By on February 9, 2009

Bob Lutz was not the worst thing to happen to General Motors. He was the second worst thing after CEO Rick Wagoner. Lutz’ legacy will not be the critically acclaimed vehicles attached to his name: the Cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Malibu or Pontiac G8. It will be the fact that GM’s vice chairman of global product development annihilated whatever remained of GM’s brand-related equity. Bob Lutz ran General Motors into the ground.

Lutz’ career at GM proves the old adage that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Oh hell, Lutz was the problem. Within weeks of Lutz’ elevation to Car Czar, TTAC sounded the alarm. In one of his earliest interviews, a reporter asked Lutz about Volkswagen’s prospects. Astoundingly, GM’s Car Czar couldn’t name more than three of VW’s brands.

While you might expect the identity of the German automakers’ divisions to catch out a pistonhead at a pub quiz, Lutz was the newly-appointed head of development for the world’s largest automaker. If Bob Lutz didn’t have mental access to this type of competitive information, how could he possibly craft a coherent strategy for GM?

Lutz apologists flew to his defense. This quickly became a habitual practice. In subsequent years, the automotive media focused its attention on Lutz’ mal mots: his allegedly recidivist views on the auto industry’s place within society. The so-called “crock of shit” problem was actually thinly-disguised admiration.

The press painted Lutz as the straight-talking, cigar-chomping representative of an earlier time, a time when V8 engines—and GM—ruled the earth. And they loved him for it. What the media missed: how often Lutz’ opinions about the car business were ill-informed, misguided and just plain wrong.

This is the hugely compensated automotive executive that today called the Pontiac GTO “my proudest accomplishment.” After all, “That’s the car that got us convinced that we could use the global product development scheme. Up until then, no one had tried anything like that.”

Maximum Bob is, once again, flat out wrong; the “world car” idea is as old the auto industry itself. Worse: the Australian-built GTO was an abject failure. The GTO lost GM tens of millions of dollars, squandered precious development resources and drove yet another Lutz-shaped nail into Pontiac’s coffin.

You could, however, make the case that the GTO was the quintessential Lutz-mobile: a romantic expression of his personal taste that fell flat on its face. A product that Lutz quickly abandoned in search of . . . the next big thing. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. For models within brands AND the brands themselves.

Lutz never developed anything remotely resembling a coherent, focused and determined product development strategy. Automotive Attention Deficiency Disorder characterized Lutz’ tenure. Everywhere you looked, GM under Lutz was a company typified by frenetic indecisiveness. The rear wheel-drive Zeta platform program was on-again, off-again no less than seven times.

In 2005, Lutz described Buick and Pontiac as damaged brands. The media thought it a “come to Jesus moment,” withdrawn to serve GM’s PC PR needs. But it was Lutz himself who had damaged the brands. And it was Lutz who continued to kick the brands when they were down. Lutz was guilty of sins of commission (a staggering stream of badge engineered mediocrity) and omission (a singular failure to define a profitable brand remit for ANY of GM’s divisions).

Lutz’ epic incompetence was matched only by his swagger and bravado. His enablers ate it up, adding to Maximum Bob’s egomaniacal ignorance. The fact that the media perpetuated Maximum Bob’s nickname without irony—a moniker I invented in a moment of disgust—shows you the kind of bubble that protected and extended Lutz’s befuddled sphere of influence.

Although, saying that, one wonders how much power Bob Lutz actually held within the loony labyrinth of backstabbing RenCen bureaucrats that is General Motors. Did Lutz argue for the Chevy Traverse or just let it happen? Did the Powers That Be appease Lutz with his pet projects (e.g., the Pontiac Solstice) so they could do whatever they wanted to maintain the dysfunctional status quo upon which they depended?

There is no question in my mind that Bob Lutz’ resignation was motivated by personal greed. Let’s not forget Lutz’ reply to the [first] suggestion that he take a haircut to show his devotion to the team: “I already gave at the office.” By stepping aside now, the man who scoffed at the question “Is your pension bankruptcy proof?” is making damn well sure it is.

Like so many failed American executives, Lutz will not personally suffer for having ruined the livelihoods of tens of thousands of his underlings. He will sleep well, eat well, travel luxuriously and, worst of all, continue to receive the respect of his peers. He doesn’t deserve any of it, as history will one day decide.

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114 Comments on “Editorial: General Motors Death Watch 230: How Bob Lutz Destroyed GM...”


  • avatar
    Spitfire

    ah truthiness, gotta love it

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Gee Robert, tell us what you really think.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Lutz’s biggest failing was the lack of will to cut bait on those “damaged” brands. Had he been willing or able to do that, GM’s development dollars wouldn’t have been spread so thin across the brands. As it stands now, each GM brand has one or two outstanding products, stuck in the middle of crap. How great would it have been if the G8 had been the new Impala and the Solstice a new compact Chevy? Or the Enclave as the new SRX instead of a rebadged Vue? Or the LaCrosse as a new entry Caddy to compete with the ES350 to complement the CTS? Or if he had been able to get the Astra over here unchanged as the Cobalt?

    It could have been so different..

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Mr Farago I got mixed feeling concerning Bob Lutz.I agree,his time is up.I have to ask though,would GM be in better position today,if Bob Lutz hadn’t come aboard when he did?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ RF

    Has Lutz made a claim to a connection with G8/Commodore? Speaking with people involved, I’m not aware that he had ANY involvement in the nearly pure Australian project. Maybe he popped the head in the door (in a tele-conference sense) and asked if everyone was OK for donuts/coffee.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    Lutz was most definitely a failure, but I think you’re attributing too many of GM’s problems to his decisions.

    Perhaps the biggest area where you’re flat out wrong is in regards to branding. Pontiac, Buick, GMC, and to a lesser extent, Chevy, were all damaged brands prior to Lutz being hired. Lutz wasn’t the one that greenlighted badge-engineered crap that plagued those brands for most of the 90s; Lutz wasn’t the one that decided it was a good idea to continue that badge-engineering into the 21st century. Sure, the Lambda family was a curious departure from an earlier move away from badge-engineering, but that move was likely driven by the beancounters and red-ink Rick being desperate to make up ANY volume from the loss of truck sales.

    A better way of analyzing Lutz would be to identify him as an impotent executive. While it is nice (and easy and convenient) to blame him for all the problems, he couldn’t (and didn’t) do jack squat to affect GM’s product development and corporate culture.

    He is the quintessential anti-Mulally. He came to GM and didn’t try to change anything. He didn’t challenge management, he didn’t throw the beancounters out on their asses, and he didn’t demand of the BOD a drastic change in how GM as a company operated.

    To be blunt, you’re giving the old man too much credit for crashing and burning GM.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I think that you give Lutz waaay too much credit. I don’t think that there’s anyone at GM that could have turned that puppy around. No one is either that powerful or has that intestinal fortitude to have done the needed things that were oh, so necessary.

    Look at what happened to Perot. He was a harbinger of the TTAC Deathwatch back in the 80’s and was bought off and shuffled away from the corridors of power. No one since has come anywhere close to that. That’s why a milquetoast like Wagoner has been allowed to stay in charge all these years… he’s “safe”. Uh huh. Lutz could flap his yap all he wants but in actual leverage he didn’t have much. He was a literal mouthpiece, not a general.

  • avatar
    RNader

    Ah…Bob Lutz

    I’ll always remember him at the Detroit Auto Show a few years back. He had a cigar hanging out of his mouth, and he was laughing at the newly launched Toyota Prius. He told the eager press reporters, as they were hanging onto every word he said……….”They will never make a dime on that thing(the Prius)”!

    It was like watching the CEO of Kodak tell the reporters a few years ago…….”digital will never replace film”

    How’s the Volt progressing Mr. Lutz?

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    Wow. You really hate that guy.

    “By stepping aside now, the man who scoffed at the question “Is your pension bankruptcy proof?” is making damn well sure it is.”

    Isn’t he 76 years old?

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think the GTO was a failue because GM called the car “GTO” and Pontiac dealers gouged potential buyers early on. The vehicle itself was pretty good. I never believed Lutz had much to do with its undoing. It was more because of general GM cancer.

    Still, I wouldn’t have called it “my proudest accomplishment.”

  • avatar

    Bridge2far:

    Hate is too strong a word. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “hmm, how can I run GM into the ground?” Lutz did his best.

    Bob Lutz should have never been given that job. The people that put him there, the Board of Directors that kept him there, the media that worshipped him– they are all culpable.

    Consider the wider picture: GM is a huge disaster. Tens of thousands of lives, entire communities, will be destroyed. It could have been avoided.

    I grew up believing in a sense of responsibility. I will keep after all the people who ran GM into the ground. It is no more of less than they deserve.

    Equally important, this company has no future without real leaders who understand the meaning of personal accountability.

    GM could well be past the point of no return. But someone has to sound the alarm.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Did they make money on the Prius?What about the US Prius plant?How about the timing of the Tundra What! Toyota had to change plans cause the market is unpredictable?20,000 jobs gone at Nissan.I thought these Japanese companys were run by genius management that never made errors in judgement.

  • avatar
    unseensightz

    I feel like the whole point of Bob Lutz was missed in this article. He was hired by GM to bring great new products to the lineup, which is exactly what he has done, and he has instilled in GM a new motivation to build high quality, stylish vehicles.

    The pontiac GTO(which was a great vehicle, good driving dynamics, great power, excellent interior), G8, solstice, the G6 although the interior is cheap, it is a well styled vehicle, the cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, Chevy Camaro, Saturn as a brand, its truly amazing the products he has made happen at GM.

    GM has some of the most exciting vehicles out there among brands, whether or not they are profitable or sell well, they are still exciting compared to anything Toyota and Honda have come out with.

    He has also over seen the beginning of the innovation of the car with the Volt, even if it doesnt meet what they say it will, which we dont know because it is still two years off, it will be a great vehicle to kick start the mass production of electric vehicles, and whether or not you agree with him and his beliefs, you have to admit he has done a lot with the products GM puts out.

    And every car company does re badges, and GM no longer does straight up rebadging, the platforms may be the same, but the exterior and interior styling are completely different and the actual dynamics are changed slightly in some cases.

    Either way, he has done great things for GM with their products, and should be remembered for such.

    And to those who say GM is responsible fully for the job losses and such, no one saw the credit crunch coming, which has also caught toyota, who is about to lose 4 billion after a 5 billion profit, both in the same year!, nissan who is laying off 20,000, honda which is laying off and reporting losses in profits, along with every other car maker in the world, save for subura. We forget that GM and Ford were making a profit albeit very small. (for one or two quarters before this hit)

  • avatar

    I personally subscribe to George Carlin’s philosophies on Politicians/Voting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ii1zo6foK1w

    Bob Lutz could not have stayed where he was if he had pissed of shareholders. If they knew he was driving GM into the ground and they allowed him to stay there, then its THEIR FAULT.

