, charisma and general maximum-ness. And his ability to act like Patton in full advance, even in the face of dismal business results, has been crucial to GM’s several year long “product revolution” denial offensive. But when the war is over, and the other general’s are already discussing the terms of surrender, men like Bob Lutz are suddenly seen less as inspirational figures and more as, well, liabilities. Buried in an otherwise unremarkable piece on the LA Auto Show in MSNBC, we get a little taste of just how minimum things are at GM right now. Global Insight analyst Rebecca Lindland reveals that GM won’t be sending the man of maximum to LA to launch the new CTS Coupe. “The perception of Cadillac is of excess; it’s a high-profile, low volume vehicle and not the type of vehicle you want to be seen flaunting right now,” she said. “And you can’t take a chance that the media will catch Bob Lutz swilling Champagne or puffing on a cigar — it’s a PR nightmare waiting to happen.” Just wait till you see the post-bailout spa bills.
According to Motor Trend, none other than Maximum Bob Lutz (or his mouth, which is independently operated) was behind plans to convert the C7 Corvette to a mid-engined layout. And from certain perspectives (albeit not the traditional one) such a move would have made a lot of sense. Besides putting Ferrari on notice, a mid-engined ‘vette would be easier to convert to a fuel-saving cylinder shutoff system, since the current front-engine, rear-transaxle layout necessitates a seperate clutch to disengage cylinders. The extra weight of a mid-engine cowl and the complication of reeingineering the entire platform has killed plans for a mid-engined Corvette, and GM has pushed the C7 model release back to 2014. In other words, unless GM seriously gets its shit together ASAP, the current ‘vette could be the last model ever made. In any case, the C6 will likely be the last V8-only Corvette, since CAFE standards will likely necessitate a V6 base engine. And you thought a mid-engined Corvette was sacrilege…
Though GM’s new Cruze is likely to qualify for taxpayer funded “efficiency retooling” money, its predecessor the Cobalt is finally coming into its own. Automotive News reports that transaction prices and profitability are headed up for the Cobalt. Average transaction prices for the Cobalt rose $775 since mid-April, thanks to surging interest in one of GM’s most fuel-efficient cars. And the upswing in Cobalt-generated revenue is turning Detroit’s argument that it can’t make money on small cars on its head. GM’s marketing manager for small cars and crossovers, Brian Brown, says profits on the Cobalt are up six percent since 2007. “I don’t think anyone thought this shift of moving into smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles would be as dramatic and happen as quickly as it did,” Brown tells AN. “I have to laugh: In the last 90 days, one of the top five trade-in vehicles for a Cobalt is an F-series pickup.” Please note that Brown is laughing about getting trade-ins from a competitor’s truck rather than his company’s total inability to see this one coming. GM added an extra Cobalt shift in August, to keep up with the 9.6 percent (supply limited) increase in Cobalt sales on the year, which still lag behind booming sales of Ford’s Focus. Sales are doubtless being helped by the addition of the fuel-efficient (25/36 mpg) Cobalt XFE model, while sales of fully-loaded models are helping profitability. Taken together, the trend is clear: well-equipped, fuel-efficient small cars can sell in volume and turn a decent profit. If only Detroit had realized this a decade ago. Everybody else did.
We’ve got to love Bob Lutz and his unabashed capacity to be wrong. In today’s Automotive News, he reports that “The Saturn Astra costs too much for U.S. customers, and sales and profitability of the small hatchback are suffering.” There is no question that sales have been anemic (between 1500 and 2000 cars per month) and that profitability for the Astra was always questionable at best. Or worse. Lutz went on to tell AN that “the profit is no longer there.” None of this has been in contention. But what is blindingly daft is GM’s explanation: the Astra costs too much for American consumers, at $16,495. Before we break out the slide rules and figure that the Civic starts in the mid $15,000s and the Mazda3 sedan starts just a hair under $15,000, keep in mind the comparable levels of equipment we’re talking about here. The Astra comes standard with loads of kit that you’d have to pay thousands more for in options. Many people don’t look at that when they are trying to buy the cheapest new car they can. But many people do want options on their Mazda3, or Corolla or Civic. And for those people, the Astra is not too expensive. The culprit from this writer’s mental CSI lab? First, zero advertising for the Astra. It’s not a legacy nameplate (i.e. Corolla or Civic) so they can’t just expect people to know it’s out there. Second, the mileage is a few pegs off from the class leaders: compare a 24/30 Astra to a 25/36 Civic. I don’t care, but lots of other people do. Third and finally, the Astra is hatchback only. I love hatchbacks. You might love hatchbacks. But Nissan was smart enough to realize that Americans are only warming up to hatchbacks; that’s why the ass-ugly Versa sedan outsells the more pleasant Versa hatch. Bottom line: the Astra (a truly decent car) is headed to the enthusiast’s scrap heap. There it can join other high-potential, half-executed Lutz ideas like the Merkur xr4ti, Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, Pontiac GTO, and Pontiac G8. At least they’re all cheap to buy used.
Cars.com’s Kickingtires blog has a question: “With consumers so concerned about fuel economy, why is General Motors waiting two years to bring out the Chevrolet Cruze, the replacement for the compact Chevy Cobalt?” Of course, we would ask the question with more of a “if the Cruze isn’t being sold for two years, why is GM hyping it now?” slant. Either way, even Kicking Tires is saying something’s gone wrong, horribly wrong, here. But no matter, Bob Lutz has the answer. “We’re waiting on the new world car because that gives us time to develop the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder for it,” explains the man of maximum. And the way Lutz tells it, the Cruze’s new 1.4 turbocharged four-banger will be worth the wait. “The 1.4-liter is going to be more high torque than high horsepower,” explains the Car Czar. “High torque at the low end for power takeoffs and quick acceleration while still getting high mileage… We expect to get more than 40 mpg highway, better than with some hybrids.” Well, that sounds worth the wait, right? Well, in yet another Lutzie-worthy performance, Maximum Bob shoots his argument in the foot by revealing that “The 1.4 liter goes on sale in Europe in a couple weeks.” So then why is the Cruze not available until the mythical land of “late 2010?” Instead of waiting for the engine, is it possible GM’s waiting for, say, low-interest government loans for retooling factories to build more fuel-effiecient cars? Bet on it.