Introduction
  • Image Credit: GM

Introduction

After an auto industry career that has spanned more than 45 years, Bob Lutz, General Motors vice-chairman, has announced he is retiring on May 1.

So, given his expansive personality, his passion for great cars, and his penchant for making colorful (and sometimes controversial) comments, I thought this would be a good time to reflect back on some of those.

Dodge Viper, Rarified Road Rocket
  • Image Credit: Dodge

Dodge Viper, Rarified Road Rocket

The Viper, shepherded by Lutz, was conceived in late ’88 (when Chrysler was again struggling financially), unveiled as a concept car at the Detroit auto show in ’89, and became a limited-edition production model in ’92. It was a wildly expensive, revolutionary, rarified wowzer of a road rocket. The purpose of the Viper, says Lutz, was to “renew confidence in Chrysler,” and to let buyers, employees and the financial community know that the ability to execute “a great vehicle was still alive and well at Chrysler.”

Jeep Grand Cherokee's "Smashing" Intro
  • Image Credit: Chrysler / Nesster, Flickr

Jeep Grand Cherokee's "Smashing" Intro

In 1992, when he was president at Chrysler, Lutz -- who’s always known that sometimes little bit of sizzle DOES help to sell the steak -- unveiled the new Grand Cherokee at the Detroit auto show (at the city’s Cobo Center) by driving the first official version of the vehicle off the line of the Jefferson North Plant, through the streets of Detroit, up the granite steps of Cobo -- and then smashing it through a plate-glass window into the hall, scaring the hell out of most of the auto writers and spokesmodels on hand. A Lutzian moment for the ages.

Texture Source: Nesster, Flickr

Re-Joining GM and "The Memo"
  • Image Credit: GM

Re-Joining GM and "The Memo"

In the fall of 2001, GM brought Lutz back into the fold, to breathe excitement into its fairly dull product line-up -- and restore the focus on building high-quality vehicles. Not long after he started, he wrote a memo, detailing his “Strongly Held Beliefs,” that pretty much established the template and ethos for GM’s “Lutz era” of the ‘00s. The memo was leaked and was published in Forbes, here: http://www.forbes.com/2001/10/03/1003memo.html
The Solstice Concept’s Speedy Turnaround
  • Image Credit: GM

The Solstice Concept’s Speedy Turnaround

In the fall of ’01, Lutz ramrodded the pedal-to-the-metal development of the zippy, nimble Pontiac Solstice roadster concept car – a highly-accelerated project that took only four months from the time of its inception until the Solstice concept vehicle was unwrapped at the ‘02 Detroit auto show. "That was a great learning experience for the corporation," said Lutz of the swift turnaround. Plus, he adds, the Solstice "showed it was permissible to put emotion and excitement back into our autos...And price it at a level that made it a high-value proposition."
The Cadillac CTS
  • Image Credit: GM

The Cadillac CTS

Originally launched for the ’03 model year, the already-handsome CTS sport sedan was then significantly redesigned for ’08 -- and was promptly named Car of the Year by Motor Trend. The CTS – first in ’03, and then even more assertively in ’08 -- helped Caddy secure a stronger position in the luxury-line segment. "I think the CTS demonstrates that the Cadillac division can still produce a vehicle….that can match the best that the German cars have to offer in that category," said Lutz. The long-awaited CTS coupe hits showrooms this summer.
The Redesigned Chevy Malibu
  • Image Credit: GM

The Redesigned Chevy Malibu

Not nearly as sexy (or as pricey) as the CTS, but when it was radically redesigned for ’08, the Malibu boasted more stylish body lines and a higher level of interior amenities, making it a stronger player in the high-volume, mid-sized segment dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – and earning North American Car of the Year honors at the Detroit auto show.
"Rick Wagoner and the Volcano"
  • Image Credit: GM

"Rick Wagoner and the Volcano"

In '08-'09, when some were calling for GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner to step down as a condition of GM’s receipt of federal loans, Lutz offered an opposing view -- and delivered this vivid, anthropological analogy to the New York Times: "This is the equivalent of the Incan or Mayan days, when everybody would go to the top of the volcano and throw a virgin in. It's the feeling that if we make a sacrifice that somehow the gods would be appeased."
The “Total Crock” Affair
  • Image Credit: AOL Autos / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr

The “Total Crock” Affair

In a moment that perhaps best illustrated Lutz’s total fearlessness when it comes to speaking his mind – and cemented his status as being one of the most quotable figures in the industry -- he told some Texas reporters in ‘08 that global warming was “a total crock of s---t.” He further discussed those remarks and replied to the fallout here: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN22372976. He elaborates further in our Q&A.

Photo Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr

Financial Market Meltdown
  • Image Credit: Perpetualtourist2000, Flickr

Financial Market Meltdown

At the ’09 Detroit auto show, a few months after the Wall Street meltdown that sent the U.S. economy into a sharp downward spiral it has yet to recover from, Lutz was sharply critical of the fact that, for more than a decade, the U.S. economy had shifted away from its former foundation in a solid manufacturing base, and became more geared more toward Wall Street high-finance risk-taking that some say is just shy of being a confidence game (http://blog.mlive.com/businessinnovation/2009/01/gms_bob_lutz_lack_of_manufactu.html).

Some highlights:

“For the last 15 years, the United States has been producing essentially nothing and importing everything from China and Japan and wherever,” said Lutz. “It's not a normal state of affairs for a country to spend, spend, spend and not produce, produce, produce.

"(But) the argument was always, 'We have the world's best, most sophisticated and most powerful financial sector, so stop worrying. This country is so well run now by the financial establishment that we really don't have to produce things anymore.' And we saw what just happened. So in that, I feel vindicated, because I've been saying that for years."

Photo Source: Perpetualtourist2000, Flickr
Introduction of the Chevy Volt
  • Image Credit: GM

Introduction of the Chevy Volt

Despite his previous "Crock of Sh!t!" pronouncement, Lutz saw that a strong market was developing for vehicles that used alternative energy sources -- and also saw the handwriting on the wall when it came to stiffer emissions regulations and CAFÉ standards. So, as one who is also a disciple of weaning America off of foreign oil, Lutz became the face of the Volt plug-in vehicle, as he pushed hard for a late-’10 debut – ahead of its original schedule.

He calls the Volt his proudest achievement -- both for its technological advancement, and because its gestation and birth will have occurred amidst much skepticism -- and even what he says was some initial resistance within the halls of GM.



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