    Frankly, I feel the car industry wouldn’t be where it is now if not for the credit crisis. Keep in mind, that the banks themselves would be OUT OF BUSINESS if they hadn’t been bailed out, so the automakers are only that much more vulnerable.

    The controversy around the big3 is due to the right wing conservatives doing their best to break the backs of the unions while trying to manufacture outrage over “corporate jets” when many of them themselves have treated the US government as if it was a piggy bank.

    And the dems are guilty of it too.

    Republicans are the bank robbers and Dems are driving the getaway car.

    My problem is, the Stimulus plan.

    We should not be handing out money for people to spend. We should be using that money to force America back into PRODUCTION so we can sell stuff worldwide. High quality stuff. We can realisticaly sell things to IRAN, NORTH KOREA and CUBA if we open negotiations and trade wth them and tap into their financial markets. Force them to abandon their nuclear goals through diplomacy rather than terror.

  • avatar
    TheRealAutoGuy

    Robert,

    Lutz was never going to be everybody’s cup of tea. On balance, he probably did more to help GM than hurt it.

    More than anyone, he brought back a much-needed focus to GM: building excellent automobiles and trucks. In that regard, I think history will judge him successful.

    As for the rest of the package, he is indeed a handful. While external media loved him (he was always quotable and interesting), inside GM he was less popular and often viewed as a wild card.

    Interestingly, he was the guy who smelled a rat with the Daimler looting of Chrysler.

    If not for Iacocca’s personal dislike of Lutz, Lutz may have become Chrysler CEO instead of the feckless Eaton, and the world might be a different place.

  • avatar
    menno

    Mikey, I think Toyota actually does make money on the Prius; in fact, they apparently stated right back in 2003 that they made a few bucks on the last of the sedan style Prius cars, and carried over much of the basic technology for the next generation of 2004-2009 cars now being replaced soon. As for Nissan dropping 20,000 jobs, well, I can tell you that the worldwide economy is tanking and everyone is suffering. Nissan had their chance in 1965, to actually leap-frog Toyota in the United States, and pride got in their way. By 1967, Toyota had passed them, and they’ve been looking at tail lights ever since, as well as having the indignity of having foreigners come to their rescue (in the guise of Renault).

    What happened to Nissan/Datsun in 1965 which may have caused an entirely different future? Long story made short; Gordon Grundy of Studebaker-Canada was in Japan to meet with Nissan about selling (and possibly even assembling) larger Nissan products for badging as Studebaker cars in North America, since Studebaker no longer had engineering facilities, or a US plant, or an engine plant. The cars presumably in question was the Nissan President and/or the Nissan Cedric (Chevy Malibu and Nova size, respectively). Grundy’s U.S. bosses were still in control, and had sent him there with his brief, having already contacted Nissan management, who’d agreed to a meeting. The benefits to Nissan were a vastly expanded dealership network, especially in the middle of the U.S. where Datsun was very weak at that time (i.e. sharing Studebaker dealers).

    The phone rang. Grundy answered, it was an international call from Studebaker’s hired lawyer in the states, who informed him to go to Toyota, first, to try to conclude a deal. He did so, and was rebuffed, and when he went to Nissan, they heard through the grapevine about Toyota, and brushed him off. The lawyer in question? Richard Milhaus Nixon!

    Had Grundy missed that call, gone to Nissan, signed a contract – Nissan (Datsun) may not have lost the sales war with Toyota in the U.S. because they would have had a much larger dealer network, and would have had an “Americanized” brand name for the larger cars which they didn’t bother trying to sell until decades later as Infiniti cars.

    Studebaker-Canada was also being approached at that time by a Canadian company, CMI, which offered $7 million for Studebaker, the factory in Hamilton, and already had a deal with Toyota and Isuzu to assemble cars in Sydney, Nova Scotia (which they subsequently did). Perhaps that is why Nixon was told to call Grundy re: Toyota?

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Per Lutz’ criticism of the Prius: It is possible Toyota doesn’t make a dime on that car, but they have a strong enough product portfolio to support it.

    GM, meanwhile is dying at every end. The Volt has an even less viable business case than the Prius, and GM has no strength anywhere to bolster it. Except for their ability to shake down the US taxpayer for bailout money and “green” subsidies.

  • avatar

    I can’t help thinking that GM was in terrible shape before Lutz came on board. It’s probably reasonable to say that Lutz didn’t save it, but I don’t think anyone could have done so, except maybe the anti-trust division of the Justice dept–in the ’60s, or whenever it was that they were looking into breaking it up.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    I don’t say this lightly; Lutz is an eff-head in the extreme.

    He is exactly the type of manager I learned to despise in automotive. He puts appearance before performance, blames those who report to him for his failures, and gets promoted out of the way once his seniors figure out he’s smoked them, but can’t admit they’ve made a mistake putting him there in the first place.

    But it is the Board who are to blame the most; they put the executive in place, then had the idiocy to let them sit on the board. Such a conflict of interest should never be allowed because it is a self fulfilling prophesy of disaster.

  • avatar

    My guess, for what it’s worth: Toyota makes money on each and every Prius, because the Japanese government bankrolled the development of the Hybrid Synergy Drive and made sure the battery manufacturer kept costs in line.

  • avatar
    gcmustanglx

    I think the biggest difference between GM and other car companies is accountability. GM loses money hand over fist and nothing changes. Toyota loses money and the executives take pay cuts and immediately make changes. I imagine things would be much different throughout the economy if people would take some accountability for their actions and work to fix the problems.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    no one saw the credit crunch coming

    Um a few did. Anybody who accepted the Austrian Explanation of the Business Cycle. But, unfortunately, anyone like that was kept locked up in the cellar.

    Lutz’s claim to fame at BMW, Ford & Chrysler was to champion a good car that hit its market well enough. By the time he got to GM, He was championing cars that the Bobs of America might like. Too disconnected from the market.

    Jack don’t look now but those sneaky buggers at Japan Inc are hiding behind the bushes, giggling inscrutably behind thick glasses and buck teeth, waiting to kick America in the arse again.

  • avatar

    The best thing Lutz did at GM was put emphasis back on product styling and design.

    Until Lutz arrived GM had systematically drained the vast majority of their cars of any sort of style or design inside and out. In the late 90s GM was cranking out cheap plastic jellybeans from all of their brands.

    Lutz also didn’t destroy GM’s brands, GM had already been well underway in doing that. Lutz simply drove it further. He obviously did not really know or understand the heritage, purpose or place of GM’s brands. The people who run GM today and call the shots obviously don’t have a clue about it themselves.

    Instead of looking back to examine the style and products that made each of GM’s brands great and coveted in their heyday and building on that heritage he approved of flushing any last trace of their identities down the toilet in favor of things new and forgettable.

    Pontiac as a budget BMW? Buick as a Lexus alternative? Saturn moved up to Oldsmobile’s place with Opel’s styling language? Cadillacs with all meaningless alphabet soup names?

    GM’s brands can’t be modeled after what we already have here. We already have BMW and Lexus, they do what they do better than anyone else and there’s no way GM will ever beat them at it. GM’s brands should have returned to what they were and kept the names each was known for and redesigned and refined them into truly competitive, world class products. GM should be doing the types of vehicles only they can do like the Corvette and Camaro as well as ensuring cars like the Malibu were top of the segments. Instead Lutz and GM just threw out whatever they thought was a good idea and exciting at the time like the Solstice roadster, one of his personal pet projects.

    Pontiac is Euro at all, it’s affordable, brash, blue-collar and American with names like Grand Prix, Bonneville, and GTO. What the Hell is a G-something? Where is the Firebird?

    What is Buick without the Riviera, LeSabre, Park Avenue and Regal? A hollow, soul-less shell of itself that nobody really knows or cares about anymore.

    Why did they Opelfy Saturn right out of the budgets of Saturn’s customer base?

    GM with Lutz and the people who don’t understand it’s brands, history or place is a total lost cause. It’s not all Lutz’s fault but he certainly didn’t do much to help.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Stand behind and support GMC and/or its management all you want but there is no denying that a three-decade-long-plus car/truck owner/operator whose first new vehicle purchase was a 2004 Silverado, bought for various reasons, one being the assembly factory within CONUS, quickly realized the “facts” about said purchase and has in retaliation spoke the facts of the post purchase experience to as many consumers as possible so that they, perhaps, would not have to undergo the dreadful experiences I underwent.

    From “buying one to support the home team” to expending many hours in real life and via the Web to inform the unknowing of the possible dangers involved with buying a new GMC product.

    I am not the only disgruntled one, having heard and read similar stories from others.

    I wonder what the percentage of GMC supporters is to those with no love lost for that corporate entity and those supporting it for whatever reason; some sort of loyalty to an entity incapable of loyalty in return or a vested financial interest, perhaps.

  • avatar
    HeBeGB

    Yes he has a key responsibility for the failure of GM. The bottom line is, if you take the big salary – you take the heat. Somewhere along the line in the justification for the perks of leadership must come the word “responsibility”. I don’t care if the RenCen gets hit with an asteroid, it’s the Boards fault they didn’t build an asteroid umbrella. When things go good you get disproportionate compensation…when they go back, you take the fall. Mr Lutz is one of those guys that grabbed what he could when things were going (relatively) well, he needs to own up to what a crappy job he really did.

  • avatar
    Stu Sidoti

    It’s Robert’s site, he can say whatever he likes…but as for the rest of you, how many of you have actually taken a meeting meeting with Bob? Not some press event where he is prone to extemporaneous hyperbole but an actual let’s sit down and talk about the design and engineering of this vehicle type of meeting?

    I have many times and to all of you who spew such vitriol for man that you’ve never even met, let alone actually worked with makes me wonder what you’re so damned bitter about? How many of you have any idea what you’re talking about?

    From what I can read here, very few…you may ‘know’ what you’ve read, but do you actually have experience? How many of you actually work in the car industry? If you did, you might think differently of Bob and the incredible Design and Engineering renaissance he has helped lead over the last few years.

    Is GM perfect? No…Are GM products perfect? No…but they’re a whole world better in quality, design and engineering than they were before Maximum Bob arrived.

    Many of you are blaming him for issues nowhere near his purview…Bob doesn’t control marketing, doesn’t control what models live or die…he is solely focused on new vehicle product development leadership and over the last few years, you have just started to see the vehicles he has overseen, and in general they’re very good…

    Yes they trot him out for press events wherein he seems like he is in control of areas that he is not, but that’s because he draws an audience-simple as that.

    Again, RF is very entitled to his opinion as it’s his show here and he does make some good points-can’t deny it. Bob is not perfect, but I for one am very happy to work on any program Bob is a part of…he empowers Design and Engineering like no one has at GM since Ed Cole and Bill Mitchell and yes, he is not perfect, but many of you are heaping scorn on a man who is not in control of many of the things you hate him for because you obviously do not understand how a car company operates nor what Lutz’s role is.

