By on September 19, 2011

I’ve often wondered if there is a relationship between the decline of the automobile’s cultural relevance, and the decline of the larger-than-life auto executive. Clearly the car’s waning ability to excite, inspire and shape material culture is a complex phenomenon with no single cause, but it’s got to have some kind of connection to the people making the cars. After all, the original Mustangs, Corvettes, and Model Ts emerged from firms led by such oversized presences as Lee Iacocca, Bill Mitchell and the original car-guy-as-folk-hero, Henry Ford. Today there’s no shortage of brilliant, engaging, passionate people working in the car industry, and yet few contemporary executives have made the kind of cultural impact that their predecessors once did. This, in a nutshell, is why Bob Lutz fascinates me: though he never made as wide of a mark on popular culture as an Iacocca or DeLorean, he’s one of the last remaining links to an era in the car industry that now seems impossibly out of reach.

But because he is not a man of the times, it’s incredibly easy to misunderstand the guy. In fact, having spent several hours chatting with him on and off the record, I’d argue that the best anyone can hope for is to simply not misunderstand him. In that spirit, I’ve assembled ten impressions of the man that I found not to be true in our conversation. But be warned: just because these “myths” aren’t completely true doesn’t mean they’re completely untrue either…

1. Bob Lutz is calculating about his own image.

This is a bit of a tough one to start with. Even as I write this, I can hear the clamoring from the comment section. “He got you, Ed,” you’re thinking. “So much for that journalistic toughness, you got played by a master.” But bear with me. Clearly Lutz has a well-defined persona: the cigar-chomping (he puffed an enormous stogie throughout our interview), martini-drinking, Cobra-driving, jet-piloting, hard-charging corporate warrior. And there may well have been a time when he worked at that image. But having spent some time around a number of latter-day execs and PR guys, the directness with which Bob Lutz engages you, his apparent lack of internal filters, is one of the major impressions I left our interview with. Even when his answers to a question skewed more towards self-serving rather than purely truth-serving lines of logic, they emerged almost as soon as the question was asked with little of the pause for calculation indulged in by modern execs (this was particularly surprising when he was faced with questions he clearly wasn’t expecting, like “why are GM cars so heavy?”). Reasonable people can disagree over whether there is daylight between his truth and their personal version of the “objective truth,” but  he tells his truth with the spontaneity of a person with no concern for what the world thinks of him. Indeed, over the course of our conversation I picked up the distinct impression that Lutz would rather be seen as complex, even contradictory, than consistent. And by the time I left his pied-a-terre outside Ann Arbor, I had a less concise idea of who the guy is than when I arrived.

2. Bob Lutz hates the media.

In his most recent book, Lutz rails at length against the media, assigning it what I believe to be an unfair share of the blame for the decline of GM. Heck, he even calls The Truth About Cars “a website that often offers anything but”… for a headline written by a New York Times editor.  And yet, nobody held a gun to his head and made him invite me to his own home for an extended conversation. And because he did invite me, I was able to ask him about his relationship with the media. We were talking about the politicization of the Volt (see myth number three) when the subject came up, so I asked Lutz: “you devote quite  bit of the book criticizing the media, and yet most people in the media feel that you’ve always been pretty well treated…” Lutz jumped in

I was, yeah. I have no complaints about my personal treatment, I mean, I always got along well with the media, and that’s globally… I think they recognized that I was a force for the good. No, I’m talking about the way the media generally treated the US car industry. We had a colleague of yours from Der Spiegel magazine in Germany… he asked “what were the factors behind the decline of the American car industry,” and I said, well, you know, I mentioned the US media. And he said, “you know, this is a curious thing because this is the only country that I know of where the media routinely trashes the domestic product. He said “the German media thinks Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche Audi are wonderful. Opel and Ford of Germany are semi-wonderful because they are, after all, American owned. French cars, well, if you must and the Italians and Japanese… yes, yes, they’re getting better, but they’ll never be [a German car]. Same thing in France. Japan. Korea.”

I’m not for a chauvinistic media, it should be objective and realistic, but with the American media you could put out some pretty good stuff and it was… dismissed. Dismissive was the best you could hope for. The Cobalt was routinely trashed in the media, but every time anyone actually drove a Cobalt, they said “this is a nice little car.”  It’s very refined… it’s peppy, has good brakes, good steering, the interior is… OK… seats are nice. I mean, it’s a nice little car. It deserved a lot better press than it got. I’ll put a Cobalt against a current generation Corolla any day.

Now, this whole rant was not unlike what appears in Car Guys, and it hardly disproves myth number two. But here’s the thing: I had driven a rented Cobalt out to Lutz Farm, and he was right. It was nowhere near as terrible as I was expecting. And looking through TTAC“s Cobalt review archives, the conclusions certainly belie TTAC’s reputation for GM bashing. Because Lutz has some valid complaints (there’s another that I’m saving for a final installment of “Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers”), and more importantly because he only seems to really care about what the media said about his cars, I don’t get the sense that there’s as much personal animosity as comes through in Car Guys. On the other hand, I’m also not convinced that the media isn’t something of a convenient villain for the Car Guys narrative, and that Lutz gives it too much credit for the downfall of GM.

But all that aside, when pushed with the fact that Toyota reviews now feature the word “beige” with the same consistency that Buick reviews used to feature the word “elderly,” Lutz admit that

there’s a gradual change in how American cars are being treated in the American media. The Toyota troubles forever destroyed the myth of Japanese invincibility and superiority.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and Toyota, rather than Buick is getting the “one-note” treatment from the automotive press, Lutz seems less concerned with the media’s failings.

3. Bob Lutz is a right-winger.

So, obviously Bob isn’t a left-winger. His views on global warming, for example, are well-documented. But if you tease out the politics that he weaves throughout his answers, what emerges is a man well out of step with the modern right wing. He sings the praises of socialized healthcare as an issue of economic competition, arguing that placing that burden on private business puts manufacturing industries at a disadvantage. He argues strongly for an “intelligent” gas tax, on the grounds that oil price volatility wreaks havoc on product planning. He even concedes that the latest version of CAFE is not totally objectionable. And when it comes to the Volt, he has nothing but contempt for what he calls the “extreme right wing” that tried to publicly kill it. When I asked if the politicization of the Volt was inevitable, or if it had something to do with the car itself, his immediate answer was unequivocal:

I think it predominantly had to do with the extreme right wing media, who will grasp at anything, right, wrong, accurate, inaccurate, to attack the Obama Administration.  The Rush Limbaughs, the Glenn Becks, the Mark Levins… these guys said “how stupid is this? This is the kind of car you get when the government owns a car company.”

