By on February 11, 2009

We all knew it would happen. The Lutz does not die with a whimper. In a farewell interview, GM’s lame duck car czar gave The New York Times‘ Bill Vlasic the most maximum farewell quotes yet. “We are a country that hates its own industry,” roars Lutz in our general direction. What’s that again, Bob? “The auto industry may be partly at fault for its situation, but not entirely.” Oh. Good. How’s the retirement plan? But Maximum Bob did a maximum job. Given what Curly might call the coicumstances. “If this is just the beginning of a very catastrophic economic situation, then all bets are off for everybody, and that includes our most esteemed Japanese competitors,” quips Lutz. Yes, if. On the other hand, if things do get worse, it won’t be the esteemed Japanese competition that will be elbowing GM in the stimulus line. Or out of the stimulus line. Hint hint. But don’t worry. Everything is going to be just maximum. Specifically, Lutz is “convinced that when everyone is staring at the reality of the situation, and also staring at the alternative, that they will make the right decisions.” Yes, but how long do they have to stare?

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36 Comments on “Bob Lutz: So Long, And Thanks For All The, Uh, Cash...”


  • avatar
    holydonut

    Someone has to remind me how he got his nickname of Maximum Bob. I mean there’s a story about Parcells as The Tuna, so there has to be a story behind Maximum Bob.

    I wonder when was the first time that Bob Lutz started to hate going to work…

  • avatar

    @holydonut

    Believe that was RF’s doing, the nickname.

    And MaxiBob was clear on when he started hating going to work. That was when he had to stand in line at the airport when going for a flight, after the Detroit 2.8 descended on Washington D.C. in their jets.

    “I’ve never quite been in this situation before of getting a massive pay cut, no bonus, no longer allowed to stay in decent hotels, no corporate airplane,” GM Car Czar Bob Lutz tells NPR radio. “I have to stand in line at the Northwest counter. I’ve never quite experienced this before. I’ll let you know a year from now what it’s like.”

    Bob pulled the reserve chute.

  • avatar
    NickR

    The auto industry may be partly at fault

    Thanks for that final bon mot Bob. In denial and full of bluster to the very end. I am holding the door Bob…hurry up!!!

  • avatar
    shaker

    Goes to show: When the going gets tough, the tough get… gone.

    Max Bob’s leaving brings to mind “Caddyshack” – Bill Murray’s charater “Carl”, slinking away after blowing Bushwood to smithereens.

  • avatar
    mikey

    “We are a country that hates its own industry”
    Do the Germans bad mouth thier industry?
    How about the Japanese beating up on Toyota?

    So Mr Lutz tells it like it is,but nobody wants to listen.So guess what, lets laugh and ridicule the messenger.We don’t want to hear the message.

  • avatar
    Jared

    This continual beating up of Bob Lutz is really getting old. Before Bob arrived at GM, there wasn’t a single GM car that most of us would consider buying. There are several GM cars now that many of us would consider. They are light years ahead of the crap GM was selling previously.

    But turning GM is like turning an oil tanker — it takes a lot of time. It was too little, too late.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    We don’t hate the industry. We hate the greedhead nincompoops who run it.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Robert Schwartz, you have it. I remember when GM was revered, Ford was respected and Chrysler was the little engine that could. Real men put decals on their Ford’s and Chevy trucks showing a little boy peeing on the other trucks logo. They would argue over too many beers about which one was better. People went to their grave owning one brand of cars for their entire life. Oh please, no self pity from Bob Lutz, the industry and indirectly the American public gave him a good living for many years. In fact, it gave too many years of good living to too many execs.

  • avatar
    TaurusGT500

    holydonut: Someone has to remind me how he got his nickname of Maximum Bob. I mean there’s a story about Parcells as The Tuna, so there has to be a story behind Maximum Bob.

    Maximum Bob was the name of a book, and a character in the book, by Elmore Leonard the renowned gritty, Detroit-based crime fiction writer. …sort of a latter day Raymond Chander.

    That may have been part of the inspiration but who knows?

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Maximum Bob reminds me of Brucie in Grand Theft Auto 4– “Totally ALPHA, baby, yes! I am genetically superior!”

