• Feb 9, 2009
Shucks, things are bound to be a heck of a lot less interesting without Bob Lutz around. According to General Motors, the automaker's own Car Czar will transition from his current role as Vice Chairman – Global Product Development to the position of Vice Chairman and Senior Advisor on April 1 and officially retire at the end of the year. The automotive world is sure to be a quieter place.

Lutz's absence means that there will be some very big shoes to fill in GM's executive ranks, and GM's Board of Directors has responded by promoting Thomas G. Stephens to Lutz's vacated role, again effective in early April. Past vehicles brought to market under Lutz's watch at GM include the 2004 Pontiac GTO, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky duo and, most recently, the Pontiac G8 sports sedan.

One major project that won't quite be completed when Lutz leaves is the Chevy Volt, a vehicle championed by Lutz since its debut as a concept back in 2007. GM's product line may change somewhat as a result of Lutz's retirement, but we'll all surely miss his eminent quotability just as much.

[Source: General Motors | Photo by JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty]

PRESS RELEASE:

Bob Lutz moves to Senior Advisor Role; Will Retire at End of 2009; Tom Stephens Becomes Vice Chairman - Global Product Development

DETROIT – GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner today announced that Robert A. Lutz, GM Vice Chairman – Global Product Development, will transition to a new role effective April 1, 2009 as Vice Chairman and Senior Advisor. Lutz, 76, will provide strategic input into GM's global design and key product initiatives until his retirement at the end of 2009. He will continue to report to Wagoner.

Wagoner also announced that effective April 1, 2009 the GM Board of Directors elected Thomas G. Stephens, Vice Chairman – Global Product Development, reporting to President and Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson. Stephens, 60, is currently Executive Vice President, Global Powertrain and Global Quality. In this new assignment, Stephens will maintain his responsibility for overseeing GM's global quality activity.

Concurrent with this appointment, GM is restructuring its global powertrain group to integrate powertrain functional activities into their respective global GM functions. Accordingly, in his new role, Stephens will have responsibility for global powertrain engineering, in addition to global design, product engineering, product planning and program management. Powertrain manufacturing will report to Gary Cowger, Group Vice President of GM Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations. Other staffs that support the GM Powertrain organization will be integrated into their respective global functions. These moves represent another important step in GM's restructuring initiative to create a leaner, more efficient organization.

"Bob Lutz was already a legendary automotive product guy when he rejoined GM in 2001," Wagoner said, "and he's added to that by leading the creation of a string of award-winning vehicles for GM during his time here. His 46 years of experience in the global automotive business have been invaluable to us. I've personally learned a great deal from Bob and have very much enjoyed the time we've worked together," Wagoner added. "I'm looking forward to Bob's continued contributions to GM for the remainder of 2009 – and I know the impact of his efforts leading GM global product development will continue for years to come.

"Tom Stephens is the perfect guy to take the reins of GM's global product development," Wagoner continued. "He's had extensive experience in virtually every aspect of our global product development activities. With his 40 years at GM, Tom has an extraordinary understanding of our products and our organization, and is highly respected worldwide. I'm confident that with Tom's passion for great products and vast knowledge of advanced propulsion, he will continue to raise the bar in executing outstanding GM cars and trucks.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 38 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Seems to me that the kinds of cars Lutz wanted GM to build have been the racy ones (Solstice/Sky, G8, etc.) that are certainly good, but low-volume show cars. What GM needs are more cars like the Malibu that most people actually buy.

      Lutz has been responsible for a HUGE upgrade in the once substandard GM interiors. People like to feel rich in their cars and GM interior fittings became dumpy as GM tried to cut costs. The interiors in upscale Malbus, the CTS, Enclave, and others are vastly improved over pre-Lutz interiors.

      On balance, I think Lutz has been good for GM.
      • 5 Years Ago
      No question he has done much good with their line, especially with exterior and interior styling direction and quality, but I always had the sense that his ideas were a bit out of date, on the whole. His push for blood and guts performance on the pavement, while fun and all, seemed to blind him to looking ahead to how the industry might need to evolve.

      So much energy/PR was dumped into the Solstice/Sky for what were at best niche players in a segment that already had a strong offering that also happened to feature a usable trunk and soft top that wasn't ridiculous.