Again, the guy has a point. When, in my NYT Volt Op-Ed I had written “In short, the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy,” Rush Limbaugh quoted the first sentence repeatedly and left the second sentence un-quoted. But Lutz wasn’t done attacking the right:

“…and,” [said the right-wingers], “this thing is so bad, the government is going to offer you a [$7,000 tax credit] to get you to buy it. The same government that is forcing this on the American public is, in addition, going to spend your tax dollars to get you to buy it.” Conveniently forgetting, of course, that the [tax credit] went in under the Bush Administration. GM was the target of the extreme right. If they hadn’t have worried about a backlash (which would have inevitably happened), they would have cheerfully organized a right-wing boycott of General Motors.

Regardless of how Lutz feels about any one political issue, his ultimate loyalty is to Detroit, to the American car business. After all, have you ever heard a right-winger argue that

it’s silly for us to be paying $3.50 per gallon when Europe is paying $7 or $8 dollars per gallon


4. Bob Lutz only cares about extreme cars.

Even though we were sitting in an office festooned with models of yellow HUMMERs and billet Cadillac Sixteens, as soon as I mentioned that he was best known for his “emotional” cars like the Viper and Solstice, he cut me off

That’s a little bit unfair because I was highly instrumental in the second-generation Chrysler minivan, you know, the great big round one. At its heyday we were doing over 500,000 of those things each year and they were ringing the cash register like mad. I also get very excited about full-sized pickup trucks and sport utilities… I mean, I lavished so much affection on the current generation of GM sport utilities and pickup trucks. Supporting design in certain things and then getting the body gaps down to, like, Lexus-minus tolerances and getting beautiful interiors in… still, I think the Tahoe and Yukon have, for a mass-produced SUV, still one of the nicest interiors around. And of course the Escalade is off the charts… it’s “bling,” but it’s beautifully done.

So, I get just as excited about stuff like that as I do about a Corvette ZR1… in fact, maybe more so. The Lambdas, for instance… one of the beautiful things when you see an Acadia, Enclave or Chevy Traverse, is that beautiful taper towards the rear. You know, the way the body goes from near-vertical, to where it starts to roll in gradually, and you get that lovely tumblehome from the back which makes it look so stable. It gives them that dramatic appearance on the road. When they started out they had straight bodysides, like a Honda Pilot, and I said “why are we doing that?” “Well, it increases rear seat width and maximizes the internal cube.” I said “guys, that’s not what it’s about.” They also said “there’s one more thing. If we do it the way you want, we’ll never have a version with sliding doors.” I said, “well, we’re not doing a version with sliding doors.” [As a result], I think the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse are, from a body-surfacing standpoint, some of the best work done by the American industry.

So, why did it take so long for Lutz to put his touch on the Malibu, GM’s entry in the most important mass-market segment?

Yeah, [chuckles], three, three-and-a-half years. That’s normal. I had to live with the stuff that had been done before.

5. Bob Lutz hates “bean counters.”

As I point out in my review of his most recent book, the title “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters” seems almost to be more a reflection of the author’s internal complexity than a description of an actual battle within GM. Lutz has spent enough time in the business world to know that no business can survive with creative chaos or stifling discipline alone. And just as GM as a whole ebbed and flowed between the creative power of design and the disciplined control of finance, Lutz acknowledges that it takes a balance of two very different instincts to create a successful business. He admits:

The beanies do their job. I’m all for finance, financial controls, cost-cutting and tough discipline… I did it myself… for instance, the Malibu LT2 had a regular aluminum wheel with very shiny, circular machining on it. The LTZ wheel had finer machining, to where it almost looked like the surface of a compact disc. The guys showed them to me and said… “there’s a forty buck difference, it’s ten dollars a wheel.” I said “take it out.” [Costs] get in that shouldn’t be there in the first place. You just can’t let the beancounters be in charge and philosophically drive the organization… because that’s when it gets off track.

Indeed, the king of the car guys has an MBA, not an engineering degree, and his entire argument for his turnaround of GM was predicated on a beancounter’s argument: if controlling the bottom line is killing you, do something about the top line.

The product development guys, whether at Ford, BMW, Chrysler or GM, liked my leadership because I insist on good rather than cheap. And it’s definitely paid off. The average transaction prices of GM cars are up so much it more than offsets, way more than offsets, the maybe thousand bucks I put into the vehicle.

6. Bob Lutz loves/hates electric cars.

Nowhere are Bob Lutz’s internal complexities better displayed than in the world of electric cars. To the EV enthusiast community he’s been both a villain of “Old Detroit”, railing against “the theory of man-made global warming” and the savior of the electric car, as internal champion of GM’s Volt.  In hopes of getting to the bottom of this mystery, I asked Lutz if he thought Nissan would gain a “first mover” advantage (alá Toyota’s hybrid advantage) over the competition by being first to market with a mainstream pure-electric car. To which he answered:

No. I don’t see the Leaf generating the “cool factor,” the “gotta have it factor,” the “this is the car to have factor.” I don’t see that in the media, it’s not generating any of the buzz you would expect from that. I think the Leaf is going to be a relatively low-volume vehicle. The problem is range anxiety. You hook a range extender onto that, which of course immediately drives cost for a second powertrain, but if you have a nominal 100 miles electric [range] plus another 200 on the gas engine if you need it… now you’re talking. But people with a pure electric, unless it’s got a 250 or 300 mile range… and the Leaf doesn’t even get 100 miles after a few years, or on a cold day.  So, the Leaf gets 70 miles on a good day and 50 miles on a bad day… meanwhile there are guys getting 56 miles  [of electric range] on the Chevy Volt.

In short, when the topic turns electric, Lutz wants to talk about his baby: the Volt. He half admits that the range-extended Chevy was a “PR exercise,” saying

PR has such a nasty flavor… let’s call it a “reputational adjustment exercise.” What the Viper did for Chrysler in 1992,  the Volt is doing for the Chevrolet brand [in an entirely different way].

And he argues that, although the Volt’s design is fundamentally less efficient over longer distances than a conventional hybrid or PHEV, that misses the point. “People want to drive 40 miles on electric power,” he says, “if you look at it through the eyes of the customer and not the EPA, they see it as ‘I’m getting 40 miles every day, practically for free.'” Is it, I asked, counter-intuitive to design a “green halo” car not to maximize efficiency?

It is if you look at a hypothetical usage profile. But we knew that 80 percent of Americans drive 40 miles per day, and the Volt is for them. I wanted to look at the real usage profile. An airplane engineer will tell you “you know, we can make this fighter much more efficient if we don’t add all the weight and complexity of an ejection seat”… but good luck finding someone to fly it.