  • avatar

    After a call to his contract attorney, he decided that he was better off if he bailed now, instead of waiting to see what a Bankruptcy Court would do to his contract. The Obama salary cap would not cover his fighter jet repair costs.

  • avatar

    But turning GM is like turning an oil tanker — it takes a lot of time. It was too little, too late.

    Close: The analogy is “Titanic”, and a perfectly good radio room shut down early, as not to hear the warning from other ships, “icebergs seen in area”.

  • avatar

    I gave Maximum Bob his Maximum Bob moniker. When writing a GM DW, it struck me that Lutz was like those Old School judges known for imposing maximum sentences no matter what. Macho, intolerant, arrogant, utterly contemptuous of those who don’t see things THEIR way and convinced that God put them on this earth to impose their will on lesser men.

  • avatar
    Jared

    Robert:

    Your description of Bob Lutz is far removed from those who have actually worked with him. For example, from a letter to Autoextremist:

    It was my pleasure to be at one of the “other” car companies for which Mr. Lutz worked before going to GM.

    It’s difficult to describe his contributions there in a short note. One of many outstanding talents he brought to the table was the simple fact that he could tell a good car from a bad one. That’s sadly lacking in much of the modern auto industry.

    I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time with him day-to-day but I saw him enough to notice that he was always a gentleman in meetings and never talked down to us “worker bees” during product development discussions.

    I always laughed when he’d grumble about the fact that some of his top decision-makers spent their weekends on the tennis courts instead of at the various car-related activities available in the Detroit area. He was certainly missed when he left the “other” car company as I’m sure he will be missed at GM.

    Your vitriolic hatred of the man is clouding your judgment.

  • avatar

    Mr. Lutz is the Poster Boy for the two reasons WHY we “hate our own industry”**, namely the fact that overpaid buffoons are running it into the ground, blaming their (former) customers for all their ills, while they ride off into the sunset with bags of undeserved money.

    The other reason of course is the persistent myths these buffoons carry about their (former) customers: That they ALL want V-8 powered barges, they ALL want automatic transmissions, that NONE of them want small, economical, cars with choices in powertrains. They kept on producing machines built to fit the loopholes instead of the real market, allowing Toyota, Honda, et al to serve the majority actual market needs. Now they are so far behind the market that they are pushing vaporware in desperation. For this, they blame the customers?

    If you truly believe in your convictions Mr. Lutz, why don’t you stay and face the music instead of taking the money and running?

    **And honestly Bob, we don’t really hate our own industry, we just choose not to buy crap. It’s called Capitalism Mr. Lutz. We choose based on OUR needs, nothing else. GM has produced a LOT of car-shaped crap. Don’t blame us for your inability to build something that isn’t crap.

    BTW: I LOVE the look of the Solstice. Classic roadster. Wonderful looking car. But it is still roadster-shaped crap. Only GM could build a 2-seat roadster that gets 19/25 MPG.

    –chuck

  • avatar

    Jared :

    Alternatively, their gushing hero worship is clouding theirs.

  • avatar
    Jared

    Robert:

    That is a possibility. Of course, they’ve actually worked with Bob Lutz and seen how he treated other employees first hand. Have you?

  • avatar

    Jared :

    His colleagues may have taken a bullet for the guy. So what? By thy deeds thy shall be known.

    There’s no getting around it. Bob Lutz’ tenure as GM’s Car Czar was an abject failure. Don’t take my word for it (as if). Look at the numbers.

    There is myth. And there is reality. At least there is outside of GM.

  • avatar
    mel23

    Lutz’s timing on his latest ‘blame the customer’ tantrum could be better, given it appears on the same day the IIHS puts out their results of tests of side impact safety provided by large pickups. And where do the offerings of GM come in? Dead LAST. Even with OPTIONAL side air bags. In keeping with GM tradition of dragging their asses on safety features in general, no torso side bags are available even as an option. So GM’s Silverado/Sierra earn a (piss) poor rating. Both the lack of a torso bag and the weak structure combine to put at risk the driver of GM’s product. Why that’s enough to make said driver hate the manufacturer, or at least avoid their products. Not surprisingly, Toyota’s Tundra, Honda’s Ridgeline and the F150 get a good rating. So we have another indicator that Mulally’s Ford gets it while the Wagoner/Lutz team does not. I wish somebody would ask Wagoner how the hell he comes up with the idea that GM has “the best management team” as he likes to say.