    Try this…walk into nearly any Humane Society, United Way function, JDF function and many other charitable events in Metro Detroit and you will be pleasantly surprised just how often Bob and Denise are amongst the most generous donors. You may not love the guy, but to speak of someone you don’t even know in such hate-mongering terms is nearly inexcusable.

    Hate the game, not the player.

  • avatar
    Dr. No

    I think there are better candidates for “worst thing to happen to GM” than Lutz and Wagoner.

    However, it’s clear that neither were the savior GM needed and deserved. The quality and style have improved, but I’m sad to say it was a case of “too little too late.”

    And Lutz wasn’t nearly as good a product guy as he thought he was. His shortcomings stem from his arrogance, which explains why he knew less of his competitors (e.g. VW) than any responsible auto exec should.

  • avatar

    I believe that if Lutz is the person his fans think he is, GM’s corporate culture would have crushed his soul and/or fired him by 2007. But no, and everything from the Cobalt to the STS are proof that he was the go-to guy for GM’s “business as usual” action plan.

    He’s not the only person to blame, but he sure sits high on the totem pole.

  • avatar

    Stu Sidoti : Is GM perfect? No…Are GM products perfect? No…but they’re a whole world better in quality, design and engineering than they were before Maximum Bob arrived.

    That’s a bad justification for Lutz’s body of work at GM. So Lutz made GM cars less crappy, but they were still sub-par to the imports. And the decline in GM’s market share proved it. This guy deserves millions of dollars and a C11 proof golden parachute?

    And while a couple of the newer models (Malibu, CTS) are class competitive, why the hell did it take Lutz (and, in fairness, his superiors) so many years into his tenure to make it happen?

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Eh.

    Trying to fix GM would make Sisypheus go on strike. There was no right man for the job, and if there was he would have been fired. A company has to want to save itself, or more exactly, it has to be willing to bear the saving. GM still isn’t willing to bear it after being reduced to beggary.

  • avatar
    ttilley

    Regarding seeing the coming of the credit crunch: Um a few did. Anybody who accepted the Austrian Explanation of the Business Cycle. But, unfortunately, anyone like that was kept locked up in the cellar.

    Plenty of economists who don’t accept the Austrian Explanation, such as Krugman, saw it coming as well, and said so. I don’t recall him being locked in a cellar…

    People who were borrowing money they couldn’t afford to pay back, and lenders paying themselves massive bonuses from the fees from such loans, didn’t want to hear any such things. Shrub’s appointed “regulators”, who posed with photos of chain saws next to cartoonish images of “regulations”, didn’t think anyone should have to hear such things.

    And Big Three companies who responded to poor SUV residuals by offering to roll upside-down customers into new car loans were as much a part of the cause of the credit crisis as Wall Street and as home builders. If GM didn’t see the crisis coming, it might have been because they were too busy helping to cause it.

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    I take a different view. Bob Lutz embodied a personality – and car companies need personalities, not suits, to make the gut decisions which really come down to personal opinions of the top executives, not those of focus groups, market studies, and other nonsense.

    GM has been run by suits, always sucking up to their bosses, who in turn sucks up, etc etc. Hence, the best “suck ups” get to be high level execs (as in most of corporate America) but most really don’t have a clue as to what really drives the business.

    Lutz kind of broke the mold at GM – but many of his decisions turned out to be less than successful. But no one can bat 1.000, and within GM, it’s darn near impossible to get anything really right given all the conflicting bureaucracies and financially-driven business models. (If Wagoner ever cared to think about, the “business case” modeling within GM has never worked since everyone lies to get “their” project approved or to turn down projects with equally bad projections. Duh!)

    So its impossible to know how good or bad Lutz really was as a manager or as “chief car guy.” The current CTS seems to embody the best of GM. But how many other vehicles just languish? Why was the G6 a non-starter out of the gate? Was he responsible for four Lamda vehicles or was that a decision made elsewhere? Why did he build a sub-optimal roadster (Solstice, Sky) or was it resource/financial constraints (e.g., use existing tech, underutilized plant, don’t compete with the ‘Vette?) Was it his idea to turn Saturn into a “Euro” brand but he didn’t have the time or money to get it right? And the GTO/G8 – nice ideas but initially styling of the Goat was awful (looked like a Cavalier) and the G8 arrived with a weak V6 and fuel thirsty V8.

    And that’s really the point – no one within GM can run the company and now it’s way too broken to fix as it stands.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    The simple fact that he could not name more than 3 of VW’s brands is evidence of what a moron he was.

    Sure, he focused on design and did this and that…he was the first in GM in a long time to do so. But he was still 10 years behind the euros in terms of design and 10 behind the Japanese in terms of efficiency and build quality.

    Copying others (notice how all GM cars these days have Audi-style rims?) based on their successes does not a car savior make. No matter what side of the pond he is on. Hell, the successes of the others was right there, on paper, to copy and he still screwed it up.

  • avatar
    Stu Sidoti

    Quote Sajeev Metha: “ But no, and everything from the Cobalt to the STS are proof that he was the go-to guy for GM’s “business as usual” action plan.”

    Cobalt? Not Lutz, done before he could have had an impact…Cruze? Yes-Lutz’s purview.

    STS? pretty much done long before Lutz arrived.The current STS is a mild warmed-over version of the 2004 version…and that decision to do a warmed-over version is out of his control-that would belong to the Divisional Management-not Bob.

    Quote Sajeev Metha: ” And while a couple of the newer models (Malibu, CTS) are class competitive, why the hell did it take Lutz (and, in fairness, his superiors) so many years into his tenure to make it happen?”

    Uh…because it takes 3-7 years to Design and Engineer a vehicle…three years if you’re Honda, seven years if you’re Mercedes…GM falls somewhere in the middle in terms of product development time…Bob arrived in 2002 I think and CTS, Malibu, Cruze, all have his input…if stuff sucks from now-2013, well then you can lay that at his feet, but if you knew what he was up against at GM circa-2002, he has done some pretty impressive things…

    But nonetheless…my point is that many on here are spewing some very ugly hatred and vitriol for someone they don’t know…at all.

  • avatar

    BL always seemed like the John Edwards-ian posterboy of Professional Dick-Swingers.

    -nothing more.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    I don’t think the question is if Lutz was bad for GM. It’s more of how bad. In that respect, it’s doubtful Lutz’ damage approaches that of the king in this area, Roger Smith. Now there’s a guy that really drove GM into the ground. Whatever he did, Lutz really can’t hold a candle to the damage that Smith did to GM.

    BTW, it’s worth noting that the search for Iacocca’s eventual replacement after he retired at Chrysler was code-named ABL – Anybody But Lutz.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “What the media missed: how often Lutz’ opinions about the car business were ill-informed, misguided and just plain wrong.”

    A few of us have been calling Lutz out for his clear failures for years. Now he gets to waltz off into the sunset with his pockets stuffed full of cash and a bankruptcy proof gilded pension to top it off. Guys like him give capitalism a bad name.

    On the who rang the alarms front, we also have had Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Robert Manning http://www.rit.edu/news/?v=45458) pointing out the problem of ever larger and more burdensome consumer debt for many years now. His efforts led to the documentary film “In Debt We Trust” http://www.indebtwetrust.org/ and he has been a frequent commentator in the media and on capitol hill. Lots of very smart people saw the problems developing, but not enough of the people with decision making power wanted to listen.

  • avatar
    James2

    +1 to Stu Sidoti.

    GM was already crumbling by the day when Lutz arrived. Call him the anti-Mulally if you must, but I doubt he had that kind of authority. His portfolio was rather more limited, I believe. I’ve never been a GM fan, but I can see that the products developed under his watch are much better, but of course all those legions of buyers GM pissed off in the past aren’t coming back even if the Malibu, CTS, et al. are world-class.

    RF, why not blame him for turning off the RenCen escalators at night, while you’re at it.

  • avatar
    golf4me

    Droid, well said.

    RF, think of the vehicles GM was putting out pre-Lutz. (Aztek, Malibu Maxx) Think of what’s out now (Enclave, CTS), and in the near future (Camaro, LaCrosse). I think you have to admit there has been much improvement. Though there is still a way to go, jeezuz, you can’t deny the guy helped more than he hurt.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    Ahh, Lutz…

    As a former GM employee (I am a casualty), we all SCREAMED for something that could compete with the Yaris/Corolla and the Fit/Civic.

    And we got the GTO. Actually, we didn’t get that in Canada. We got the stellar Pontiac Wave, a clone of the POS Aveo.

    Now the Camaro will save the day.

    Well done, Bob!

  • avatar
    Rix

    I take issue with this article. Anyone who takes on GM’s corporate culture better bring the strength of Hercules because of the dysfunction of corporate management. GM had already pretty much tanked in terms of quality and consumer perception when Lutz came on board, and any improvement since then has come from vehicles developed under his watch. Notably CTS and Malibu. To claim Lutz is responsible for even a small part of GM’s problems- which date back decades, are deep seated and multifaceted- are absurd. Lutz wasn’t working at Toyota- he works at GM, the company with too many brands and models. With two or three brands like Toyota, a half dozen new excellent cars would have been enough.

  • avatar
    golf4me

    For some reason, my browser is not letting me load the complete home page, and thus the Previous Entries button. Is anyone else having the problem?

    Has there been anything written about the recent losses at Toyota and Nissan yet?

  • avatar
    golf4me

    Canukelehead, would you say that the person who made the real mistake was the person who hired him? Who would think for even a second that a guy who loves fast cars, fighter jets, expensive watches, fine cigars, and 20-yr-old whiskey is going to put forth a passionate effort to build cheap small and midsize cars?

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Stu Sidoti and Droid800 have said everything I’d like to say on the subject. Only better. Kudos.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Interesting discussion. I sense that a lot of the commentary is built around the underlying belief in the “great man” theory of social change — that one person of towering vision and fortitude has the ability to dramatically change an organization.

    A big reason Lutz is criticized so heavily seems to be because he didn’t live up to being GM’s great savior. As such, I’m glad some folks have raised the question of whether anyone could have performed that role given GM’s hidebound culture.

    Organizational change is terribly difficult, particularly for old entities that have enjoyed great success. Frankly, I suspect that a decade or so down the road Mulally won’t look a whole lot better than Lutz for a very simple reason: Both Ford and GM may be ships too big to steer quickly enough out of harm’s way.

    Am I giving Lutz a free pass? No. But I do think that as American auto execs go he had a fair amount of talent. Unfortunately, he still suffered from key aspects of Grosse Point myopia — because he was, at the end of the day, very much part of the insular and complacent old boy culture of Detroit.

    I’m sure that much of what Stu says is true — Lutz was in key respects a breath of fresh air to the design and engineering staffs. He also gets blamed for things way outside of his control.

    It’s been said that the Gods make famous those they intend to destroy. Lutz’s biggest mistake may have been putting himself in the limelight to such a degree that he would inevitably be judged as far more important than he actually was at GM.