Of course, even at a 70-mile range, the Leaf will still be able to get most of that 80 percent to work and back… especially if they can charge at work. But finding a consistent principle in Lutz’s opinions generally isn’t a question of analyzing any of these arguments. Though he wasn’t being paid by GM at the time of our interview, it was clear that Lutz’s principles are allied almost entirely with GMs. And if he has any regrets anything about the concept and development of the Volt, he isn’t ready to admit them.

7. Bob Lutz hates industry-outsider auto execs.

Though he rails against the “brand management” era of the 1990s, and the outside board members and packaged-good industry executives who championed it, Lutz is not entirely against outside influences on the car industry. He is not, as are many longtime industry insiders, completely convinced of the notion that  you must be steeped in the car business to understand the car business. Quite the contrary, he argues

Because we’re all trained the same way, a traditional automobile person from Ford, GM or Chrysler can move from company to company, and the way programs are created, the way they’re measured, the way they proceed through the approval process, the way they’re then finally executed… you hardly notice the difference. It is this finance-driven, metrics-driven approach that was originally put in by McNamara and the “Whiz Kids” at Ford… and it eventually translated to the whole industry. Ford Motor Company is so proud of the fact that they, I would call it infected, the whole industry with it. So, you take some 30-year veteran of that system, they know how that works, they know those rules, they know you set tough cost targets and then you turn the crank again and you drive costs down some more, the top line is more or less assumed, the argument that if we make a better car it will bring in more money just is not recognized. The top line is the top line, don’t mess with it.

So if [post-bailout GM] had gone back to some veteran automobile guy, there would be a high risk that we’d lose it. Again. But the fact is that all the Detroit Three are run by non-traditional Detroit guys, and the way Dan Akerson and Dan Ammon look at it,   is “30 years of doing it the wrong way resulted in decline and ultimate failure. Now, with a focus on excellence, and willingly doing the best engineering and manufacturing that we possibly can, do not skimp, don’t try to substitute margarine for butter…  now our average transaction prices are up four or five thousand dollars.

Though a product of the system he derides, Lutz was able to see its fatal flaw: a fundamental lack of desire to improve the top end. Convincing outsiders that you can “leave the butter in” and see investments in product quality generate much larger returns in transaction prices (again, a “bean-counter” argument, at its heart) was actually easier than convincing executives steeped in the Detroit business model. And in the old days of GM, changing the basic approach to the business was nearly impossible due to what he calls a culture of “genteel arrogance.”

It wasn’t an aggressive arrogance, and it wasn’t an active arrogance. It was a passive, genteel arrogance… somewhat like medieval aristocracy dealing with the peasants. Infinitely polite, fair… [mimics an upper-crust Mid-Atlantic accent]  “yes, that’s a good point… I don’t think we’ll be using your idea, but thank you very much.” So it was always very genteel, but it stemmed from this somewhat inbred culture that never drew people from the outside. It was almost a world of its own, and it was bred in the 50s and 60s when GM inarguably had total dominance of the market.

So, once his “top-line” argument started being taken seriously by Wagoner, the post-bailout influx of outsiders actually helped build support for his ideas. He recalls being told by one of GM’s new senior execs that “your fingerprints are all over this company,” and from the sound of that anecdote, there are no plans at the top of the Ren Cen to get away from Lutz’s basic philosophy. The contrast to the “brand management” days is clear: then, outsiders came in thinking they knew it all; now, the outsiders are steeped in the Lutz philosophy. No wonder the tune has changed.

8. Bob Lutz hates Toyota.

Lutz agreed that Detroit-based car executives “had good reasons to dislike Toyota,” but one of the biggest surprises of our conversation came when I asked if Toyota were owed some credit for its innovations.

Oh, absolutely. I don’t think they’re great at product creation… I’ve always said Toyota is vulnerable because the only image component that is driving sales is reliability and resale value, and if they lose [those two qualities], God help ’em. The cars look average, they drive average… I mean, let’s face it, they’re bland-mobiles. It became a default purchase for people who knew nothing about cars, and didn’t care about cars… and sure enough, [the reputation for reliability and resale value] was true. And, early on, Toyotas were also beautifully finished, inside and out. Even a Camry or Corolla had a beautiful interior… not so much any more.

But, there was no doubt that Toyota’s success lay in the actual manufacturing of the car. The Toyota Production System, Just-In-Time inventory, error-proofing, Andon cords in the factories, the blend of human operatives and automation… all of that stuff, we undeniably learned from Toyota. If you have a bracket that has to attach to something, Toyota  would engineer that bracket in such a way that you could not mount that bracket upside-down. The whole industry was transformed from… looking back, you almost have to say haphazard manufacturing and quality control to designing a process flow in manufacturing that almost guarantees you perfection with every single vehicle. So, all the credit in the world to them for that.

I also think they had a very good and productive relationship with their suppliers, which we didn’t always have. Detroit keeps slipping into these periods of “let’s beat the hell out of [suppliers] and suck all the profitability out of them because it belongs to us”… with devastating results each time. They also showed, maybe by default, that you maintain residual value by not oversupplying the market. We would oversupply the market… “alright, another 50,000 into daily rental”… it looks good in the short term, you make the numbers, you make your market share, and then you wonder why the two-year-old off-lease Malibu was worth only 38 percent [of its original value].

This last bit is pretty key to Lutz’s “bean-counter” argument about improving the top-end of the business. That he learned the lesson at the hands of Toyota and manages to give credit where it’s due is a compelling admission, given GM’s notorious reputation for “not invented here syndrome.” And later in the conversation, when the new Camry came up in passing, he remarked

Apparently they were able to take 250 lbs out of it, while maintaining structural rigidity… everyone says it’s not a bad car… good for them.

Apparently he even has more respect for Toyota’s product development than you might think.

9. Bob Lutz can’t admit a mistake.

The quote above might be enough to show that Lutz is more reflective and self-critical than his “damn the torpedoes” public image would suggest, but his most significant admissions of failure have to do with GM. The on that is most damning, in my eyes, is his admission in Car Guys that he was not enthusiastic about GM’s expansion into China. Had Lutz been in charge, you could make the case that a late entry into China would have damned the company to bankruptcy years earlier than 2009. But there are other, more concrete examples of mistakes that he heartily admits to… mistakes in his own area of expertise. None looms as large as the GMC XUV, a vehicle he calls a “disaster.” And though he discusses this incident in the book as well, in our conversation he connects the episode with his critique of GM’s culture: executives at GM were, by and large, too smart for their own good. And Lutz himself, a man with no lack of confidence, found himself overwhelmed.

There were some times when I deferred to the GM people because they seemed so smart and seemed to have done their homework so well and they were so convincing and the PowerPoint presentations were so great. I felt like I was dealing with people of a really superior intelligence… and I was! That’s how the GMC XUV happened. I just got myself convinced… I hate it, but that doesn’t mean anything. I may not be the customer for this sort of thing, but these people have done their homework and we’ll let it go.  That one proved to be a waste of about $275 million, down a rathole, for nothing. That vehicle was a joke.