  • avatar
    Jared

    Robert:

    If all you were doing was arguing about GM’s failure in the marketplace and his part in that, I could understand that point of view. I’d still argue that without his contribution, GM would be in a far worse place. We could have a polite and interesting disagreement over that.

    But you go farther to say:

    Macho, intolerant, arrogant, utterly contemptuous of those who don’t see things THEIR way and convinced that God put them on this earth to impose their will on lesser men

    when it appears that you have never even worked with the guy, and others who have say otherwise. Are those the words of someone who is looking at him objectively?

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    “We are a country that hates its own industry,”

    Just like a beaten, abused spouse hates the ex that breaks down the door and steals their stuff.

    Maximum Bob, if you bother to replace “spouse” with “GM customer” and “stuff” with “tax dollars”, you might get a clue why we’re all haters.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “We are a country that hates its own industry”

    If so Bob, it all started with an industry which heaped scorn and disinterest on its own customers.

  • avatar

    Jared :

    What IS your point? That Bob Lutz is a nice guy and a great leader? Or that I’m an ignorant, self-righteous, Detroit-hating, pompous prick? If it’s the latter, you are hardly the first nor the only person to hold this view.

    I met Bob three times. Asked him questions. Observed him. I’ve also read other accounts. Listened to interviews. Watched his speeches. In fact, I’ve followed MB’s career as Car Czar– both words and deeds– on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

    But again, so what? Robert Lutz was paid tens of millions of dollars to develop profitable automobiles. He failed to do so. The buck stops there.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    “We are a country that hates its own industry.”

    Yes, because automobiles are the only US industry, right Lutz?

    By market cap the US auto industry is a negligible part of the US economy.

    The only reason the automakers got to go to DC and beg, while Circuit City went bankrupt, is that Circuit City’s uneducated workers do not have a powerful union, while the automakers’ uneducated workers do.

    Americans aren’t anti-American origin, they are simply indifferent about origin. Americans buy what is best.

    The Detroit (not American, but a self-righteous, pigheaded, group of companies that have chosen to stay in the rust belt) automakers have historically made crap. And many of their cars still are, while Hyundai makes cars better and cheaper. Guess who had a double digit sales increase in January while Detroit automakers fell 40 percent or more.

    Our computers are made by Dell and run Windows.

    Our life saving prescriptions are domestic.

    Our military equipment is domestic (except for that made in Britain, which, despite the death of Leyland, still has a military industrial complex).

    Our movies are made by LA based production companies.

    Our financial institutions are domestic.

    All of our major retailers are domestic.

    Even the cars that we prefer are domestically built, but assembled by non-UAW workers that work in the most efficient, quality ensuring way. And designed by companies that, unlike the Detroit automakers, are not myopic with complete disdain for their customers.

    Lutz knows better. He is Swiss. Switzerland has no auto industry but is one of the wealthiest per-capita European countries. It also hosts the largest European auto show.

    If Lutz wants to know who America really hates it is the managers, dealers and UAW that have bankrupt the Detroit automakers and continue destroy any hope that the Detroit automakers will ever be viable.

    Americans want the Detroit automakers to go through Chapter 11 so that they can rid themselves of those parasites (unfortunately the parasites have already killed Chrysler, some parts of it can possibly be harvested, but then it needs to be buried).

    Free of those parasites Ford and GM can again become great automakers.

  • avatar

    Remind me, please: which automotive inventions have GM championed since the late 1960s?

    And which automotive improvements, particularly in safety features, has GM actively lobbied against, since the late 1950s? Actively, viciously, death match lobbied against, that is …

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “We are a country that hates its own industry.”

    No, no we’re not. We’re a country that expects competence. We love our Accords and Camrys and Sonatas and F-150s that are well designed and well built right here in the ol’ USA.

