Between The Lines: Bob Lutz's "Working Hard on Tomorrow, Today"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
between the lines bob lutzs working hard on tomorrow today

In 2001, Robert A. Lutz jumped on the GM gravy train as the automaker’s vice chairman of product development. Since then, The General has continued its inexorable march to oblivion. Car-wise, Lutz’ regime has been marked by brand-defiling badge engineering and a seemingly endless stream of “nearly there” products. And yet the automaker’s camp followers continue to give Lutz a free pass. There’s only one reason for this blind spot: they don’t pay attention to what he does OR what he says. Perhaps they failed to notice that the guy’s got a blog.

Maximum Bob’s latest FastLane entry arrived the day CEO Rick Wagoner revealed his new new new new turnaround plan. Once again, there were no sales or market share targets, or a date for a return to profitability. So, once more into the breach dear Maximo. After all, vehicles, the income side of the ledger, are Lutz’ thing.

“Working Hard on Tomorrow Today.” At the risk of sounding like a Bugs Bunny routine, what happened to working hard on today yesterday? We’ll get to that.

“As you’ve no doubt heard me say before, we've made a lot of progress in the past few years at General Motors. And we’ve delivered on what we said we would do. We went from having, at least in North America, some mediocre products to having acclaimed products that are selling extremely well, especially on the passenger car side. In June, for example, in a slow market, our retail car sales were up 8 percent.”

It’s hard to criticize Bob for failing to deliver on his promises when he doesn’t specify what promises he’s talking about. Not that this really matters. Again, GM’s various turnaround plans have had about as much “granularity” as a house-sized boulder.

But Bob’s numbers are deliberately, shamefully misleading. In June, GM’s passenger car sales fell 18.3 percent. Year-to-date, they're down 8.2 percent. To spin an 18.3 percent drop as an eight percent rise, Bob’s using adjusted sales numbers (for “selling days”) and inserted the word “retail” (as opposed to total, retail AND fleet).

Anyway, who cares? Every single one of GM’s eight NA brands lost sales and market share in June. Trucks, upon which GM’s income is staked, were down 24 percent. And falling fast.

“But even with all the changes we've made and the actions we've taken, our business results aren't yet what we want them to be. Why not? What went wrong?”

Hey Bob, what EXACTLY do you want your business results to be? Oh right, sorry. Ahem.

Maximum Bob blames GM's woes on a “generalized economic weakness due to the mortgage meltdown,” a “big decline in the dollar” and “an unpredictable and very rapid rise in fuel prices.” So much for personal accountability.

“’They should have seen it [gas price rises] coming.’ My answer to that is nobody saw it coming. Not the economists, not the governments, not the oil companies, not the smartest pundits in the world — no one saw it coming, not this kind of rise.”

I’ve got plenty of Death Watch ammo to debate that point. But the bottom line is this: if your entire business model depends on gas prices, shouldn’t you be ready for sudden, dramatic gas price inflation? Especially if it’s happened before. Twice. And if you’re NOT ready, who’s fault is that? Nobody’s?

“And to say that we recklessly and stupidly kept producing trucks in the face of it is just wrong. In fact, if we hadn’t kept producing trucks before the fuel prices rose, we would’ve been in a lot worse shape, and a lot more quickly. And if everyone is so smart except us, how come most of our import competition was rapidly rushing into the full-size truck market, just as the party was almost over?”

TTAC’s Best and Brightest will no doubt make mincemeat of this tomfoolery. The question is, does Bob Lutz actually believe it? The answer is, I’m afraid, yes. The statement reveals Lutz’s ignorance, arrogance, petulance, vindictiveness and complete lack of situational awareness.

“Being a leader means doing what must be done. Let it not be said that we won't make the calls and take the actions that are necessary to keep GM viable and ensure that we remain the best automaker in the world — which I fully believe we are and will remain.”

GM's management hasn’t made the calls and taken the actions necessary to keep GM viable and ensure profitability, never mind being the biggest or “best” automaker in the world. There I said it.

“So while some may choose to see the glass half-empty, I couldn't disagree more, or more loudly. As the saying goes, "Those who say something is impossible should refrain from interrupting those who are doing it."

Don’t you mean “if” they’re doing it?

[read Bob Lutz' FastLane blog here.]

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2 of 44 comments
  • Philipwitak Philipwitak on Jul 22, 2008

    MgoBLUE Says: "One has to leave Southeastern Michigan for a few years to be able to see the truth. Believe me, I’ve been there." July 21st, 2008 at 12:44 pm me too. i've lived in san diego since 1982, but i was born in flint michigan [the birthplace of general motors]. i grew up in mott park [named after charles stewart mott; at the time one of the world's ten wealthiest men and the single largest stockholder of gm] - only two blocks from the general motors institute of technology. i attended durant-turri-mott school. my father worked for gm his entire life. my brother just recently retired from gm after 35 years on the job. his wife too, after more than 30, herself. as did one of my uncles and one of my cousins. when and where i grew up, even fords and chryslers were considered foreign cars. almost everybody on my street either worked directly or indirectly for gm. and if you didn't own and operate gm product you were, for all practical purposes, ostracized from the community. i know this very well myself because when i bought my last gm car - a '68 buick gransport 400 - in 1969 and then sold it later that same year in favor a '66 jaguar e-type coupe, i became persona non grata - even within my own family - for quite a long period of time. despite that unfortunate turn of events, i have known and respected and appreciated gm for decades because of all that that company has meant to me and my family over the years. it put food on our tables and roofs over our heads. and it enabled us to get good educations. but, in all honesty, one must admit that gm has had its chances. plenty of 'em. and it blew 'em, time after time after time. and i do not blame the employees, nor their union representatives, or even consumers for any of this. the highest echelon of gm management - at least as far back as roger smith and as recently as bob 'he's nuts' lutz - these are the people who have destroyed this company; due to their ignorance, and their arrogance and their incompetence; and they are the people who should be held responsible for this impending disaster. because they were the people leading the charge and they were the people making the decisions.

  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on Jul 22, 2008

    If GM's culture wasn't that of the proverbial tired swimmer, they would not need a visionary leader. Unfortunately, the culture of the company does not hold up excellence in design and execution as important. After they are bailed out by the Feds (aka all 300mm taxpayers), nothing will change. Chrysler had Iacocca, and today, Ford has Mulally to force the company to change. GM has no one. I worked with a guy who worked at GM and left within 18 months because, as he put it, they don't want to hear the truth about who they are. GM is a terminally ill organization. Keeping a feeding tube attached hides the real problems. GM needs to die. The sooner the inevitable happens, the sooner a suitor can break it apart and save the few productive pieces.

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.