While some thought his swan song would have been performed when the first Chevy Volt was delivered sometime in 2010, it looks like septuagenarian and so-called GM “product czar” Robert Lutz is bowing about a little earlier than expected.
With GM focusing on how it will stay in business, Lutz’s bailiwick—product development—has slowed dramatically. His appearances at media events have dropped considerably compared to this time last year, where I joked that I spent more time with Lutz than my wife. But if anyone in the car biz deserves a break it’s Lutz, who turns 77 this Thursday.
After joining GM of Europe in 1963, he subsequently went to BMW and then Ford of Europe before becoming President of Chrysler in the mid-1980s where he would stay until 1998. When Lutz came on board to head up the General’s product development in September 2001, some thought he was the credible car guy the faceless corporation desperately needed.
If you read his clippings, Lutz single-handedly brought a “product first” mentality to a bureaucracy filled GM work force. He is personally credited for fostering into production such radical-for-GM cars as the Pontiac Solstice and 2004 GTO—a car developed in Australia that Lutz said convinced the automaker it could use a global product development strategy.
More recently, Lutz can also boast several competitive vehicles such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Enclave and current Cadillac CTS to his credit. But like another polarizing auto exec, former BMW head pen Chris Bangle—who as of last week is leaving the auto industry in its entirety—not everything Lutz touched turned to gold.
While driving enthusiasts and those in the media nostalgic for the days when GM and horsepower ruled the roads thought Lutz was a godsend, one could argue he was a one trick pony, mired in the performance genre that gave him success when running Chrysler, pulling rabbits out of hats like Dodge Viper, Plymouth Prowler and Chrysler LH sedans. While at Ford Europe, Lutz is still known as the guy who pushed to import European Fords into North America under the ill-fated Merkur brand. Then there was the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept, a 1,000-hp 16-engine super luxury folly for Cadillac to establish itself as a rival of Bentley and Rolls Royce that never happened.
And although admired by fellow car guys, cars like the Solstice and new rear-drive Pontiac G8 have a “too little, too late” feel to them. And his global platform strategy is something almost every other automaker adopted decades ago.
Having said all that, and despite his outspoken skepticism towards global warming, Lutz recently seemed like a reformed man, pushing the yardsticks at GM to develop the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
Anyway, with Lutz’s departure at such a critical time in GM’s history, will the automaker lose its “product first” mentality?
Or has the automaker turned the corner enough to carry on his legacy?
[Source: Automotive News]