This anecdote goes against the grain of the bean-counter-slaying Bob Lutz narrative, but it also confirms a basic premise of his philosophy: being too smart is as bad as being dumb. Over-thinking things can lead to as many bad decisions as it can avoid. And if Lutz is going to admit a mistake, it will typically be a mistake caused by the head winning out over the gut.

10. Bob Lutz is old and out of touch.

When I showed up at Lutz Farm for our conversation, it never occurred to me that Lutz was just days away from returning to the payroll at General Motors. I knew he had been doing some “consulting,” but I didn’t imagine that he was as involved in decisions as he is. Indeed the first hint that he might still carry significant weight inside GM’s product development organization came in the answer to my very first question, in which I asked him to compare his time at Chrysler with his time at GM. After some background he explained

First of all, when I arrived at Chrysler, I didn’t have the all-encompassing powers over product development that I do now.

Part of me wanted to ask him how much I should read into that little  Freudian slip, but Lutz was off and running and I spent the next several hours just trying to keep up. And really, it would probably be a better question to ask Mary Barra, the relatively unknown actual head of product development at GM.

In any case, Lutz’s continued involvement at GM has raised more than a few accusations that “it’s time to let Lutz go” and that “the old man is past his prime”… but I saw nothing that led me to believe he couldn’t be helpful to a young exec trying to take charge of GM’s product development. When he was serving espresso before the interview began, I thought I saw his hand shake almost imperceptibly… otherwise, I wouldn’t have pegged him for a day over 60. For hours he puffed his cigar and kept up with my often-abstract questions, answering them rapidly, deploying pop-culture-references and decades-old anecdotes alike. His phone and Blackberry  chimed relentlessly throughout the interview, and he would sometimes interrupt the interview briefly to fire off Blackberry messages with the dexterity and nonchalance of a 13 year old.

I certainly hope to be in his shape when I reach 79… and anyone fascinated by the world of cars would be glad for the opportunity to spend part of an afternoon listening to his prodigious perspective. There’s no doubt that Lutz is a man from another time, but he’s also a man with the grit and determination to stay remarkably relevant in a rapidly-changing world. Agree or disagree with him, love him or hate him, Bob Lutz is a living link to an automotive era that seems unlikely to return… and from which the industry can still learn a lot.

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77 Comments on “The Ten Myths Of Bob Lutz...”

  • avatar

    Great write-up and certainly a lot of food for thought. I expect plenty of comments from the “usual suspects” on topics #2 and #3. Cue….

  • avatar

    Incredible piece, Ed. Especially the bit about Lutz’s internal contradictions. These were explicit in his earlier book, Guts.

    I wish Lutz’s recent book was half as forthcoming and insightful. But the more I think about it–and I do need to get a finished review to you–the book reads as if it was vetted through a genteel PR firm. There’s just so much it doesn’t say.

    The bit about brand managers being responsible for decontenting products is a myth. I was inside GM at the height of brand management. Those guys were fighting to do exactly what Lutz later did. Just one of many examples: the brand manager in charge off the Malibu specifically told me he badly wanted to put $300 into the interior of the car, and felt transaction prices would go up $3,000 if he did, but the analysis-based system would not allow it. There was no “proof” that improving the interior would bump the top line.

    In Car Guys, Lutz acknowledges that even Zarrella, the top brand manager, failed not because he was able to implement brand management but because he has given up trying to change how GM did things. Zarrella did wastefully split up the ad budget among too many different campaigns, but his impact on the product, for good or bad, was limited.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing I forgot to include earlier: the reason for the lack of out-sized personalities is that the industry is mature. For the big personalities, look to newer industries. Or at least newer parts of this one. For example, Musk and Fisker or new companies in China.

  • avatar

    Very interesting stuff. Makes me want to know more about the man –as well as how things are done inside a big car company, not just GM.

  • avatar

    Probably one of the most objective discussions about Lutz that I have read. He words and actions provoke a response, and that’t far better than the politically correct executives that dominate the business today.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Love it. He’s da MAN. Long live the LUTZ. He sure isn’t one dimensional.

  • avatar

    Excellent piece, Ed. Lutz proved himself sufficiently endearing I’ll have to buy his latest book. I still wish he’d kept the Solstice in the oven long enough to meet a closer-to-Miata fighting weight, along with a practical top, but his shots at the XUV and the Volt critics are on the money.

    If it hasn’t happened already, one of these days it would be great to hear what some of the participants thought about the Pontiac Aztec in the later clay renditions. Given the tasteful if occasionally overdecorated cars which came from Pontiac, that one was a real anomaly.

    • 0 avatar

      I was in the studio when the Aztek was a clay. Everyone in design thought it was ugly, and the clinic participants said it was ugly (don’t believe accounts that claim it was the result of clinic testing), but people felt powerless to fix it. The board wanted a “Gen X” crossover very fast and very cheap. Engineering insisted that it meet all of their criteria, which forced the initial 15-inch wheels.

      The #1 change Lutz could have effected would be creating an organization where people can get done what they know needs to be done. He might have helped a lot here, but more no doubt much remains to be done.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow Mike, I was a clinic participant on the Aztek. I described it as a lobster. Horrific on the outside, but if you could get past the shell the interior was very well done. My view was I would never buy one, I would never consider one, and for the love of God please don’t build this. Take what you’ve done on the interior, and some of the great ideas contained inside, and build a better U-Body mousetrap.

      • 0 avatar

        The U-Body was really the problem. The Aztek could have been an in-spite-of-itself hit but for being saddled with what had to be not just the worst minivan platform, but the worst platform in the already-excretable stable of the turn-of-the-millenium GM.

        Or, to put it another way, if you wanted something ponderous, inefficient, unreliable and badly packaged, you could have saved money and bought a short-wheelbase Venture/Montana instead.

        Or, you could have bought any one of a number of much, much better trucklets or vans, which is what people did.

      • 0 avatar

        The Aztek was doomed regardless of platform. Its industrial design relegated it to a bad joke. Wouldn’t have mattered if it was built in a ’96 Camry chassis; it wouldn’t have sold – even if buyers knew about the Toyota under pinning behind that horrific sheet metal and plastic. People Exhibit A – Honda Crosstour.

        The fact that a bean counting GM forced engineers to use the SWB U-Body only hurt the Aztek further, but the U-Body was only a contributor – not the center of the Aztek’s issues.

        Like the ’84 Fiero, the decisions made by executives and accountants were making sure the Aztek would be DoA before it even reached the showroom.

