General Motors Death Watch 105: Bob Lutz Screws the Pooch

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Writing in his Fastlane Blog, GM Car Czar Bob Lutz recently claimed that proposals to raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by four percent per year would “effectively hand the truck and SUV market over to the imports, particularly the Japanese, who have earned years of accumulated credits from their fleets of formerly very small cars." Wrong. First, CAFE credits were never transferable between cars and light trucks. Second, as of ’07, light truck CAFE standards are gone; replaced by target mileage figures based on a vehicle’s footprint. Third, even when there WERE such things as CAFE credits for light trucks, Toyota, Honda and Nissan never used them. Fourth, Bob Lutz is an idiot.

Some time ago, we pointed out that an auto industry executive who can’t name Volkswagen’s brands wasn’t an ideal choice for Vice Chairman of Global Product Development. We’ve also chronicled the numerous occasions when Maximum Bob’s betrayed his firmly held belief that firmly held beliefs trump reality, even when they don’t. And now he’s taking on both environmentalists and the federal government without having a clue what he’s talking about.

It’s hard to believe that this uninformed loose cannon was hired to be GM’s “car guy”: the man charged with lifting GM’s products from their fug of mediocrity into a brave new world of stunning design, peerless powertrains and world class interiors. Feel free to debate Lutz’ handiwork thus far, but I reckon the majority of The General’s new products continue down the path marked not-quite, me-too, also-ran, we’re getting there, you just wait and WTF. The fact that GM’s Car Czar is still around to say stupid things on his blog (and in the media) says bad things about CEO Rick Wagoner’s management skills.

If you’re wondering why Wagoner lets Lutz get away with spouting politically incorrect nonsense, it’s because what Lutz says, others think. Face it: GM’s Board of Bystanders doesn’t pay an employee over $6m per year and give him his very own blog if his opinions fly in the face of his equally well-compensated peers. So when Bob gripes that more stringent CAFE standards would put domestic manufacturers “at odds with the desires of most of our customers, namely larger vehicles,” you can bet that the “bigger is better” mantra is alive and well at RenCen.

Yes, despite resurgent environmentalism and the effects of the Iraq war on the American motorist’s psyche (i.e. increasing their concern about fuel consumption), Maximum Bob’s mob continues to believe that U.S. consumers want the biggest damn vehicle they can afford, period. In Bob’s world, it’s all about size: “I’m the guy on record who compared forcing automakers to sell smaller cars to improve fuel economy with fighting the nation’s obesity problem by forcing clothing manufacturers to sell garments in only small sizes.”

Bob believes that CAFE regulations are a government plot to thwart the will of the American people and shoehorn them into uncomfortable cars. Bob’s subsequent proposition– higher gas prices are a fairer and more compelling way to get Americans to drive “very small cars”– is not without merit. Of course, MB quickly assures his readers that he’s not advocating higher gas prices. No, bio-fuels are the “real way to save fuel”– until GM can realize the “electrification” of its vehicles (which, presumably, the government won’t encourage force anyone to buy).

According to Maximum Bob, as long as gas costs around $2 a gallon, “people will exercise their freedom to buy the vehicle they want, V8 engine and all.” In other words, Americans are selfish bastards who will buy gas-guzzling land yachts– unless they can’t afford to. Even if you agree with this sentiment and reject my depiction of MB as a clueless blowhard whose ideas date back to the days when Detroit dismissed small (yes small) imported cars as “Jap crap,” you have to admit that he’s making all the wrong noises.

The question is, who’s listening? The comments immediately following Bob’s post indicate he’s preaching to the choir. Our own ThriftyTechie spoke for many: “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” But after Bob’s message hit the mainstream media, the comments grow more… impatient. “Quit whining,” Chris R chides. “GM should be faster to market with products that people want to buy.” As GM’s PR bouncers pre-approve all published comments, one wonders how many more vitriolic reactions were swept under the e-rug. Plenty, I’d guess.

But again, the more important audience for Bob’s “Season’s rantings” lies within GM. If GM’s Car Czar can slam CAFE standards with irrational, bellicose, self-righteous and petulant impunity, in public, what effect does his anti-efficiency argument have on the thousands of designers, engineers, pencil pushers and bean counters further down the GM food chain? With Maximum Bob Lutz calling the shots for GM's product portfolio, The General doesn't have a hope in Hell of pulling itself out of its current tailspin. Blog that Bob.

[Click here for "Season's Rantings" on GM's Fastlane blog.]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Toxie2725 Toxie2725 on Jan 05, 2007

    I have to honoestly say that yes, I would prefer to drive a Pilot over a CRV. Does that make me evil, irresponable? No it doesen't, although YOU seem to think [quote] Americans are selfish bastards who will buy gas-guzzling land yachts– unless they can’t afford to.[/quote] THat buying a SUV to tow something, haul a large family cumfortably, or just because you WANT to. It isnt selfish - any more then shoving YOUR values (enviromentalism) off on other people. People will drive - FIRST AND FOREMOST - what they can afford. That is simple economics, not selfishness.

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