Old Man Lutz Weighs in on Donald Trump, Tesla Motors, and the State of the U.S. Auto Industry

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
old man lutz weighs in on donald trump tesla motors and the state of the u s auto

If you’re unfamiliar with Bob Lutz, it’s likely that you’re a recent addition to the world of automotive enthusiasm. Allow me to be the first to welcome you. The rest of us have been following Lutz’s career shift from extremely outspoken auto executive to extremely outspoken car blogger for years. Now 85, he hasn’t become any less critical of the industry after entering his “retirement,” nor has his advanced age done much to soften his frank rhetoric.

Love or hate him, Lutz’s time spent jumping between the Big Three has provided him with unique insights — and he always has plenty to say on the current state of the American automotive industry. His most recent revelations circle around the unsustainable nature of Tesla and his growing distaste for president Trump, despite his having voted for him.

Speaking with Bobby at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Los Angeles Times probed him on electric cars and what his former EV advocacy allows him to discern about the future of Elon Musk’s Tesla.

“I don’t know why it is that otherwise intelligent people can’t see what’s going on there. They lose money on every car, they have a constant cash drain, and yet everybody talks as if this is the most miraculous automobile company of all time,” Lutz said.

He continued by expressing how Tesla’s distinctive product could easily be mimicked by other automakers. Most manufacturers already have competitive electric vehicles already in development or on the road, something Lutz was careful to point out. But he doesn’t see all-electric vehicles as a viable option for any company’s chief product. Tesla’s autonomous features are its ace-in-the-hole, but the practical application of those features is still years away.

“Raising capital is not going to help, because fundamentally the business equation on electric cars is wrong. They cost more to build than what the public is willing to pay. That’s the bottom line.”

While Lutz does concede that Tesla offers a gorgeous and intriguing option in the Model S, the rest of its lineup won’t be enough to carry it onward — especially since he doesn’t foresee EV demand improving at the same rate some of the more optimistic market research speculates.

When General Motors stopped running consumer trials of the mass-produced EV1 electric car in the late 1990s, Lutz famously said, in an interview with Charlie Rose, that the vehicle cost over $250,000 to produce and was being leased for only $300 per month. Afterward, he began pushing for the Chevrolet Volt as an all-electric but admitted that there were notable advantages to hybridization.

Lutz says he remains a proponent of electric cars but doesn’t have a lot of faith in the mainstream market. He especially doesn’t believe consumers will flock to EVs while fuel remains affordable. “I’m a longtime proponent of federal taxation on motor fuels, and the time to do it is now, when gas prices are low,” he said. “You put 25 cents on and there’s a big hue and cry, but by the time the midterm elections roll around it’s forgotten. I’d dedicate the 25 cents a gallon to infrastructure.”

Bob actually seemed fixated on the dire need to improve America’s infrastructure throughout the interview, something the president often cited in his own campaign promises. However, with some overlap on decreasing corporate taxes and rolling back regulations, that’s about the extent of what the two men agree on. Despite voting for him, Lutz had plenty of negative things to say about Donald Trump.

“If I had any influence over him, which I don’t, I would strongly encourage him to stop that, especially the angry tweets. Let’s face it, it’s juvenile. What is he, 71 or 72? You’d think he’d have developed a thicker skin.”

He went on to say that he feels the president is approaching the North American Free Trade Agreement entirely wrong. “The problem isn’t Mexico. Mexico, automotively, is to a large extent a two-way street. We export a lot. And our Mexican plants take our components and ship them all over the world,” Lutz explained. “Mexico was part of the salvation of the American auto industry against the Japanese. If he wants to look at unfair trade, he should look at Europe. They essentially ship tax-free vehicles to the United States [without reciprocation].”

[Image: General Motors]

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  • Whatnext Whatnext on Apr 02, 2017

    Uh, hate to burst your "get off my lawn" bubble with this from last week's ABQ Journal: "New Mexico’s solar job growth is on fire, with employment up 54 percent last year, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Foundation." https://www.abqjournal.com/977137/solar-job-growth-exploding-in-nm.html

    • See 8 previous
    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Apr 03, 2017

      @28-Cars-Later "So, you paid for it America." America's tax payers sure did pay for it. Got taken to the cleaners for it. I think there is room to utilize ALL sources of energy generation to include solar, wind, nuclear. But we have fields and fields of solar farms in MY area and get to use none of it because it is all exported to the El Paso, TX, area. Yet we have a surcharge on our electric bill to pay for all those solar farms and underused windfarms that stand idle much of the time.

  • KixStart KixStart on Apr 03, 2017

    They didn't ask him any questions about VIA Motors. That's disappointing.

  • SilverCoupe I am one of those people whose Venn diagram of interests would include Audis and Formula One.I am not so much into Forums, though. I spend enough time just watching the races.
  • Jeff S Definitely and very soon. Build a hybrid pickup and price it in the Maverick price range. Toyota if they can do this soon could grab the No 1 spot from Maverick.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would be a neat car if restored, and a lot of good parts are there. But also a lot of very challenging obstacles, even just from what we can see from the pictures. It's going to be hard to justify a restoration financially.
  • Jeff S Ford was in a slump during this era and its savior was a few years away from being introduced. The 1986 Taurus and Sable saved Ford from bankruptcy and Ford bet the farm on them. Ford was also helped by the 1985 downsize front wheel drive full sized GM cars. Lincoln in 1987 even spoofed these new full size GM cars in an ad basically showing it was hard to tell the difference between a Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile. This not only helped Lincoln sales but Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria sales. For GM full size buyers that liked the downsized GM full size 77 to 84 they had the Panther based Lincoln Town Cars, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford Crown Victorias that were an alternative to the new GM front wheel drive full size cars that had many issues when they were introduced in 1985 and many of those issues were not resolved for several years. The Marks were losing popularity after the Mark Vs. 1985 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Olds Delta 88 and rear wheel drive Buick Lesabre the rear wheel Caprice and Caprice Classic 3rd generation continued till 1990 when it was redesigned. B Body Buick Estate wagons continued thru 1990 as the Olds Custom Cruiser wagon and both were redesigned. GM held onto a few rear wheel drive full size cars but the Lincoln ad really brought home the similarly looking front wheel drive full size cars. Lincoln's ad was masterful.
  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.