      Then there was the ballyhoo about the 12 cylinder Cadillac and the Uplander and sibling platypus vans. Oh, and turning Saturn into Oldsmobile, instead of sticking with its original, and sound, mission of small, efficient transportation. Some needed upgrades to their line instead of attempting to turn them into another Euro wannabe might have had them in a great spot for what was about to happen with fuel prices.

      Meanwhile Lutz was poo-pooing hybrids.

      Now you can say "no one knew this was coming," but even ailing Ford seemed to see a glimpse of it, and began their restructuring and change in direction with products much sooner.

      He certainly helped GM move beyond the misery that was the previous Malibu, and has been a great and entertaining cheerleader, but sometimes a viewpoint becomes dated and I think he was too slow to adapt. Time for a fresh set of eyes, ideas and solutions.
        • 5 Years Ago

        "Now you can say "no one knew this was coming," but even ailing Ford seemed to see a glimpse of it, and began their restructuring and change in direction with products much sooner."
        What?
        I'm sorry what has ford done that GM didn't do first?
        Highly competitive midsized offering? GM had the malibu out before the upcoming new fusion.

        European Focus coming to the US? Astra has been stateside for a few years now, along with GM's european midsized(no mondeo here).

        Fuel Economy? GM is pretty much a class leader in a ton of segments when it comes to this.

        Styling? GM wins this round as they came back quicker than ford in terms of looks.

        Luxury brand? You really want to compare lincoln to cadillac right now?

        Performance? GM dominates on this field. Ford has the mustang and the gt500, GM has a competitive pony car, a class leading econo-rocket, the g8, the kappa roadsters and etc.

        What exactly did ford do to move quicker than GM? Only thing I can think of are hybrids and considering GM has plenty hybrids floating around right now, and the volt system coming soon the gap will be gone soon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        x2.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The minivan market is moribund.

        Even Honda, who makes a great minivan, isn't spending any money on it right now. Ford dropped out of it. GM dropped out of it (thankfully, their minivans were awful).

        Customers are idiots. They'd rather have crossovers than a vehicle you can actually get into and out of in a parking spot. But as Lutz likes to point out, you need to offer what the customer wants. You can't continue to make minivans if customers aren't buying them.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I seriously question what is happening at GM. Lutz has previously stated that he was not about to retire until the Volt hit the market. However, if he is going to leave at the end of the year, that makes you wonder if:
      1. The Volt is coming out sooner than expected, or
      2. There is something seriously wrong at RenCen (either the Volt will be delayed, or there will be a further power shake up) and Lutz is the casualty.
      Sad news indeed as Lutz was the catalyst that inspired a lot of the changes at GM.

      The Volt is Bob's baby. No way would he depart before its delivery. It's the "game changer".

      Unfortunately, everything is going against Maximum Bob nowadays. the economic pinch has turned into a walloping punch. Toyota gobbled up all the NiMH battery power sources available. GM was forced to rely on the more expensive Li-on batteries for the Volt. Furthermore, only one poor nation, Bolivia (the new Saudi Arabia?) has over half the world's known reserves of lithium, and they are not about to give it away cheaply. Ultracapacitors 9the new game changer) have been suggested as another alternative, but it is too late in the game to switch now.

      Methinks the Volt has succumbed to the current economic rout. Sad to say, it may never see the light of day. There just isn't enough money in the pot to bring this product to fruition. lower gas prices everyday are making this project less viable.

      I am really happy that GM is retaining Lutz as a Senior Advisor. His invaluable knowledge, expertise and experience are truly hard to come by in today's world. All of his designs are truly amazing.

      I often thought Lee Iaccoca would make a great Car Czar. Seems to me that Maximum Bob fits that bill also. Just sayin'
        • 5 Years Ago
        Who cares, Gm can survive without Volt IF, and this is a huge IF.

        If Cruze will become a REAL game changer.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ever since my dad's lemon of a '79 Malibu was etched into my memory, I've thought GM was garbage.

      That said, the Wagoner-Lutz really started turning things around. CTS, Vette, Malibu, Cruze, G8, Camaro... they've been bringing out really appealing cars. Losing Lutz would be a disservice to a company.