    I don’t hate MB. I do believe he hit a few solid singles and doubles while on duty. I do believe he was one of the ones fighting the entrenched mindset at GM to get some decent cars out – like the CTS, the Malibu, the Tahoe, the Corvette. But that’s a pretty thin resume for all the time and power he consumed. And his constant MBisms (foot in mouth) didn’t help. Maybe, like with W, we found for all MB’s swagger there wasn’t much behind the curtain.

    More and more, it looks like Billy Ford had a streak of brilliance when he realized that for all his efforts, he was not to one who was going to be able to turn Ford around. While he’s had a few strikeouts, Mullaly has done an incredible job at Ford….hopefully he’s not too late.

  • avatar
    tedward

    This still hasn’t convinced me, in any way, that Lutz has hurt GM. He had terminally damaged brands and worst-in-the-world product to improve upon at his arrival and he did so. Everyone cites the “halo” cars that he championed as evidence that he is out of touch, conveniently ignoring the fact that mainstream cars and SUV’s have also been developed to make actual money. The Malibu for instance, is class competitive, something which could not be said at GM before his tenure, and I bet the Cruze will be too.

    So what’s the beef? How else would he repair damaged brands besides showcasing their talent? Make the platform sharers and then just quit, hoping someone notices they’re better? The brands are all gonna get platform shared mass market cars and SUV’s anyway, the question is can they interest customers in their products while those hit the market? I get the impression that what everyone is criticizing him for is not following the established GM practice of just marketing the piss out of awful cars through every possible division and taking no risks, impressing no one, which is exactly what got GM in this mess in the first place. Lutz, at least, seemed to care that the customer knew what he was getting was a quality product, made by people who give a shit and know something about cars. Admittedly there wasn’t enough time to convince people away from their Camry’s, especially not in this current economic climate, but that seems to be a proper criticism of his bosses and predecessors, not him.

    Just saying that the buck stops at Lutz is a convenient way to vent anger at an easy target (very easy with his big mouth, he’s a brat in public and maybe not so bright), without actually discussing the cause of GM’s current predicament, which obviously predates him. That cause is a very interesting topic, with lots to argue about, but I don’t see how this Lutz hating even gets at it.

  • avatar
    tedward

    That said, I find what he said above annoying and inaccurate, “We are a country that hates its own industry,” No, we hate that, GM especially, but Ford and Chrysler as well, have been making the worst cars on our market for most of our lifetimes. He’s come out before and admitted GM’s awful past perfomance (which I think was highly comendable) so to backtrack like this just demonstrates the folly of letting the man speak in public.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    How do you spell DELUSIONAL?

  • avatar

    I’m going to put words in Michael Karesh’s mouth here and say that the primary problem with GM, again, is a corporate culture that could fairly be described as cancerous. That’s been the case since at least the mid-1960s, and it continues to be broken.

    As far as I can see, Lutz’s main accomplishment (as at Chrysler) was championing certain projects that appealed to his personal tastes, which otherwise might not have made it through the endless ranks of committees and second-guessing that characterizes GM decision making. Even then, just like at Chrysler, he wasn’t able to prevent those designs from being hobbled by GM’s characteristic bean counting and infighting.

    Would GM be worse off without him? I doubt it. There might not have been a GTO or a G8, but the sales figures of the former give a good indication of how many (or rather, how few) people would really have cared.

    Product aside, I think Maximum Bob has had a negative impact on GM’s public image. Lutz’s public arrogance may go over great with the enthusiast press, but it becomes a pretty damning statement about the attitude and obliviousness of GM’s leadership. What does it say about the leaders of a company who will let their ‘product czar’ run his mouth off? Either that they endorse his viewpoint — which makes them as arrogant and clueless as Lutz — or that they just don’t care, which would make them MORE arrogant and clueless.

    I freely admit that Lutz has become the public face of everything I find obnoxious and contemptible about GM management. I only wish he had a pink slip, rather than a golden parachute.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Lutz strikes me as a decent tactician but a poor strategist.

    Take the G8, for example. It wasn’t at all bad idea to take a decent platform from another market and use it in the US. It was a good idea to look outside of the US operation for suitable platforms, a nice break from GM’s usual not-invented-here mindset. It’s a much better car than what GM has delivered in the past, so it is a good step forward in many ways.