    But even if we judge him just on his product development, I do think that Lutz’s record is decidedly mixed. That clearly wasn’t good enough to save GM. Folks can make excuses such as no one saw the credit crunch coming. In a word, bunk. GM did not have a Plan B like Toyota did, and one reason why is because Lutz was too busy championing “halo” products.

    This is hardly an unusual mistake. Automotive history is filled with last-ditched efforts to save a brand by producing the halo car to end all halo cars. Classic car meets would be much less interesting without the likes of the Cord 810 or the Studebaker Avanti. But they were, at the end of the day, product failures. Lutz can admire his Pontiac Solstice all he wants, but it did little more for GM than Avanti did for Studebaker.

    Cause, meet effect. No hate, just observation.

  • avatar

    And while a couple of the newer models (Malibu, CTS) are class competitive, why the hell did it take Lutz (and, in fairness, his superiors) so many years into his tenure to make it happen?

    Lutz has been at GM for 8 years.

    It takes a minimum of 2 years to make a new car, more if it’s completely new. It’s going to take a decade or more to completely refresh every vehicle in every segment for a full-line manufacturer.

    GM’s Epsilon platform is a good example. The G6 was the first version. Not a bad car, but not refined. The Aura was much improved over the G6 and also showed results of GM’s newly discovered attention to interior design and quality. The Malibu’s interior will be the baseline for GM interiors going forward.

    Lutz has made some mistakes at GM (and @ Chrysler, Ford & BMW before) but he was brought to GM to bring some life into their products and in general he’s done so.

    As for who destroyed GM’s brands, that was a process that began in the 1950s and got a big push from Roger Smith. Using RWD Holden platforms to revive Pontiac’s performance image wasn’t a bad idea. A cheaper, American version of BMW makes sense in the market. Using an iconic American muscle car nameplate, GTO, on a vehicle made outside of North America, though, was a terrible idea.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    For BL’s defenders his current title is;

    Vice Chairman of Global Product Development and Acting Chief Executive Officer of GM Europe

    I near guarantee that part of his remit was/is to ensure such “developed” products are possible to be delivered profitably.

    Now look at the GM balance sheet. That should be all the information anyone needs. Everything else is scenery. The same goes for the REST of the BoD.

    It’s not about him personally, he might be a wonderful great grandfather or mad uncle.

  • avatar
    HPE

    As someone who has followed the fate of another long-term decline story (Fiat) for a number of years, the most striking thing about Lutz’s makeup for me – and probably the most damaging for GM – is his inability/reluctance to distinguish between the products he thought should be built, and what GM actually needed.

    Solstice/Sky; Astra; G8; GTO; Camaro; the Hail Mary that is the Volt; the continuing ownership of Saab “because the board liked it” – every single one of these projects has lost millions for The General, or will in due course. Lutz has had a major hand in every single one. If this is the fawning media’s idea of success, I’d like to see what they count as failure.

    What I believe Lutz has never understood is that when your company is on the brink, what you personally would like to see built is totally irrelevant. The only things that count are sales (market share) and profitability – period. In other words, you cut back on non-essentials (niche models, sports models, motor racing – in short, anything that doesn’t pull its weight when it comes to ROI) and direct all of your efforts towards mass-market volume. The Malibu is an example of this strategy in action. The Aura is an equally good demonstration of why the Malibu is a fluke and that GM – and Lutz – still have no idea what the core problems with the company are.

    The Fiat comparison is valid, I believe, because this was the one thing that Marchionne understood above all else – that without sales and profitability, all the niche models in the world are utterly irrelevant. Prior to his arrival, Fiat used to just build models and then work out how to try and hit their (insanely optimistic) sales targets – see Stilo, 166, Thesis, et cetera, et cetera. Once the (latest) crisis really hit, though, Fiat cut back savagely on sports models, motorsport involvement, cancelled all models in development that weren’t projected to show a profit using extremely conservative sales estimates, and insisted on profitability on low volumes for those that were green-lighted. Lutz couldn’t stomach that, because belt-tightening isn’t ‘fun’. Unfortunately, though, no-one bothered to explain to him that turning around a failed company rarely is. For that, the board holds accountability. But Lutz still needs to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror and consider how his decisions helped to destroy GM. As others have said, he wasn’t the only part of the problem. But he did more than his fair share to contribute to it.

  • avatar
    dreamtech

    Robert, I like that you called Lutz out and that you speak the truth. Can you write a column about another truth; J Mays?? J Mays has been at Ford as design chief for at least 8 or 9 years and look at what Ford has to show for it. Please write an equally in depth column on Mr. Mays to accompany this column. You don`t have to wait until they fire him or he decides to leave to tell the truth.

    Can`t wait!

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    There’s a reason people trot out “Malibu, CTS…” to defend Lutz. That’s because these are the only two cars that weren’t botched in either development or marketing. Not surprisingly, both were sales successes for GM (at least before the economy took a turn toward 1929).

    What makes them successful? They are (1) decent cars; (2) they have appeal to mainstream shoppers; (3) GM’s mainstream brands; (4) got plenty of exposure; (5) built in North America.

    Consider those factors when thinking about the rest of the Lutz-mobiles – the GTO, G8, Astra, Aura, Enclave.

    Every dollar that ended up in one of these cars, or another Lutz-championed program, could have gone to what GM really needed: Cheap, well-built mainstream cars. His priorities should have been: Malibu, making Cobalt competitive, cutting model overlap (in particular launching the Chevy Traverse first, then no Saturn Outlook or Buick Enclave).

    Some say Lutz injected styling into GM’s cars. Perhaps, but so what? As much as we all lambasted GM’s styling from the 1990s, it really wasn’t the problem. By overwhelmingly buying Toyota, Americans have shown that they’re not hungry for extremely stylish cars. GM’s problem with styling was mainly that all their cars looked the same. They were boring, but I’ll tell you what: any GM executive now would be thrilled to go back to the sales numbers from the 1990s when GM’s cars looked so bland.

  • avatar

    Building small, efficient cars was considered a career dead-end at GM, and this mindset was continued after Lutz climbed aboard.

    Lutz derided those asking for fuel-efficient smaller vehicles, maintaining the mantra that you couldn’t make money on those.

    He helped destroy the small-car platforms in the GM lineup (by restricting resources to their development), while pushing for cars named for continents and landmasses.

    His words upon the launch of the Tahoe did it for me, convinced me that GM was doomed, as if I hadn’t said so for a while.

    He may have been right for the car industry of the 60s-80s, just barely (there was the oil embargo, and that was shrugged off.) But now he was the wrong man for the job, gave off all the wrong signals to those waiting for a future proof direction in which to take the company.

    In the end, GM developed their magic weapon, the Volt, the kind of exercise in propaganda that all great organizations – whether business or military – resort to when the enemy is at the gate. The EV1 was killed just before Lutz joined ship – I’m not saying GM should have gone electric, but that the mindset was valuable. Excellent drag numbers, get the most motion for each unit of energy, take the need for alternatives seriously. GM would have been stronger company today – now it’s just an incredible, stupefying disaster.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    GM product is quite good now, so Lutz did his job. Wagoner failed his. By the way, Huffington Post article on the bailout says the Senate version which passed has incentives for people who buy new cars. Does anyone know how large the incentive is? It still has to survive the House Senate reconciliation.

  • avatar

    The Prius is giving Toyota environmental cred when their lineup actually isn’t the best in the industry in that respect. With the Prius, and HSD, they have trumped Honda, which has the better overall environmental footprint as far as emissions and mpg is concerned.

    As such, the Prius is invaluable.

    Jack Baruth :
    February 9th, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    My guess, for what it’s worth: Toyota makes money on each and every Prius, because the Japanese government bankrolled the development of the Hybrid Synergy Drive and made sure the battery manufacturer kept costs in line.

    No, Jack, it didn’t. If the Japanese gov’t had bankrolled HSD, all Japanese car manufacturers would have been given access to it. Check your logic. Dr Toyoda personally approved his moonshot HSD project, and used Toyota R&D (generously) to develop it. Total cost? Anyone’s guess, but high enough to have Lutz and many other car industry professionals thinking it would be hard to recover that cost through sales alone.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Matt51 :

    GM product is quite good now

    It’s not just whether the cars they have are good. It’s whether the cars they have are the right cars. And they are not.

    Besides, seriously think about how many cars GM makes — are they really, on balance, making mostly good cars? What about the Equinox, Torrent, Cobalt, G5, Lacrosse, Lucerne, Impala, HHR, Trailblazer, Aveo, Saab 9-3, Saab 9-5, Saab 9-7X, Hummer H2, Hummer H3, Colorado, Canyon?

  • avatar

    at cocktail parties the man openly bragged about dismantling unionized production and extolled the virtues of Viagara. he is a loose cannon who truly failed to live up to expectations. so arrogant as to actually sleep thru Annual Meetings. I say good riddance.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Reliability.

    GM was climbing this ladder in 2001. In the last few years there scores have flatlined, possibly receded in CR and definately receded in JDP VDS.
    Scores in True Delta are no great shakes either.

    The average of GM’s full line reliability is below the industry average in all three.

    The major companies gaining market share in the US are well above.

    This is the most important factor in the US market in the last 20 years. IMO.

    Lutz=Failure.

    Regards,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    shaker

    The CTS is out of the range of many buyers, the Malibu is OK, but the rear-seat legroom is minimal for the class, and it seems that the styling department was split into two groups: The Front End Group (Big “Future of Chevy” grille, smooth curves) and the Rear End Boys (Here’s some 1970’s side marker lights; design the back of the car around them).

    I waited as long as I could to buy a Malibu 4 cylinder, but the lack of a manual tranny had me waiting for the 6-speed auto (which would provide class-competitive fuel economy). Then the announcement came that the 6-Speed would be available… as part of the 4cyl “LTZ” model, at a $2500 premium over the LT model.
    Over $25,000 for a 4-cyl Chevy?

    My ’97 Camaro pressed the issue by requiring over $2000 in repairs to pass inspection – I bought an Elantra, because I could actually buy the car with cash, trade and rebate, with no payments.

    I own the car, and I’m happy with it.

    I would have had to take a two or three year loan on the Malibu, which I’m glad I didn’t.

    If the Cobalts that I’d seen in the 15k price range didn’t look like rental “strippers”, had just a little “panache”, a touch of chrome, a rubber strip around the windshield to make it flush with the frame, a rear bumper that went down far enough to cover the Cavalier muffler (proudly displayed), I might have thrown some money GM’s way.

    GM abandoned the small and mid-class car buyers with crappy, uninspiring vehicles, and spent the money on things like the Tahoe Hybrid.

    If Lutz had anything to do with any of the previous, then Robert’s criticism is well-founded. If not, I wish him a happy life, riding his electric scooter around his estate.

  • avatar
    nevets248

    somewhere, I’m sure, the wailing and mourning continues, especially amongst the likes of Rebecca Lindland from Global Insight and Mark Phelan (Failin’) from the soon-to-be-dead Detroit Free Press. Lets not forget all of the one-handed ty[pists at gminsidenews.com, either.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Isn’t he 76 years old?