    • 0 avatar

      If you take a look at the results of the SCCA National in Salinas, Kansas, you’ll find the SKY/Solstice are damn competitive toe-to-toe with the MX5, weight issues and all.

      • 0 avatar

        I wasn’t suggesting that the Sky/Solstice were bad cars – the styling on both is certainly better than the Miata – but that in a lighter form they would have been killers. Also, even an impractical sports car is occasionally used for grocery duty or for a nice two-person weekend. In these two, one is forced to leave the top up if the car will carry cargo; that seems an unreasonable compromise.

        Thanks Mike, APaGtth and psarhjininian for opining on the Aztek. I saw my first at the GM “Auto Show in Motion” and was struck dumb by its in-your-face ugliness. As much maligned as were the “dustbuster” minivans, I thought the styling was superb.

      • 0 avatar

        As maligned as the GM dust buster vans were/are – the 3.8L V6 versions of them are unkillable. The plastic panels don’t rot, the 3.8L V6 Series I is a well done engine, and the 4-speed auto can be serviced by a caveman.

        I still see Oldsmobile and Pontiac versions of these on the roads. They are ugly, ungainly, that overhang of the nose is something else – but they just – keep – going.

    • 0 avatar

      As much of a nasty car the Aztec was, I think the design wouldn’t look to far out of place compared to many of todays CUV’s…(like mixing a CRV and an X6) Could it have been ahead of its time?

  • avatar

    Nice article!

    Welcome back to General Motors Mr Lutz!

  • avatar

    Re: #8.

    A fan of the Oakland Raiders may admit respect for the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and the West-Coast Offense; he still hates the 49ers though.

    All three times I’ve personally heard Lutz speak, he never passed up an opportunity to say how much he couldn’t stand Toyota, and it was the only competitor that he ever spoke of with derision.

    • 0 avatar

      if you don’t have a soul or produce interesting product, a lack of respect or outright contepmt Toyota is not surprising when you are a “car guy” at hear.

      Honda has an incredible racing tradition and decades of engineering-driven innovation, tho they have veered into blandland pretty strongly in the recent past. Nissan has Z-cars, original 4DSC Maxima, Sentra SE-R, GT-R.

      one could argue that Toyota had Supra/Celica/MR-2, but those vehicle never informed any part of the rest of their corporate philosophy and were left to die on the vine and then discarded rather than cultivated.

      • 0 avatar

        Toyota has racing tradition, too. The Celica All-trac in rallying one several races all over the world, and spare me, the Z, SE-R, Civic Si, etc never “informed” (wrong use of the word, BTW) any part of the corporate philosophy of any of their parent brands, either.

      • 0 avatar

        @84Cressida :
        the Toyota WRC team was very successful, winning the WRC title for driver/manufacturer several times, but they were also excluded from the WRC for a year for cheating.

        Honda had (as I noted, it’s lost a lot in the recent past) a very strong engineering and innovation-driven corporate culture. their involvement in Formula 1/Indycar was/is directly used to teach engineers and improve the company’s products. the original catalyst-free CVCC engine design, F1 racing in the 60s, decades of dominance in MotoGP at all levels. Honda’s racing tradition is orders of magnitude deeper and more successful than Toyota’s.

        I would argue that Toyota has always been a manufacturing and process efficiency-driven company. where it suits them to expand/join a market (Lexus) they do it. and extremely well. one cannot however say that Toyota racing in NASCAR or Formula 1, where they spent _billions_ and never, won has done anything to improve the product which is on the road. not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.

        Toyota’s success in the US (remember, their sales tend to be relatively underwhelming in Europe, a market which values character and driver involvement as well as soul-less efficiency and reliability) is built on a reliable, inoffensive product line, not one which excites the car guy, that’s just the way is it.

  • avatar

    Your best piece ever Ed. Fantastic read. Thank you.

  • avatar

    “I’ve often wondered if there is a relationship between the decline of the automobile’s cultural relevance, and the decline of the larger-than-life auto executive.”

    no, there isn’t.

    seriously tho, Iacocca wasn’t a larger-than life persona when the Mustang was launched, nor did people idolize (or even know who he was) Duntov.

    the cultural landscape has changed, people no longer tie as much of their (economic or psychological) self-worth in their vehicles, therefore they are no longer as valued as they once were.

    one could argue that the lack of visible (don’t doubt for one second that the industry is populated by lots of people with very strong personalities who do impose their will on product development, even if they aren’t stars like Lutz) larger-than-life personas might dilute the ideas behind new product, but the process doesn’t grind every craggy rock of an idea pebble smooth and boring.

  • avatar

    I don’t love or hate Lutz, I respect him. I respect anyone who works within a large corporate machine, but who says and does what they think is right, rather than what is the accepted norm or what they think people want to hear. You can’t imagine Lutz being a grey-suited ‘yes’ man.

    • 0 avatar

      Lutz did say what people wanted to hear, just not perhaps in the same way.

      He certainly said things that the erstwhile automotive press and GM insiders appreciated—in classic demagogue style, I might add—and in that sense I suppose he did good things for morale, but he didn’t take responsibility for GM’s real problem (which was management culture) nor fix it.

      That job was done by Ed Whitacre and the PTFoA.

      A grey-suited yes-man? No. A blue-suited, feel-good, slap-you-on-the-back’er who makes you feel like a million bucks by lying to you and repeating, loudly, what that what you “feel” is right? Absolutely.

      • 0 avatar

        That is exactly the issue with Lutz. He would say what people (especially GM Koolaid drinkers) want to hear… “I’m THE car guy”… “I will stop the insanity”… “I will shake things up..”… “I will bring new cool cars to the market that will sell like crazy” and then we get WTF’s like the G5, the G3, the STS, the SSR, the XLR, the Sky, the first gen of the SRX, etc.

        A good reporter will ignore his words and consider his ACTIONS.
        Great he can admit he made a mistake… a better question has he EVER learned from them?

        Bottom line he was brought into GM in 2001 to smash the development bureaucracy and help GM avoid mistakes of the past. At that he was a total failure. If anything, new GM still looks WAY too much like old GM.

        Myth #11 Bob Lutz was a good auto executive… Fact in over just under 10 years and with lots of time, money, and clout he helped drive a once great auto maker into government control and nearly oblivion. Nice work Bob. I hope you have better luck this time.

      • 0 avatar

        @CamaroKid :

        I’m sure had Ed asked, Lutz would have stated (off the record perhaps, though he’s made on the record comments about this sort of thing in the past) that the G3 and G5 were demanded by dealers and something he would never have gone along with otherwise. ultimately the dealer is the car company’s actual customer, so they get what they want to a large degree, even if it’s a cynical re-badge of an uninspiring POS like the Aveo or Cobalt.

        the Sky isn’t quite the same situation – development cost would have been low given that the Sky was already engineered for Europe as an Opel and aligned with the (at the time) strategy of Saturn as Opel in the US market.