    But the car was poorly wrongly branded, poorly positioned and not as well executed as it should have been, with nasty styling cues that were unnecessarily gaudy and questionable reliability. The price point is inappropriate for the brand, and the car overlaps with other vehicles in the GM lineup, which necessarily compete with it. Overall, the G8 seems to have been created in a vacuum, with no consideration for how it fits into the big picture.

    That product example summarizes what is both good and bad about the man. It’s nice that he likes cars, but he seems to have no vision at all, resulting in expensive initiatives that go nowhere. By not fixing the brand problem, he effectively perpetuated it, which only makes things worse.

    I’m going to put words in Michael Karesh’s mouth here and say that the primary problem with GM, again, is a corporate culture that could fairly be described as cancerous.

    That’s true, but it is the role of senior managers such as Lutz to redefine the culture. These changes must come from the top; if not Lutz and Wagoner, who else would you expect to fix it?

    The perception problem/ gas guzzling posturing goes along with that. Lutz only made himself look foolish by attacking the Prius, which went on to be far more successful for Toyota than were any of his creations for GM. He perpetuates the message to GM’s middle management that the problem is with the consumer, not with the company.

    It’s no wonder that GM makes so little progress. Since Lutz et. al. don’t believe it to be broken, why would they bother fixing it?

  • avatar
    tedward

    Pch101
    Hasn’t Lutz been one of the few to openly acknowledge how screwed up GM product was (well, at least relative to other execs)? It was the reason everyone talked him up so much and the reason that he was hired in the first place, I don’t see how he lost sight of that. He became a rock star b/c he was the one who got it (and brought results).

    What alternative focus could he have embraced? True, GM should have a good sub-compact, but that’s not a strategy to be applied across GM’s destroyed brands, it’s a one chassis (low return) idea. They have a DI 4 cylinder, waiting to be applied to new models, they have a competitive chassis in most major segments (or on the way) and interior quality has definitely improved. The only thing left to do is kill brands, trim distribution networks and get rid of bad cars. While it would be greatly appreciated I’d bet large that Lutz never had the authority to say, “take the Cobalt and Aveo out and shoot them, as they’re destroying our image.”

    Everything else he’s criticized for makes sense, the high paycheck, idiotic public comments, and to some extent the continuation of the branding issues (I do agree with the G8 criticisms; overpriced and understyled they are).

  • avatar

    But again, so what? Robert Lutz was paid tens of millions of dollars to develop profitable automobiles. He failed to do so. The buck stops there.

    Robert,

    It takes 2 years minimum to make a new car. With so many brands and models, I don’t think anyone could have revamped GM’s entire line up in the seven years that Lutz has been there. There are just too many models to update or replace.

    Lutz has unarguably gotten GM more product focused and their most recent products reflect his influence, particularly interior improvements.

    Did he make mistakes? In the rush to get the Solstice to market the interior was shortchanged. Marketing an iconic American muscle car brand like the GTO slapped on an Australian import posed inherent problems, and the G8 should have been an Impala. None of those mistakes, though, were because the products were mediocre.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    The irony is that a lot of the reason why I hate their industry is because they think that people should buy their cars simply because corporate HQ is in the US. The sense of entitlement and blaming of the consumer has turned me off of the D3 for a lifetime.

  • avatar
    WhatTheHel

    I’m no fan of MaxiBob but I still think 10 Lutzes would have done less damage to GM than Rick Wagonburner and GM’s Bored Directors have done.
    You want to pass blame then go right to the top.

  • avatar
    thoots

    Screw ’em — let ’em die. Heck, they’ve already outsourced a huge amount of their manufacturing to Mexico and Canada. If I have to explain it to you, THOSE AREN’T US JOBS.

    Yes, many people hate the US automakers. They just got tired of spending good money on unreliable crap that these monkeys have been spewing out for decades.

    I’m sorry, but to hell with them. Maybe they’re not selling the absolutely worst, most unreliable pieces of crap on the market anymore, but you know what? I JUST DON’T TRUST THAT ANYTHING HAS CHANGED. Let some other poor schmuck give them their money. I won’t. After the last forty years of their garbage, I just can’t.


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