    Yes, and he also said that they would only take his job from his cold, dead hands.

    For me, the bottom line is that all the cars that Bob Lutz is associated with are large cars with 6- or 8cyl engines. That may be why pistonheads love him (he’s one of them!), but he has no sense of the marketplace, and of what cars are needed for automakers. The Malibu is what comes the closest and is the only example of solid execution as opposed to bringing out the “next big thing”.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    People keep giving Lutz credit for the CTS, but forget that not only was it done before he got to GM … but that he is on the record as hating the new Cadillac look and chomping at the bit to change things.

    Business Week, 2002:
    “But Cadillac must deal with an even bigger wild card: Bob Lutz. Lutz made his reputation in the ’80s and ’90s by helping to revive Chrysler Corp. He backed bold concepts like the PT Cruiser and Dodge Viper. Lutz believes that the flowing, sensuous lines of vintage European sports cars should be in the DNA of any luxury car, and he has made no secret of his dislike of Cadillac’s stark Art & Science look. “Lutz thinks Cadillac styling is too edgy and too aggressive,” says one senior General Motors designer. “He keeps saying he wants Cadillac to be beautiful.”

    Indeed, Lutz had barely arrived as GM’s new head of product development last fall when he stopped by the design studios to check out Caddy’s upcoming STS sports sedan, just getting its final touches. “He made the comment, `It looks like a kid with a big forehead,”‘ recalls stylist Kip Wasenko, referring to the high roof that was intended to give the car the most headroom in its class. The STS went back to the drawing board for changes that will delay its launch by six months. In addition to a lower roof line, it will get a softer front end and side windows that sweep in at the top to give it a faster look. LaNeve had already scrapped any reference to Art & Science in Caddy’s ads, focusing instead on the brand’s heritage and how it fits into contemporary lifestyles.

    Soon after the STS was sent back to the drawing board, Zarrella resigned and Lutz was elevated to head of North American operations, giving him even more clout. Far more instinctive than Zarrella, Lutz is unlikely to be constrained by any fear of treading on another brand’s design turf, as Cherry was when he conceived of Art & Science. For now, Lutz says that Cadillac’s new look must be given a chance. “We’ll see how well it is accepted,” Lutz says. “No design direction lasts forever.””

    Sure the new CTS has done pretty well, but at the same time the Seville and Eldorado fell off the edge of the earth and the Deville withered on the vine. The real profit maker for Cadillac during its recent good years was the Escalade … a Chevy truck with hair and makeup by a hooker. As a Brand, Cadillac was more coherent in 2002 than it is today.

    Pontiac, Buick and Saturn all have gone from struggling to irrelevant on Lutz’ watch.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Lutz is an energetic and exciting guy to watch. No question. But he has no business in the upper ranks of an automaker.

    Where’s a credible and competitive small car? Where’s a true hybrid mid-size car?
    Why is Buick still around?

    Someone like Lutz should be working at a place like Saleen that specializes in building exciting low-volume cars. GM is in no shape to be in the hands of someone that only wants to dabble in GTOs, Skys, and Camaros while the company is losing market share every year.

    Don’t get me wrong. It would be sweet to be Lutz. Flying around in jets. Test driving ZR1s all day and making decisions on what tranny goes into the Camaro. But if I did only these cool and exciting things, I’d fully expect to be thrown out on my butt and be replaced by someone that knows how to run a corporation and not treat it as his amusement park.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Robert:

    I’d have to say that GM’s ruination actually started with that bone-head Roger Smith. His financial management background caused him to look at GM as a “cost” model rather than a “market” model. Smith, most notoriously, is responsible for the insipid brand engineering like the Cadillac Cimarron (A Cavalier with alloy wheels and leather seats!).

    I believe the seeds were planted by the early ’80’s which made Maximum Bob’s job that much easier; icing on the cake as so to speak.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Bob Lutz came at the 11th hour in GM’s game.

    However, if he was to save it, he would have to put discipline back into the brands. He would soon learn that GM did not have the resources to update and support all of it’s brands. His decision should have been which brands he could save, by refreshing all of the lines within those brands on a timely basis.

    He might have tried and was turned down, we don’t know. What he did then was pull out his Chrysler bag of tricks. You do halo cars spread throughout the lines. For example, the solstice and sky in olden days was to bring people into Saturn and Pontiac where they would then buy a sedan.

    For a seventy year old, that was what worked in the past. Problem was, if the customer got to saturn or pontiac to see the roadster and looked at the sedans, they were soon gone. The competitions relentless upgrading of their full (albeit limited) lines of cars put them light years ahead of GM.

    Ironically, it was GM who for most of the 20th Century did exactly that to their competitors. They got ahead of Ford, & Chrysler by updating models sometimes annually. They could restyle chevy radically as often as every year. Ex. 1954-55, 57-58-59. Try and stay up with that you competitors.

    In five straight years they only did a moderate refresh in 56, every other year they were completly restyling the line. Lutz could not obviously do this even on a 4 or 5 year span with the breadth of GM’sline and the cash on hand. His failure in my opinion was not to try and do it with a couple of lines like caddy and chevy.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Bob has moved GM in a direction they should have started in 15 (20, 30) years before. The only thing he did wrong is show up late. Bob came in with limited funds (and time) and was given the task to revamp a company that has too many brands/models.

    He is the one that came in and asked “Why can’t GM do 3mm body gaps?” only to hear nobody said to do it.

    Bob took the people GM had and empowered them. The Ecotech Tubos, new V HV line with DI and LS7’s are examples of his empowerment to the powertrain division. The Malibu is the first Chevy that is the equal of the Camry or Accord. This was his modus operandi at Chrysler. It wan’t the Viper and it’s V10, or the Ram, or the LH cars. It was giving the lower level guys – who know their business better than any executive – the power to make decisions in their areas of responsibility. During the development of the LH an engineer asked Lutz and the execs what the rev limit should be for the new cylinder heads of the 3.5 V6 that was to go into the top of the line trim models for the Intrepid, Vision, and Concord. Lutz asked him “What do *you* think it should be?”. The Honda study team and revamping of their development process in the 90’s would probably be a footnote in Chrysler’s history had it not been for Lutz’ support (sadly it is a footnote now thanks to Dumbler).

    Bob took the Delta platform and let them do the HHR that everyone said was too late (and a copy of a Chrysler product that is much maligned at this web site) and has produced over 100,000 sales each of the last 3 years. Few pay attention to the HHR but it is helping pay some of the bills to keep the lights on.

    While the GTO was not a great success I don’t think it was a financial catastrophe. GM had so little invested and made enough to cover their cost while filling a gap in the line up of a “damaged brand” that Lutz was given to fix when he came in.

    As for the Kappas, they sell in numbers better than the Miata in a class that is not particularly high volume. They did bring people into the show rooms. But the problem was Lutz was given a damaged Pontiac and little time or money to fix them.

    While Bob may not walk on water he has done as good a job as possible working with what was given to him. Remember, he wasn’t the CEO. He was not calling all the shots and had to fight for what he wanted many times. Bob’s biggest problem, which has not escaped notice of this web site is making over the top remarks and shooting form the hip. Unlike Toyota, he is not bland in his statements.

    GM is better off for him being there. Hopefully many of the people he empowered are still able to do what needs to be done. A car company needs to have some real car people calling (at least) some of the shots and that is what Lutz did and I hope GM has learned from it.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Some quotes from Bob Sheaves a former engineer who worked at Chrysler at the time when Bob Lutz was there and after Dumbler took over:

    “When a decision had to be made, Bob Lutz impressed on the corp that it was to be made THEN, not after endless consultations with others to build a “concensus”, which slowed down the development cycle.”

    “You could call it the Chrysler Way…entrepreneurship of classic sense and meaning. Each engineer was responsible for his own work and it’s interface into the total vehicle, NOT having a review board that could arbitrarilly reject any work simply on a whim, as was done under the Germans.”

    “To truly understand this Chrysler preoccupation with personal responsibility-you need to look at a personal experience I had with Bob Lutz.

    There was a ride and drive review at Chelsea Proving Grounds in 1991 for the various prototypes of the BR (T300) we had built at JTE that were in the running for the production suspension. Bob Lutz (to make a long story short) did not like the lower control arm mounts of the front suspension sticking below the cab at BPL (Body part Loaded-the design point for the suspension). He wanted them changed to something that “looked cleaner”. I said “Under QIP [Quality Improvement Process – a system intiated in 1989 and championed by Lutz] provisions, NO, because the angle of those LCA’s are what allowed me to give the truck such a smooth ride offroad”. Bob Lutz was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. QIP said that the engineer responsible was the final arbiter AND Lutz was the leading promotor of the QIP process. He let it go and we all know how many awards that suspension got from the mags and reviewers.

    Under the “Quality Gates” [instituted by Daimler] such a comment by me would have IMMEDIATELY brought about my being escorted off the grounds physically by Corporate Security. Lutz followed his own rules, so did the Germans. The issue was that the 2 sets of rules were totally incompatible. Something had to give.”

    If GM even got 10% of that mindset then they are better off for having Bob Lutz.

  • avatar

    Stein X Leikanger :

    Jim Press disagrees with you: he has stated that the Japanese government paid for 100% of HSD. Given that he, you know, kind of might have a better access to that information than you or I do, I’m inclined to listen to him.

    The way things work in Japan is not the way they work here; not everything goes through a Senate hearing. Look at it another way: The US government funded the SR-71 silently because they felt we were at war with the Russians, and they continue to do “black ops” whenever they feel like it. They didn’t turn around and give an SR-71 to Boeing to reverse-engineer.

    Now consider the fact that the Japanese, in general, take business as seriously as we take war, in large part because the American military shield allows them to take war about as seriously as we take banking regulation.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It was like watching the CEO of Kodak tell the reporters a few years ago…….”digital will never replace film”

    Interestingly, that fellow sits on GM’s Board of Directors.

  • avatar

    @Jack Baruth

    But you’re still wrong, and Press has eaten some humble pie. When he moved to Chrysler, and Chrysler was laying the groundwork for some gov’t help, he changed his tune, though he had to backtrack when Toyota slapped him down.
    http://www.autospies.com/news/Jim-Press-clarifies-statement-on-Japanese-government-s-support-in-Toyota-hybrid-technologies-28326/

    And as you’ll notice that when he testified under oath, before Congress, he said no such thing:
    Press, noted Michels, also told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last year that Toyota received no R&D subsidy for its hybrid technology. In a hearing, titled, “Climate Change and Energy Security: Perspectives from the Automobile Industry,” on March 14, 2007, Press testified: “The development of the program itself was about a 7-year project when we got into production. The concept of a hybrid, though, goes all the way back to the 1900s. It’s technology we’ve been working on for a very long time.”

    Facts are stubborn things, and in these lobbying days unfortunately malleable.