        XLR wasn’t a bad idea, but the demand wasn’t really there to make it a long term prospect. Cadillac wasn’t quite as mature a brand as they wanted to be at that time, so their customers weren’t ready for that. nor were buyers drawn to the brand from other places by it. perhaps they will get their next flagship model right.

  • avatar

    Great write up ED, Lutz is a facsinating guy cant wait to learn more

  • avatar

    As bad as the Aztec was, it was no worse in concept than CUVs like the Ford Edge and the Nissan Murano, most of which ended up being a lot heavier. In fact, it was a little more honest to the “utility” part of CUV-SUV. You could even get a camper tent for the thing.

    I feel like Linus “It’s not a bad little tree at all. All it needs is a little love.”

  • avatar

    “I’ve often wondered if there is a relationship between the decline of the automobile’s cultural relevance, and the decline of the larger-than-life auto executive.”

    I doubt it. Cars had much cultural relevance in the 50s but I doubt most car buyers of the time could name many auto execs. I’m not talking about 1950s enthusiasts, but 1950s average buyers.

    I suspect that the declining cultural relevance is due to declining real incomes for the middle class over the past 4 decades. It’s hard to put any more $ than necessary into a car these days because incomes are not rising and spending more on a car means doing with less of something else. People can’t replace a car as frequently as they used to (and don’t need to) so cars are now “appliances”.

    • 0 avatar

      People can’t replace a car as frequently as they used to (and don’t need to) so cars are now “appliances”.

      The complete reversal of Alfred P. Sloan’s annual model changeover business plan hasn’t helped matters any, either. It’s a sad irony how the auto industry has become exactly what nearly drove Henry Ford out of business when he refused to substantially change the Model T for years. In the halcyon days of the fifties and sixties, a car never went more than two years before a complete makeover. In some circumstances, a car model only lasted a single year before being completely redone.

      Now, at least five years between model changeovers is the norm. Styling tends to get pretty stale after that many years.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s because Henry was fundamentally right ;) Creating a new design every year is costly, especially now when people demand other thing than just looks (in the 50’s you could build something that leaked, drank tons of gas, had horrible aerodynamics and would kill you without thinking twice , as long as it looked good and ‘modern’)
        And the constant change of designs easily leads to extremes, and makes it hard to ‘bond’ with a car, so they were even more of an appliance in the 50’s. They were disposable and obsolete after 2 or three years. And you risk that people switch brands just because your car looks dated next to the competition.

      • 0 avatar

        In the “good old days,” most people drove appliances, too. As someone who was around back then (late 1960s and all of the 1970s), I can assure you that Hemi Mopars existed only in magazines, seeing any Corvette was a big deal, and most people did NOT drive around in convertibles of any color, let alone red ones.

        Most people drove intermediate and full-size Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths with a base-level V-8, power steering, AM radio, whitewall tires and full wheelcovers. Air conditioning was a treat (except on a Cadillac, Lincoln, Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, Buick Electra or Chrysler New Yorker, where it was expected, but those vehicles had status at that time), and power windows and seats were downright decadent. Styled wheels? Your parents REALLY went over the top if the family bus sported those!

        People bought new cars more often because they wore out faster. If a car went 100,000 miles, it was shot, and if anyone had said that his car had 175,000 miles on the odometer, we’d think he was either a liar or completely crazy. Or else he was an expert in rebuilding engines, transmissions and suspensions. The imports, except for some Volvos and Mercedes models, were even worse.

        It was easier to restyle cars every 1-2 years because manufacturers didn’t offer as many of vehicles (remember, trucks didn’t count, as anyone using a truck as a personal vehicle in suburbia was considered a bit odd). No manufacturer can afford to restyle every car in its lineup every two years anymore.

        People I know still get excited about buying a new car…it just happens every 5-7 years now, instead of every 3-4 years, as it did when I was younger.

      • 0 avatar

        It was easier to restyle cars every 1-2 years because manufacturers didn’t offer as many of vehicles

        That’s certainly part of it. But we should also remember that the “model year” concept invented by GM also paved the way for the Japanese to make inroads into the US market. With the model year, the focus was on providing styling and features with engineering quality coming in second.

        This approach worked for awhile — it helped GM to surpass Ford — but it eventually caught up with them. It left Detroit vulnerable to competitors that focused on reliability, and we all know how that story ended.

        And a lot of what has happened has been the shift to trucks. The last few decades has seen a substantial transition to light trucks (which include SUVs and many minivans). While per capita car registrations were about the same in 2008 as they were in 1970, the per capita rate of registered trucks over the same time period increased almost fivefold. Detroit responded to this by neglecting much of their car development, and we know how that story ended, too.

      • 0 avatar

        Now, at least five years between model changeovers is the norm. Styling tends to get pretty stale after that many years.

        True in many cases, though in the mid-2000s I wish they would have called the Mazda3 good and left it alone, as well as the Mazda6, TSX, TL, 3-Series, 5-Series . . .

    • 0 avatar


      I agree with most of what you said, but the fact that cars could/had to be replaced every few years meant that the excitement of a new car purchase came every few years. Risks could be taken because the car only had to last 3 years or so. Given rising incomes -for many people- a new car was cheaper in real terms than the one being traded in. A new car was a big purchase, but an exciting one, and made frequently. Everyone had to replace their car every few years, whether or not they were “enthusiasts”. No wonder the car had cultural relevance.

      By contrast, appliances might last 30 years, and no matter how exciting the initial purchase was, it was not an experience to be repeated for decades. Cars can now easily last 15 years with only routine maintenance.

      Yes, the annual model change was wasteful, but boy did it give us something to talk about. Today, if you buy a new car it doesn’t look much different than your old one. In an extreme case, like the Ford Ranger, the new one looks just like your old one, and the one you had before that. Nothing to get excited about.

