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
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
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.
Re-Joining GM and "The Memo"
The Solstice Concept’s Speedy Turnaround
The Cadillac CTS
The Redesigned Chevy Malibu
"Rick Wagoner and the Volcano"
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.
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).
“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
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.