    So, Press can choose, did he lie to Congress or did he lie for Chrysler?
    He did retreat, and fast, on the latter:
    http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2008-04-02-toyota-prius-subisidies_N.htm

    Chrysler Vice Chairman Jim Press said Wednesday that he “in no way” meant to suggest the Japanese government improperly subsidized development of batteries for Toyota’s popular Prius hybrid.

    He was trying to quell a controversy that began after Toyota Motor on Wednesday vigorously rejected a comment attributed to Press in a BusinessWeek report published March 24: “The Japanese government paid for 100% of the development of the battery and hybrid system that went into the Toyota Prius.”

    Through a Chrysler spokeswoman, Press said Wednesday night: “In no way was it intended to be a suggestion that Prius got all this money.” He said he was using Prius as an example of the Japanese government helping pay for research, as the U.S. government does, to speed development of promising technologies.

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    No mention of his demotion back in 2002 or so? Remember when Rick took over some of his responsibilities? Surely Rick sensed something was amiss with Bob back then…

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Steve Balmer and Bob Lutz have similar problems.

    Both develop products in a vacuum without looking at the market they are selling into.

    Microsoft made a bet on Vista – a big, bloated, pig of an operating system – it works sort of OK but it is far from elegant. Unfortunately for Microsoft the market went the other way – small and portable (handhelds) and cheap (netbooks). Vista does not work well in any of these hot new market segments.

    GM and Lutz did the same thing. They produced bigger when the market wanted smaller. VW, with the GTI, and BMW, with the Mini, proved you can do upscale, sporty, fun, fuel-efficient and profitable.

    What is so hard about building a car for each market segment and then getting in it and honestly answering the following question?

    Would I really want to own and drive this car for the next 5-10 years?

    -ted

  • avatar

    no one saw the credit crunch coming

    I did, and I’m a librarian in Columbus, Ohio. Why didn’t these highly-paid “experts” see it?

    John

  • avatar
    akear

    We can thank Lutz for outsourcing American design and engineering. The guy drives a Holden and suddenly decides to import them over here, while destroying any remaining US engineering that still exists within GM. Ultimately, both the GTO and G8 have been absolute failures in the North American market. The only Lutz mobile to have any success at GM is the Malibu, and that car still can’t outsell the Impala. In ten years most of Lutz’s GM car will likely be gone. His influence will have almost completely disappeared by mid next decade. Was Lutz’s 8 years at GM nothing more than an ego trip.

  • avatar

    @zerofoo

    Spot on. Good analogy. M$ and GM both lived in a “we are the market” mindset, when they no longer were, and therefore made decisions divorced from the market.

    James Allchin at Microsoft sent Ballmer and Gates a rant e-mail back in 2004, when they were deep in Longhorn troubles (to be launched as Vista).

    Allchin, co-president of platforms and services development, said outright:
    I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft.

    GM’s attitude to alternatives to mega-ICE was similar to Microsofts’s attitude to the challenge from Apple.

    http://www.microsoft-watch.com/content/operating_systems/allchins_buy_a_mac_email_exposed.html

    ===

    At GM, there was a complete unwillingness to accept where the market was headed, to the point where Lutz was left claiming that rich people didn’t care about the price of gas and that global warming was a crock of shit. Those weren’t informed assessments, they were cries of desperation.
    If Lutz accepted what was true (as Allchin had, and tried to get Gates and Ballmer to understand), then everything GM had in the pipeline was wrong.

    And that’s why they ended up with the Volt, a press event concept that had a better CE number running backwards than forwards. A desperation move, not a policy result.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Dr. Lemming hit the nail on the head. Bob Lutz didn’t destroy GM, but he hasn’t been its savior. Primarily because he wasn’t given complete power and authority to run the place and really change the corporate culture. GM thought it could squeak by with some flashy new sheetmetal and more competitive vehicles, when what it really needed was a complete overhaul of its corporate culture.

    His reliance to look at “halo” models as saviors was another flaw, although, again, as Dr. Lemming noted, that is pretty common among auto executives. Our classic car shows would be much duller if this weren’t the case.

    Justin Berkowitz: Some say Lutz injected styling into GM’s cars. Perhaps, but so what? As much as we all lambasted GM’s styling from the 1990s, it really wasn’t the problem.

    Good styling can help, especially when the competition is Toyota. If the car is reliable, well built and competitive in performance and economy, good styling can get the customer’s attention. GM can’t succeed by merely selling the customer a vehicle with the same attributes as a Toyota. Customers will continue to buy the Toyota, as it has the better reputation. Good styling at least gets the customer’s attention, and can be a selling point.

    rpol35: I’d have to say that GM’s ruination actually started with that bone-head Roger Smith. His financial management background caused him to look at GM as a “cost” model rather than a “market” model. Smith, most notoriously, is responsible for the insipid brand engineering like the Cadillac Cimarron (A Cavalier with alloy wheels and leather seats!).

    GM was already in decline when Roger Smith assumed leadership. It’s just that Ford and Chrysler were very weak, and the imports still competed largely at the fringes. The Honda Accord was a competitor to the Chevrolet Cavalier, not the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme or Chevrolet Caprice, the two most popular family sedans in the early 1980s.

    John DeLorean’s book, On a Clear Day, You Can See General Motors, shows that the rot of complacency and arrogance had already infected GM by the early 1970s.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I’d have to say that GM’s ruination actually started with that bone-head Roger Smith

    It started earlier than Smith’s tenure, though it wasn’t really apparent how deep the rot was until that point. It probably started late in the career of Sloan, when GM started both taking it’s welfare for granted, and when Sloan’s business model turned it from an innovator into the slow-witted, bureaucratic dinosaur it is today. There were a few bright spots after Sloan, but in the end the people who had a vested interest in keeping the dinosaur alive won out.

    You can pretty much pinpoint it at Thomas Murphy’s “General Motors is not in the business of making cars. It is in the business of making money” quote. That more or less says it all, and set the pattern for GM leadership for the next several decades.

    Smith gets a lot of flack because, during his tenure, the infection finally came to the surface, busting out like a pustulous sore. But Smith did try to pull the dinosaur’s tail (Saturn, mechanization, more rapid platform design). If GM wasn’t such a basket-case, he might have succeeded. He was fought every step of the way, both by GM’s rampant conservatism and his own ego.

    I occasionally feel bad for Lutz. I think he’s given far too much credit by his supporters (he had, what, eight or nine years?) and that most of RF’s criticisms (lack of brand awareness, a lack of interest in mundane vehicles) are true, but he really had an awful job of it. Chrysler, for all it’s faults, was a much better environment than GM: it wasn’t nearly as stagnant and could allow someone like Lutz to affect change. I don’t think anyone could have wrung the necessary changes out of GM without shitcanning every white-collar employee from the board of directors on down.

    Where Lutz made it worse for himself is that he drank the GM Kool-aid. He should have been out there, challenging the party line and making Rick Wagoner look like an idiot at every opportunity despite the political cost, but instead he sort of got absorbed into the machine. Pity, really.

  • avatar

    …and in the other corner, Mr. DeLorenzo.

    http://www.autoextremist.com/current/2009/2/10/the-autoextremist.html

    Round one…

  • avatar

    Stu Sidoti : Uh…because it takes 3-7 years to Design and Engineer a vehicle…three years if you’re Honda, seven years if you’re Mercedes…GM falls somewhere in the middle in terms of product development time…Bob arrived in 2002 I think and CTS, Malibu, Cruze, all have his input…if stuff sucks from now-2013, well then you can lay that at his feet, but if you knew what he was up against at GM circa-2002, he has done some pretty impressive things…

    Which is fine, except GM’s Japanese competition does frequent refreshes on a current model (interiors, sheetmetal, engines) every 2-3 years. And they’ve been doing it for the past 20+ years. The writing has been on the wall for YEARS. This business model chipped away at GM’s business for so long now that you’d have to be a complete idiot not to adopt their model.

    The Cobalt and STS? No major refreshing since 2005. We all know those cars needed a class-competitive dashboard, for starters. Ditto almost every other GM car that’s been blasted on this website.

    So who do we blame for this? Not just Bob Lutz, but the Chief Car Guy is a great place to start.

    But nonetheless…my point is that many on here are spewing some very ugly hatred and vitriol for someone they don’t know…at all.

    Since you mentioned it, I spoke with a retired VP at Ford who told me that Jac Nasser was a great guy outside of work. He was warm, friendly, and genuinely cared about people. It was nice to hear, but doesn’t change my opinion about his professional life.

    Both him and Lutz sound like great people who never deserved their fat paychecks. Of course Jac got canned, eventually. Maybe its GM’s fault they let Lutz be himself, but I don’t think that’s an excuse for what’s transpired for the past few years.

    Accountability: we need it in Business, and it doesn’t speak to someone’s personal life.

  • avatar
    shaker

    DeLorenzo:
    “Having spent enough quality time with Bob over the years…”

    Oh, well – hard to ‘dis’ a buddy.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If you did, you might think differently of Bob and the incredible Design and Engineering renaissance he has helped lead over the last few years.

    A “renaissance” is rebirth. GM is dying, not getting a second lease on life. Lutz’s failures are integral to the reasons for the company’s continued demise.

    Lutz’s main flaw is that he was a tactician placed into a strategic role. He developed one-off products with no apparent consideration for how they fit within their respective brands or the GM lineup. The end result was a hodgepodge of product that didn’t improve sales, didn’t improve brand value and didn’t create enduring relationships with new customers who could provide the renaissance that you wrongly claimed happened.

    The Solstice was his baby, and it ended up being an inferior #2 in a market with only two players! You would think that a car with only one competitor could clearly come out on top in its class, but Lutz couldn’t even get that right. Nice styling but otherwise half-assed execution.

    Instead of developing an Aura and a Malibu, the smart move would have been to develop just one of them and try to sell it in competitive volumes that don’t include Avis. Instead of branding the G8 as a Pontiac, use it to build another brand that might have a fighting chance. Don’t price the GTO several thousand dollars above the Mustang and expect it to sell well. Etc., etc., etc.

    The problem is clear here — there is no vision, leadership or path to victory at GM. There is no sense of how products need to work together in order to express a consistent brand message.

    Nor is it just about horsepower and flash. If the quality isn’t there, sales are going to suffer. Nobody cares whether Lutz and the GM fanboys think that the quality is on par, the customer wants to see and feel it behind the wheel. Lecturing the American people about their alleged perception problems obviously isn’t selling a lot of cars, so it might just be time to find a new routine.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’ll agree with the VW criticism to start. If both Ford and GM are making moves towards direct injection, upscale interiors and dual clutch transmissions then the VW product line is clearly the benchmark. Not that it’s excusable to be ignorant of any competitor’s lineup (and really what excuse is there anyway? anyone commenting here could have answered that damn question, no prep).

    Also the pay check, it should be totally unnecessary to pay someone with his expertise that kind of dough. Not. His. Fault. Get angry with the paymasters.