  • avatar

    I respect Lutz even more now, and I think I agree with everything he has said (that I can actually relate to, I have never met all the people he has worked with offcourse) and I share his recent towards Toyotas blandness, even if that’s almost too mainstream a thought by now.
    What he says about the Volt vs the Leaf is true. People do have range anxiety when it comes to EV’s, and even if they might choose to drive the Volt as an EV they will feel more confident that they won’t be left stranded in the wilderness. Not to mention you can actually use the Volt on long trips too if you want too.
    And I’m not surprised he’s not very far right politically. Firstly ,he has spent most of his life in Europe, and he has worked with all kinds of people all his life.
    And American media are not, and have not been very nice to American car makers (compared to other countries media), and I actually suspect that the increasing negativity against makes like Honda and Toyota actually comes a lot from the fact that they are being more and more accepted as the ‘domestic’ manufacturers that they actually have been since the late 80’s early 90’s.
    and as I work at an international huge cooperation myself, I see what damage bean-counters can do if they get too much power, as much as I can see that we need them if they are used right.
    Last, I would like to mention how much of an impact this guy has had on my whole life as a gar guy, I grew up in the 80’s with cars he has been involved in, and in the incredibly boring 90’s he was involved in making a lot of my dream cars, my favourite car ever (Ford Sierra) is Lutz car, and it’s fircest competition in Europe at the time (in my eyes, as a RWD mid/compact family car)was the E30 BMW, another car he was involved in. Ans a lot of the really beautiful Opels on the roads when I was a kid were made during his time there.
    They should just give him GM to do whatever he pleases. Most of the really ‘bad’ things about GM happened long before he started there…
    I’ll just stop here. :P

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Jayzus, first you post that 2nd anniversary article, then you follow it up with this?

    I feel like I’ve fallen for a “look over there!” ruse just in time to be blindsided by the freight train I’ve turned away from.

    Yeah, this place is good for another 2 years.

  • avatar

    “So, the Leaf gets 70 miles on a good day and 50 miles on a bad day… meanwhile there are guys getting 56 miles [of electric range] on the Chevy Volt.”

    Thankfully “Lutz cherrypicks his data” wasn’t on this list. Comparing a Leaf on a winter day to a Volt hypermiled during ideal conditions is clearly an apples to apples comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      But when the Volt runs out of battery power it can still drive further, unless you forgot to get fuel…
      Even if it’s not the most efficient car, it’s realistic to think it’s one that people will buy.

      • 0 avatar

        I said nothing about which car was better. I simply pointed out that he picked an unlikely scenario (getting 56mi on a charge on the Volt) and a worst case scenario to build up his product.

        The Leaf would be a fine car if you had a 2nd car in the family. It is pretty rare that my wife and I are both driving over 100miles in a single day. I don’t particularly want a full electric, but I could see it working for some people. According to my spreadsheets, a Prius plug-in is not only $3k cheaper than a Volt (after applicable tax credits), it saves me $170/year in fuel over the Volt. 12 mile roundtrip commutes and distance traveling means that the 48mpg highway carries far more weight in the calculations than the electric range. The Volt’s extended range mpg of 36ish really punishes the calculation. Even then, though, the plug-in Prius is a 10 year payback versus a regular nav-equipped Prius Three. Better than the 20+ year payback, though, of the Volt.

  • avatar

    Nice write-up Ed, thanks.

    p.s. I think “I thought I saw his hand shake almost imperceptibly” may say the almost opposite of what you intended.

  • avatar

    I’ve often wondered if there is a relationship between the decline of the automobile’s cultural relevance, and the decline of the larger-than-life auto executive.

    The celebrity CEO is a recent fad. And I have my doubts that the average American is particularly familiar with Bob Lutz.

  • avatar

    he was an integral part of the top management team that bankrupted General Motors. I’m sure the usual fan boys like the fluff. as for me, he’s a footnote in the failures of automotive history.

  • avatar

    Great article Mr. Niedermeyer! In this interview Bob Lutz comes off
    as a far more interesting person than the one dimensional portraits
    were usually treated to by the “media”. Keep up the good work.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    As bad as the Aztec was, it was no worse in concept than CUVs like the Ford Edge and the Nissan Murano, most of which ended up being a lot heavier.

    I have to agree with the Edge – my wife’s Edge drives way too heavy for me. Can’t answer to the Murano. But I think the huge criticism of the Aztek was that it was hideous to look at. Inside it was quite useful. Of course, everyone thought the Element was ugly too but we got over that….

    he was an integral part of the top management team that bankrupted General Motors.

    Buickman, I have to disagree. GM was on the road to death back when Lutz joined them; they just didn’t know it. They had 8 brands to develop and market with a continually shrinking market share.

    This was a great article, Ed. Kudos.

  • avatar

    Soo…the same old, same old. “Toyotas don’t have soul and they’re for idiots who don’t know about cars”. Rightttt. So every tool that buys a Malibu and Impala is buying a car full of soul and could practically build the thing themselves, right? And I’d put any Cressida, MR2, Celica, Supra, IS, GS, CT, over any GM “soul mobile” anyday of the week.

    And the Cobalt was a turd. It wasn’t competitive with the 2005 Corolla and Civic when it came out, and even when the Corolla became a half-assed “we were totally high when we built this thing” car in 2009, it’s still better than any Cobalt. Only the Cruze is a serious GM effort…with almost 2 tons of “soul” in it that if it had Toyota badges on it would be hounded all day long as being boring, beige, blah blah blah. Hypocrites.

  • avatar

    Nobody has commented on the fact that this slob would happily cripple the entire US economy with single payer healthcare implemented as a union and trial lawyer full employment plan and energy taxes that would throw all working people’s standard of living back to the mid-1800s. Just to make life easier for imcompetent Detroit management. Nothing could happen to him that would be too horrible.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, because every other first world country that has single payer healthcare and high energy taxes(which is pretty much all of them sans the U.S.) has a mid 1800s standard of living.

      • 0 avatar

        Perhaps you missed the significance of reading the whole sentence. We can’t afford single payer as long as we’re governed by and for trial lawyers, and as long as all spending programs focus on funnelling money to worthless labor unions.

    • 0 avatar

      Nobody has commented on the fact that this slob would happily cripple the entire US economy with single payer healthcare…

      Maybe because this is a car website, and most people here would rather discuss the man and his cars than use every article as a platform for parroting right wing talking points?

    • 0 avatar

      CJ – your comments are just unbecoming and factually inaccurate. To wish someone to die and to die horribly is just offensive. Also Lutz is in great shape for 79, so hardly a slob (maybe you are projecting).

      Take a look at the UK – single payer healthcare and the country is not in the 1800’s. Cut out the hyperbole.

  • avatar

    Buickman, I agree about the labor aspect of GM’s failure. I can’t see how anyone at the top would have rolled the dice on GM’s future like he and his predecessors did, by agreeing to enormous concessions to the UAW, every time they threatened a strike, or held a actual strike. It seems to me GM could have absorbed those strikes easier than funding all those concessions.

    I don’t expect any company to perfectly execute all the time, but the concessions made to the unions to keep lines up, was gross negligence on the part of GM’s management.

    Even now they have something like $20 billion in unfunded pensions on the books.

    If GM isn’t careful, they’ll be back in full government control again in the near future.