      People want to drop all blame on management, but the reality is management had their hands tied when dealing with $100+ billion healthcare liabilities, job banks, a bully-of-a-union unwilling to change, and decades of precedent in stagnancy. It was like steering the Titanic. It literally is taking the GM on the brink of destruction to allow them to make labor concessions they needed to make 5 years ago.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "CTS, Vette, Malibu, Cruze, G8, Camaro"--
        CTC is great,
        Vette is too limited in production,
        Malibu is OK,
        Cruze is not even selling yet, won't for about year or two if it is build AT ALL,
        G8 is a disaster,
        Camaro, same as cruze, it is not selling yet, so we can't judge.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It sucks to lose him. He did bring a passion for vehicles that GM didn't have before. I hope they find someone to replace him and don't just look at the downsides (like the GTO) and decide go to back to making more boring vehicles.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It'll be easy for critics to take potshots -- the ungracious, for example, might point out that none of the cars mentioned above has brought much profit or even significant buzz outside the realm of auto geekdom -- but it's hard to underestimate the significance of his contributions to GM's turnaround. Lutz proved there were actually guys within GM who liked cars and were empowered to make them better. Were it not for him, GM wouldn't be in a recoverable position today. GM needs a Car Guy up front making people believe in the product and the company. I hope Mr. Stephens is that guy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Seems like the guy knows when to jump off the sinking ship
      • 5 Years Ago

      Astra is a prime example of god awful marketing or shall I say no marketing.
      Also it lacks a trunk which is extremely important for the US market. People in the US still see hatchbacks as cheap transportation no matter how good the car is.
      Most people(general public) don't even know that a car called Astra is sold by Saturn. The Aura is Saturn's most recognizable and successful car today.
      GM will sure miss Bobs vision and enthusiasm, few people can be as enthusiastic as him at his age even when they are being paid millions.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I said this time and time before Astra came DOA to USA.


        #1 Automatic Tranny $1,400 (the most expensive automatic transmission of any GM vehicle)

        #2 Stability Control $500

        #3 It is more expensive than Civic Lx to begin with.

        #4 No Ipod/Aux jack, how do you expect young people to listen to their 500-600 songs? They have them all on Ipod, you can't burn them all on CDs.

        #5 Interior is ugly and cheap

        #6 Astra is priced ABOVE cars with much better reputation.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well that's one down at GM and one to go.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes he had a few hits like the Malibu. He is also behind major failures like the GTO and the Saturn Sky at GM. Overall his product lines have not been a success. Too much focus on flashy projects us enthusiasts love and not enough focus on the meat and potatoes vehicles that sell and keep a company alive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "did you see the cars GM was making 10 years ago before Lutz was hired? Are you going to argue those were better?"

        Just curious, 10 years ago, was GM making money? Save the CTS, Malibu, and maybe 2 or 3 more (G8, great car, not a huge seller, etc), amongst GM's line up of what 70 odd cars, how many are really appealing and making money today? Running a car company is as much about keeping the business in the black as it is catering to enthusiasts.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Are you serious? did you see the cars GM was making 10 years ago before Lutz was hired? Are you going to argue those were better? Is the Catera really better than the CTS?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, because the new designs that came out of GM during his tenure were all massive failures. Seems to me his record for improving the productline at GM was pretty good.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I have to say that Lutz probably was the most "useful" of the top management.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This retirement means that Volt is dead.
      Lutz has pushed it, GM has spent huge money on it.
      The question is who needs a super expensive electromobile when gas is cheap and people have no extra money.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Bob will be missed by real car people. GM and Lutz haters can go F themselves.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So he has the Kappa twins, which are good, he messed up the GTO name with a plain looking but powerful coupe, and now has replaced a high volume seller (Grand Prix) with a higher priced BMW style car at a Pontiac dealership. I am not a fan of Lutz but he has been part of a good revitalization at GM, with Caddy now being a real contender, Buick not being horrible and TRYING to give Pontiac a name but i am glad Bob's retiring. I always hated his voice lol especially when he said "no plans for the Firebird"...guys don't take this post too seriously.
      • 5 Years Ago

      So what did Lutz bring to GM?

      Revitalized Cadillac and made it a viable competitor to BMW and Mercedes

      Breathed new life into Buick with the Enclave and the upcoming LaCrosse.

      Introduced competitive products like Malibu, Camaro,SolsticeSky, G8, CTS, Aura, The Lamba crossovers(EnclaveAcadiaTraverseOutlook) etc.

      Started the Volt project.

      Quite a lot of achievements.
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