    Every other criticism seems to mistake Bob Lutz for a bankruptcy judge or an exec that had actual authority over the core (and largely financial) decisions made by GM. Do you really think that closing a brand is remotely the kind of decision that Lutz is authorized to make? I could go on, but this has been well explained by other commenters, with no satisfactory response in return (citing is title does not cut it).

    The worst criticism is this, “it was Lutz himself who had damaged the brands” in reference to Buick and Pontiac. Huh!?! These brands were effectively destroyed during the 90’s, as I’ve seen convincingly argued time and again on this site and many others. Lutz tried to reinvigorate brands that have earned no respect in the market for too long, and that were constrained in their focus by competition within the company (what direction is left for Pontiac if Chevy can’t be challenged?). His biggest mistake was in accepting this mission brief in the first place.

    I agree with the sentiment that an editorial lynching is needed in regards to GM’s collapse, but I think you’re not even ballpark close in assigning responsibility.

  • avatar

    I can see where Stu Sidoti is coming from, but I’m close to Dr. Lemming on this one. The problem isn’t that Lutz was the wrong guy. The problem was expecting a single person to single-handedly fix GM.

    The problem with GM is the system, not the people. You might say, “The right person would fix the system.” But it’s not that easy. I don’t see anyone here recommending fundamental changes to the system itself. The general recommendation is to change the players, when what needs to be changed is the game itself.

    As for Lutz, he did better than I expected him to. He even appears to have made some changes to the system itself, if incremental ones. The GM I observed a decade ago was incapable of creating cars like the CTS and Malibu.

    What I saw then, much of which likely remains unchanged:

    http://www.truedelta.com/execsum.php

  • avatar
    charleywhiskey

    The GTO would have been a great success if it hadn’t been for the lawyers who, at the eleventh hour, forced GM to put the fuel tank in the trunk. Same thing happened to the Solstice. I don’t think you can blame Bob for either of those devastating compromises. There is certainly nothing wrong with the G8 – see the TTAC review – only bad market timing. Would GM have been better off without Bob? I doubt it.

  • avatar

    Will the award for the most obtuse comment in automotive be renamed?

    Just asking.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    psarhjinian does a great job of sketching the arc of GM’s decline. This is a classic example of how corporations get old, feeble and eventually die. Yes, Virginia, corporations have natural life cycles just like people.

    Folks can complain about how badly GM has been managed over the last few decades, but the flip side could just as easily be argued — that GM has lasted longer than many corporations born a hundred years ago.

    The problem with GM is that it has, in a sense, become too big to fail (at least from a political standpoint). There’s no way to get around the fact that if GM dies it will result in an extraordinary amount of pain and hardship to the thousands of people who rely directly or indirectly on it for economic survival.

    To my eyes, the crucial mistake was made by Congress in the 1950s when it held back from antitrust actions against GM. It should have been broken into at least two companies. That might have shaken up and revitalized GM’s bureaucracy . . . or at least spread out the risk a bit.

    A breakup of GM might also have created some breathing space for more of the American independent automakers to survive. The overriding reason why Detroit got its butt kicked in the 1970s and 80s was because it had forgotten how to compete.

    To me the key policy question of the moment is how to minimize the economic dangers of the collapse of the Big Three while allowing the American auto industry to revitalize. Maintaining that balance is a much more difficult challenge than taking an ideologically pure stance, e.g., no bailout vs. preserve the status quo at all costs.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Dr. Lemming: To my eyes, the crucial mistake was made by Congress in the 1950s when it held back from antitrust actions against GM. It should have been broken into at least two companies. That might have shaken up and revitalized GM’s bureaucracy . . . or at least spread out the risk a bit.

    Wasn’t the plan to spin off Chevrolet (cars and trucks) from the rest of GM?

    As for the independents – by 1954, except for Nash, they were pretty much basket cases. I don’t know if an antitrust action against GM would have given them any more breathing room. We may cheer for the underdog, but the bottom line is that some of the independents – Studebaker in particular – were very badly managed.

  • avatar
    Jared

    I don’t agree with RF. Bob Lutz did not destroy GM. Nor did he destroy the GM brands. GM lost its way long ago. I’m 48 and I can’t begin to explain the difference between Olds, Buick and Cadillac, or between Chevy, Pontiac, and Saturn. The difference between a Chevy truck and a GMC? Just the badge.

    GM had far too many brands, did far too much badge engineering, and built crappy cars for decades. That is what did them in.

    Bob Lutz at least tried to focus GM on a building good, exciting cars that people would want to buy, not “good enough” cars. Ultimately, it was too little, too late.

  • avatar

    @ Stein X Leikanger :

    You cannot prove I am “still wrong”. Time for some of the logic you mentioned earlier.

    These are the facts we have before us:

    * Press indicated that that Japanese Government paid for 100% of HSD. He’s in a position to know.

    * Toyota went nucking futs. JP was certainly contacted by attorneys; for all we know, he was called by the Embassy of Japan.

    * Press “retracted” his statements by stating that the Government of Japan did nothing “improper”. The “retraction” you quoted is nothing of the sort, and nowhere in it does Press refute or contradict his earlier claim.

    So, let’s tally up what we have on our “sides”.

    On my “side”, I have a direct statement from a former Toyota executive, and “retractions” that fail to retract.

    On your “side”, you have the ironclad confidence that Toyota is totally awesome and the Government of Japan would never assist any of its major corporate entities, a belief that has been proven wrong time and time again.

    How’s that “logic” treating you?

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I find it difficult to blame Lutz for GM’s predicament. I think car companies need a Lutz type figure in product development. One of the major problems Ford currently faces is its distinct lack of a car guy.

    The problem with Lutz at GM, and similarly RPJ at Ford, is that he was uncontained. It was Rick Wagoner’s job to manage Lutz and balance his car guy, enthusiast driven decisions with reality. Unfortunately, it is truly Rick that has failed to make the tough decisions.

    Also, obviously, Lutz should never have been allowed to be a spokesman for GM.

  • avatar
    segfault

    In the 2003 model year, Bob Lutz undertook a campaign of decontenting GM vehicles, and was particularly fond of removing standard safety features. He made a lot of noises about how buyers don’t notice things like lighted vanity mirrors, and those should be deleted because they cost money. What you wind up with is a car that no consumer wants to buy.

  • avatar
    Luther

    You will not find many top Executives willing to work in a unionized industry because top execs do not like wasting their lives…Lutz is the best you can get there.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @segfault: add to your list – rear childproof door locks, gear indicator next to the floor-mounted autobox, 2nd row headrests. His excuse was that the prior (1997-2001) Camry was severely decontented.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You will not find many top Executives willing to work in a unionized industry because top execs do not like wasting their live

    That’s too easy a solution, and too common a scapegoat for people who can’t or won’t see that GM’s problem are largely in management, not labour.

    The problem isn’t unionization, it’s big-company syndrome: when the processes and politics become more important than the enterprise and it’s products. Even if GM wasn’t unionized, it’d still be a diseased basketcase of bad management.

    A good example of a company that faced these challenges and surmounted them is IBM under Lou Gerstner: they were a relic, a slow-moving dinosaur with an overinflated sense of their role in the industry, and they were dying a death of a thousand cuts at the hands of pissed off customers and more agile competition. Gerstner more or less fixed all that.

    Now, GM today is sicker than IBM was, but not by much. One key differentiator is that unlike IBM, GM refuses to so much as admit that it’s problems are it’s own, let alone bring in outside leadership to fix them.

  • avatar

    Lutz reminds me of John De Lorean’s tenure at Chevy from ’69 to ’74.

    De Lorean was a hotshot. He made a big name for himself at Pontiac, and got a lot of press as GM’s token “swinger.” He wore Italian suits and dumped his wife for a 19-year-old model, that kind of thing. His brand of swagger went over well at Pontiac; he continued the success begun by Bunkie Knudsen and Pete Estes, and kept Pontiac in the #3 slot in sales.

    In ’69, they put him in charge of Chevy, which was having lots of problems (see http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/family-cars/147-mister-average-chevy-impala.html for more). It didn’t take long for him to realize that the whole system was deeply broken. The different departments were bloated and top-heavy, and none of them cooperated at all. At one point, De Lorean asked a department head for an update on a project, and was told in no uncertain terms that it was none of his business. Any time he tried to do something differently, his staff would either thwart him or badmouth him to the Executive Committee. Whatever he did or tried to do, it was one step forward, two steps back.

    I have to agree with Michael Karesh here. GM is systemically broken, and has been for more than 40 years. Lutz didn’t help, for all the reasons RF has outlined, and even his halo cars aren’t going to be anything more than minor footnotes, but the organization’s culture is so messed up that it wouldn’t have mattered if they were.

  • avatar
    njoneer

    Bob’s relationship with Pontiac looks like someone trying to help a rabid dog, but getting bit and infected for his troubles. Bob recognized that Pontiac was a damaged brand, but GM’s corporate inertia fought back. Remember, Pontiac was offering Sunfires, Montanas, and Azteks before Bob arrived. He was to late to have much influence on the GrandPrix or G6, but Bob made a valliant effort on Solstice, GTO, G8. GM’s dealers and beancounters countered with calls for a G5 and G3. Despite Bob’s good intentions, this zombie brand cannot be nursed back to health. And in this undead state, fed by GM’s inability to change, it also cannot be killed.

    Maybe GM did more to damage Bob Lutz than vice-versa. And now I wonder how many of Roger Smith’s blunders were actually manifestations of GM’s unwieldy beaurocracy.

  • avatar

    @ Jack Baruth

    # Jack Baruth :
    February 10th, 2009 at 11:53 am

    On your “side”, you have the ironclad confidence that Toyota is totally awesome and the Government of Japan would never assist any of its major corporate entities, a belief that has been proven wrong time and time again.

    How’s that “logic” treating you?

    Quite well, actually. There would be so much hell to pay if the Japanese gov’t had done this, and it’s very clear from Press’ subsequent statements that he did not support the impression the first reports gave.

    There are very substantial trade agreements in operation now, when it comes to such assistance, limiting it in the extreme. And if a partner nation breaks the agreement, it’s all up in the air.
    Detroit apologists have at regular intervals latched on to Japanese and European gov’ts supporting their industries, to explain why they’re doing poorly and need some support all of their own – and it’s usually down to a lobbyist’s interpretation of perfectly ordinary R&D being carried out at universities, etc.
    As you will see from my links above, many such programs and quite substantial ones, are also carried out in the US.

    Now let’s take the logic a step onwards:

    Congress passes a law handing out USD 20 billion to Ford, in order to assist Ford with developing alternative drive trains and particularly hybrid drive trains, without giving any money to GM and Chrysler.

    Why are the other Japanese car companies making do with sub-par solutions compared to Toyota’s?

    Please!

    And I don’t think Toyota is the greatest thing ever. It’s a fantastic company, but I wish they’d picked a course, instead of being tempted to cover the bases. The Tundra was as out of bounds as they come …

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I’ve heard this argument before, about Toyota getting research money from the Japanese government.