    • 0 avatar

      As head of Product Development, Lutz would likely have only been involved in a tangential way with UAW negoitiations. Product Development and Engineering don’t drive the labor side of the business any more than being the providers of the product which the plants assemble.

      that’s not to say that as part of the most senior leadership at GM Lutz wouldn’t have been in the conversation, but it’s not the place of produce creation people to get involved in labor issues.

      the focus Lutz placed on “top line” (pricing) vs just cost would tend to support an opposite view from the move the metal at all costs/keep the plants full way of thinking, but if the board was more concerned with keeping the UAW happy and the plants running, that goal might have been compromised. for as much credit/blame/visibility as Lutz gets, the real power at GM was/is/will be in the hands of the board, which have not proven to be anything close to forward thinking in a lot of their (in)actions over the years.

    • 0 avatar

      the failure of GM had nothing to do with labor, it was management, and still is. there is a disease down there that is incurable. they will burn thru the 30 billion and be broke again I assure you. remember people thought I was nuts 8 years ago when I proclaimed the same…well before anyone heard of DeathWatch there was GeneralWatch.

      • 0 avatar

        IMO, it was labor’s fault for asking so much, and management’s fault for caving in to their demands. GM would have had the cash to hold out over a strike, had they not already given so much away to labor.

        And I think labor costs have greatly affected GM’s product designs.

        If GM had the money, then product design managers like Lutz may not have had to “de-contented” various designs to shave off costs to get a design out at the right top-line price.

        GM’s production should have been overseas long ago, like Apple. Something GM could learn from… or they could have taken a real bankruptcy and cut the unions loose, rather than the government padded bailout & bankruptcy they actually obtained.

  • avatar

    The Bob Lutz re-bradning tour continues. TTAC writer falls for charm and con-manish hook line and sinker. Where’s putting the man on the spot? where are the deep questions, and when the answer is BS a follow up, or thrid?. TTAC? This article was hardly it.

    Bob Lutz 1 – TTAC 0

    • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        He was asked questions that were hard and unexpected such as the “whey are GM products so heavy”.
        Do you disagree with Lutz’s co0mments about Toyota, or his comments about GM’s poor supplier relationships, or his comments about residual values??

      • 0 avatar

        @mike978 :

        I’m actually surprised that Lutz felt that “why are GM products so heavy” was an unexpected question. it’s a pretty obvious engineering question, but perhaps that’s not what’s expected from a business/industry-based interview.

        all cars have gotten heavier as craftsmanship standards have increased and we are able to maintain (or marginally improve) fuel economy with heavier vehicles. adding weight may be an inevitable result of improved craftsmanship, but the smarter you engineer (or the more variable cost you spend on materials) the less weight you can add. if you can afford the weight from a fuel economy perspective, you go with the cheap/heavy solution. if you have to maintain a weight class or build to a weight to support an ultimate fuel economy goal, you have to spend to get it. very little is for free.

      • 0 avatar

        Faygo – I agree with you that it basic engineering. It isn`t the absolute weight per se that is the problem here but the gap between competitors weight and the usually heavier GM weight. I brought this up because it was unexpected (and thus maybe hard) for Lutz and in defense of Ed’s interview against accusations of him “going soft” on Lutz.

      • 0 avatar

        So, did we ever find out if his pensions and benefits would have survived a “normal” bankruptcy?

  • avatar

    Excellent article, well written.

    Picking up on one thing he said “this is the only country that I know of where the media routinely trashes the domestic product”. Er, not true. Here in the UK the press totally trashed the domestic makers including the American owned makers with local factories. This continued into recent times with the MG Rover company (which collapsed in 2005) and cars like the Jaguar X-Type routinely hammered. Some of the cars deserved the bad rap but often not to the extent that the press wrote about. Today they praise the so-called “premium” German brands to a ridiculous extent.

  • avatar

    Wonderful piece. I savored each paragraph. Fabulous insights.
    I’ll be sure to not miss Edward Niedermeyer’s future writings.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “But, there was no doubt that Toyota’s success lay in the actual manufacturing of the car.”

    Yep he’s got that right. Toyota manufactures better than anyone else, period. And that’s what got them where they are today. If he doesn’t like Toyota perhaps he owned a first generation Highlander. Or as I used to call ours, the Craplander!…..LOL

  • avatar

    what a hottie!

  • avatar

    He looks like Cristiano Ronaldo.

  • avatar

    I’ll put a Cobalt against a current generation Corolla any day.

    Whoa, don’t set the bar so high, Bob!

    Great article. Lots of interesting stuff in there.

  • avatar

    “Conveniently forgetting, of course, that the [tax credit] went in under the Bush Administration.”

    Not at all. Bush is still criticized by the right wing for starting the bank and auto bailouts.
    This should not be news to anyone unless their radio is permanently fixed to NPR and Pacifica.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    The key quote in this interview is: “Because we’re all trained the same way, a traditional automobile person from Ford, GM or Chrysler can move from company to company, and the way programs are created, the way they’re measured, the way they proceed through the approval process, the way they’re then finally executed… you hardly notice the difference.” This is a culture with a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

    In 1992, I sat next to GM’s Director of Advanced Engineering during the banquet at a composites conference. I said that if the auto industry wanted to see a paradigm shift, it should hire some farmers. Farmers do engineering all the time, but few have any formal training in it. They go ahead and solve their engineering problems anyway but from a different perspective, since they haven’t been taught the “correct way” to do it. For example, the articulated four-wheel drive tractor and the skid-steer loader were invented by northwestern Minnesota farmers.

    Another example of taking a different approach is Burt Rutan’s response to being asked what he thought the airplane of the future would look like. Rutan answered that it was not an airplane but video conferencing. Why move a body thousands of miles when all that is needed is face-to-face contact? Rutan is the most innovative aircraft designer of the past half century. His take on the original GM electric car was that he really liked it but would have added a small lawnmower engine genset to it. He recognized that the power demand of an automobile is highly variable, with high power required for very short duration and low power being the amount used by the vehicle most of the time. The high power demand would come out of the batteries, while a low power genset optimized for maximum efficiency would handle continuous power duty.

  • avatar

    I could go on and on about the book. I have always liked and respected Lutz.

    The book had interesting insights, and some just plain factual mistakes.

    About Saab he says that the 900 had a V-4 engine and was not a good car. The v-4 was dropped when the 99 was introduced for a straight 4. By the time the 900 was introduced some 12 years later they soon became all turbo in the USA. So this statement is so far off……12 or more years……… that I had trouble believing lots of other “facts” presented.

    I had heard that he likes Saabs and his wife even drove a 95 turbo wagon and loved it!!

    He goes very soft on the labor unions. Playing politics I feel because he is going to work in the auto industry for a few more years. He goes very soft on the current administration for the same reasons in my opinion.

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