Maximum Bob: Lotus Has A 60% Shot
When “Maximum” Bob Lutz showed up on the advisory board at Lotus, we were hardly surprised about his choice of post-retirement projects. After all, Lotus is one of the most audacious (privately-funded) turnaround attempts in an industry that runs on turnarounds, and Lutz is the king of building automotive hype, fresh off of one of the most overexposed automotive projects in recent memory, the Chevy Volt. Besides, Lotus’s shot at an overnight leap from niche enthusiast brand to Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling juggernaut is so brazenly implausible, that Lutz actually lends credibility to the project. At least, he would do if he didn’t have that irrepressible knack for saying things like
People keep asking me if I’m sure the new plan will work, and of course I can’t guarantee that. It’s a risk. But I’m quite certain it stands a better chance than the Lotus status quo, which for sure would eventually lead this great brand into terminal decline
Lutz goes on to tell Autocar that Lotus’s billion dollar turnaround “a big gamble,” and admits that “a fair bit of showbiz” is driving Lotus’s quantum leap towards becoming a full-line sportscar and supercar maker. Does it sound like Lutz might have some mixed feelings about Lotus’s rush to trample its enthusiast credentials? More maximum mixed feelings below the fold.
It’s tough to say what exactly Lutz is trying to prove when he says
The engineering I’ve seen so far is very good, and they’re definitely going about it the right way. The money they’re spending on each model is only a fraction of what we’d have spent at GM on similar projects.
That kind of talk is fine coming from the old Lotus, which built enthusiast-oriented cars that sold on their performance and niche appeal rather than Ferrari-alike “prestige.” Everyone knows Lotus’s leap from small, light, composite-bodied sportscars to hybrid-power, folding-hardtops, and four-door sedans is ambitious, even with its $1.2bb budget, but is that what Lutz was hired to remind people of? Or was the idea to just generally compare Lotus’s forthcoming products to GM? Is Lutz suggesting, for example, that more money was spent developing the Corvette ZR1 than the new Ferrari 458-fighting Lotus Esprit? Or was Lotus totally unaware of the fact that Lutz tends to speak his mind and worry about the consequences later?
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So, what do you really think about Bob? Seriously -- why do you badmouth him so much? Yes, he is opinionated and has a big mouth. So what? He is an excellent product guy. Bob did not have carte blanche, so few of his cars met the standards of an enthusiast. However, people at Chrysler gave him credit for the superb designs that came out while he was Vice Chairman. One story I heard, I think from Francois Castaing (who headed the LH team), was that Bob hid the design of the LH from Iacocca until it was too late for it to be changed, showing Lee a fake clay with opera lights, porthole windows in the C pillars, etc. The LH was designed in such a way that a vinyl roof couldn't be added (an Iacocca specialty). Showing how Bob's work was bound by budget constraints, the LH was based on the American Motors Premier, which in turn was based on the Renault 25, which first came on to the market in late 1983! I remember driving a Concorde at a long lead-time junket. Yes, there were better engines and transmissions. Yes, the interior was noisy. But what sexy sheet metal! Heads turned as I drove. After less than an hour, I stopped at a pay phone to call my broker (this was in 1992) to buy Chrysler options. Finally, you have to agree that the all-new GM products coming to market in recent years (under Lutz' aegis) are vastly superior to the borax they replaced.
I've met few executives that are as self-deprecating as Lutz is. The guy really doesn't take himself too seriously. He said, "I have ten ideas a day, two of them are good". Sure, he may be a world class bullshit artist but he's personally a charming and engaging man, a complete car guy, and while it may be BS that he's feeding you it's BS that he believes at that moment. At the Chevy Volt event at the Poletown plant, a Japanese reporter asked him what cars he was now driving and he said that his daily driver is a ZR-1 Corvette, and he has a couple of Pontiac Solstices that he likes to drive. I asked him about Lotus, weight, and damaging their brand. He insisted that much of the next Elise's weight gain is due to gov't regulations, that Loti will always be lighter than the competition, if not Chapman-era light, and that he's expectantly waiting on his personal Evora. The guy uses a ZR-1 as a DD and has a Lotus on order and all folks can do is talk smack about him. Oh, and Buickman, you well know that GM's terminal illness started long before Lutz came on board less than 10 years ago. Unlike most of the people who comment about Lutz, I've actually met the man and spoken with him a few times.