    And I’ve heard it disproved time and again, logically and with common sense (to me). So I don’t believe it ever happened.

    Each new time I hear somebody raise this issue, I more and more think it’s just excuse-making. It has occurred to me that maybe it was all started by US manufacturers or their apologists.

    But even if the Japanese government had assisted Toyota for Prius batteries, it would have been an assistance for Panasonic, whom I believe is the battery manufacturer (please correct me if I’m wrong). And mathematically, it could never have been the difference between success and failure of an ENTIRE auto manufacturer.

    The US companies can’t even stay in business with (or without) money from their own government, so think about this carefully: They have to focus on their own SURVIVAL, not on making batteries or hybrid cars…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I don’t know who paid for the Prius, but in the context of this discussion, it doesn’t matter.

    The domestic automakers don’t make very much stuff that people want. Until they do, they will continue to lose market share to the competition.

    Nobody forced those Americans who bought Priuses to buy them. Toyota generated those sales by offering the consumer a product that the consumer was willing to buy.

    Prius buyers liked them so much that most of them willingly paid a premium to buy theirs. How often can a domestic automaker point to that sort of enthusiasm for one of their products, and more to the point, why can’t they?

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    about a year ago, i was rebuked for simply declaring: “lutz is nuts”

    today, i feel somewhat vindicated.

    please don’t spank me.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Maybe it’s not such a good thing that Bob Lutz is a big “car guy”. Some of the public statements he says appeal to enthusiasts, but the vast majority of car buyers are not enthusiasts, and some of what he says would’ve been better left unsaid. (That’s why TTAC has an award named after him!) That is a good indicator to me that he isn’t in touch with 21st century car market. I just shook my head when I read that Lutz considers the GTO his greatest accomplishment.

    It’s good to hear, according to insider commentators, that Bob Lutz has done good things for the development process at GM. It’s hard for the public to see that though. GM seems to be always revising its turnaround plan, and never announces any goals or timelines that it’s trying to follow to get there.

    He’s also wasted a lot of money on niche-market vehicles that don’t help GMNA’s bottom line. eg: SSR, Solstice, Sky, GTO, Camaro, XLR, Vette Z06 and ZR1. Too many halo cars. Sporty coupes may be enjoying a renaissance thanks to Boomers in their midlife crisis years, but they aren’t sufficient to sustain a supposedly full-line auto maker. They need solid mainstream products to sell too.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    RF, great piece.

    Possibly what GM needed (still needs) was one more position just above Car Czar, and that’s Brand Czar.

  • avatar
    RNader

    psarhjinian :
    February 10th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    It was like watching the CEO of Kodak tell the reporters a few years ago…….”digital will never replace film”

    Interestingly, that fellow sits on GM’s Board of Directors.

    LOL! I did not know that.

    When a CEO or leader says something that is so wrong, it kind of sticks in my head.

    I think that Kodak is joined by GM, as having their pension funds on a list of top 5 pension funds in trouble.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    RF…Best. GM. Death. Watch Ever.

    B&B….Best. Discussion. Thread. Ever.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Hmmm. A guy who liked powerful cars who was responsible for the design of powerful cars in a time when those types of cars neared extinction. Sounds like an icon/hero to me. We live in a country where most of the country doesn’t care (know?) that their government is about to take away their right to purchase affordable, powerful vehicles. In the near future, after CAFE officially neuters the American auto industry, I think a lot of people are going to look back and see Mr. Lutz in a different light. Once a 300+ horsepower car becomes a luxury that only the uber wealthy can afford, the vehicles of the Bob Lutz era are going to be much more valuable and sought after than they are today. That will be the final testament to his legacy.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ reclusive_in_nature

    “….their government is about to take away their right to purchase affordable, powerful vehicles.”

    How was that right divined individually? You’re absolutely sure that by such action, such a “right” to choose such a vehicle, there are absolutely zero knock-on costs to others or the nation, or the whole world? Would you categorically disagree with Reign-Of-Error Bush that the USA is “addicted to oil?”

    How is it possible that one gifted country produces so many bone headed, sometimes utterly selfish, people.

  • avatar
    geeber

    PeteMoran: How is it possible that one gifted country produces so many bone headed, sometimes utterly selfish, people.

    Pete, with all due respect, give me a break.

    In many cases, the desire to “save the world” has less to do with actually saving the world than the self-righteous imposing their vision of what is good on everyone else, because they simply don’t like the choices other people are making. So they dress up their finger-wagging under the guise of saving the world, and anyone who dares to question them is derided with ad hominen attacks.

    That’s an attempt to short-circuit the debate instead of answering honest questions, however clumsily such questions may have been phrased. These are very complex issues – and despite what is said, the debate over whether global warming is the result of human actions is still very real.

    The simple fact is that the environment in the U.S. is cleaner than it has been at any time since the Industrial Revolution in the wake of the Civil War. Air and water quality have been getting better for the past 20 years, and even carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are down (without resorting to the widespread use of nuclear power, as France has done, or a wholesale switch from coal to other cleaner fossil fuels, as Germany did in the wake of reunification).

    The U.S. auto market is more complex than most people realize. Americans had been drifting away from V-8s and full-size SUVs even before the latest run-up in gas prices. The most popular passenger cars are the Camry and Accord, and most are sold with four-cylinder engines. Ironically, one reason that the domestic offerings haven’t made much headway in this segment is because, until recently, the customer had to buy the V-6 version to get a competitive vehicle, and most buyers don’t see the benefit of the added cost! That important fact seems to get lost in the argument.

    Anyone who thinks that restricting the sale of powerful vehicles will greatly reduce oil consumption – let alone oil imports – must be dreaming. They are a subset of the market, and likely to remain so, even with today’s lower gasoline prices.

  • avatar
    njdave

    RF – Lutz sure wasn’t great, but I can’t help placing more of the blame on Roger Smith. Smith may not have started badge engineering, but he mightily expanded it and made it into an art form at GM. He also placed bean counters at every top management position within GM, and they have been bean counters ever since. I think it is largely those two factors more than anything else that has led to GM downfall.

  • avatar
    njdave

    psarhjinian,
    I have worked on IBM’s mainframes my whole career. Gerstner was good, but you are overlooking the a few facts. One pertinent to your IBM post, is that IBM is not unionized. That gave Gerstner a lot more freedom to make changes that needed to be made. The other really big factor is that the huge wave of companies migrating from expensive mainframes to “cheaper” Unix boxes ended. It turned out that the Unix boxes weren’t really much cheaper, and much more unreliable than a mainframe. Companies added up the cost of downtime, looked at IBM’s much reduced prices, and went back to the mainframe. My current employer started to migrate to Unix 9 years ago. At that time we had 9 mainframe systems. Now that we have “completed” our Unix migration, we have 21 mainframes systems. Nuf said.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ geeber

    Anyone who thinks that restricting the sale of powerful vehicles will greatly reduce oil consumption – let alone oil imports – must be dreaming. They are a subset of the market, and likely to remain so, even with today’s lower gasoline prices.

    Well, that statement doesn’t equate with the the MOST fuel efficient period in US history being in the very early 1980s and getting worse ever since.

    No-one is taking away someone’s “right” (whatever that means) to buy a powerful vehicle, but such vehicles should more correctly reflect their costs which are currently externalised to others. Most obviously, the basket case companies that manufactured unprofitably that are now being bailed out by people who had already chosen to avoid their products…..

    Lutz has been a card-carrying member of the “just keep wasting” crowd.

  • avatar
    akear

    Why blame Roger Smith? He has been gone from GM for over 20 years. Wagoner is the one that lost nearly 10% of GM’s marketshare. Little or any of Roger Smith’s influence is still at GM. On the whole Smith was better for GM than Wagoner.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    argentla: “Lutz reminds me of John De Lorean’s tenure at Chevy from ‘69 to ‘74.”This isn’t a good comparison. While both DeLorean and Lutz could be considered auto industry celebrity ‘loose cannons’, Lutz had far more backbone than DeLorean.

    As an example, there’s a famous story of a confrontation between Lutz and then Chrysler manufacturing chief Dick Dauch after a heated meeting. An angry Dauch deliberately blocked Lutz’ way. Lutz supposedly told him, “Don’t you ever try to take me on physically. You may be a former football player, but I’m a former Marine, and I’m trained to kill”. Soon after, Dauch was gone from Chrysler.

    DeLorean, despite all his charisma and skill, was no Bob Lutz. There’s a reason DeLorean died virtually destitute in Grand Rapids trying to sell designer watches over the internet.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Sounds kinda familiar. Lutz was to GM what Dubya was to America. With Lutz we got improved interiors, with Dubya we got homeland security. With Lutz we got meaningless souless alphanumeric letter named cars, with Dubya we got a meaningless souless response when asked to support the hometeam! With Lutz we got the Sport utility minivans, with Dubya we got the Iraq war. With Lutz we got his proudest achievement: the failed bland GTO. With Dubya we got the subprime mortgage crisis and several recessions, the current one bringing American to depression levels. We could have even more fun with Wagoner and Cheney but you get the point.

  • avatar
    udham

    I have a 2006 Pontiac GTO in my garage that I bought in December ’06. I cross shopped with the Mustang GT , the GTO was 2k more than the GT but in my opinion worth it
    pros
    – much nicer interior
    – 6 speed instead of 5 speed in the GT
    – 100 more horses

    cons
    – a tiny trunk
    – Mustang is the better looking car

    2+ years and 35,000 miles later, I am perfectly happy with the car. I paid 27k + TTL(3k in NYS), the mustang GT with premium package was going to be 25k + TTL. The GTO was a very good car but had the wrong name and did not have the stripper 20k model that sells in volume. The dealer gouging early on did not help either.

    So well, thanks Bob Lutz for the nicest car I could have bought for 27k + TTL!!

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Jack Baruth: Toyota makes money on each and every Prius, because the Japanese government bankrolled the development of the Hybrid Synergy Drive and made sure the battery manufacturer kept costs in line.

    And the US gov’t has done a few programs over the years trying to kick start innovation from Detroit. Instead they built a few concept models and then went back to business as usual. I encourage you to visit Wikipedia and read up on the General Motors Precept and the “Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles”. Alot of good ideas there but few were brought to the market for the consumer to purchase.

    I think the real difference between GM and Toyota is Toyota makes a full line of DESIRABLE products from the big to the small while GM builds a line of products some of which a person would desire, some of which a person wouldn’t gift to a friend. Unfortunately for the small car lover – anything smaller than a Caddy or an SUV is a no-man’s land.

    I looked at a Cobalt coupe this weekend. Now if they had made a hatchback out of the car which already looks like a hatchback…

  • avatar
    Pontiac-Custom-S

    The loony labyrinth of backstabbing RenCen bureaucrats that is General Motors …

    How perfect a statement is that? LOL!


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