Bob Lutz, GM's Denier-in-Chief, Makes for the Exit

Bob Lutz, don’t let the door bang you in the backside on your way out of the building.

As reported in this excellent post at Solve Climate, General Motors Denier-in-Chief and Vice President for New Product Development is being excused from duty - accepting retirement to make room for Tom Stephens, the executive who has been leading the development of hybrid technology at GM.

Lutz has been GM’s leading dinosaur, the reigning champion of GM’s obsession with the fuel-guzzling muscle cars that helped Toyota become the number one automaker in the world.

If you doubt that Lutz is inflicted with a fantasy gene, check the comments that he wrote on his Fastlane blog under the headline, “You’re not rid of me yet” (he’s actually hanging around in one diminished capacity or another till the end of the year):

“Please note that I relinquish these responsibilities secure in the knowledge that the guiding philosophy of pursuit of absolute product excellence is now firmly embedded in the organization. That unquestionable fact made a very difficult decision much easier for me.

“I feel very comfortable handing over the keys to Tom Stephens, …. Tom will do a great job ensuring the continued excellence of GM’s new cars, trucks and crossovers”

Continued excellence? There seems, in this, no recognition that he is being pushed - or that his company is in such dire straights that Bloomberg actually thinks GM’s prospects would be improved in bankruptcy.

It is, in any case, reassuring to see a changing of the guard at GM, just as in the White House, but you can’t help wonder how much better off the world might have been (and how many jobs General Motors might have saved) if the guys being replaced had not been quite so stubborn in ignoring evidence and courting disaster. There should be a price for such culpability, and you have to hope that Lutz stays at GM just long enough to pay it.


Lutz is not being forced out. And GM’s financial problems were too dire for him to overcome; including the fact that finance was not in his job description.

Bob Lutz did more to reintroduce excellence in design into GM’s products then had happened in the last 40 years. The Aveo is a great value in a small car, the Cobalt an efficient and well-built compact. The Malibu is another of their excellent products.

GM’s poorly marketed but technologically advanced Two-Mode hybrid system still has the potential to rival Toyota’s Synergy system in lessening fuel consumption.

And it has been the “skeptic” Lutz who has advanced the cause of the radically efficient Volt which has the potential to leapfrog all other hybrid systems. While other programs have been slashed, Volt development continues.

GM committed many business sins over the decades, but attempting to slur Bob Lutz for this is dishonest.

I have no ability to judge whether Lutz’s stupidly huge, environmentally irresponsible vehicles were more “excellent” than GM’s previous offering. But I certainly think that he has to bear more than passing responsibility for the company’s fate, given that he was the guy defining their product lines.

As Climate Solution reported: “When Lutz began the public pitchman role for the Volt last year, The New York Times wrote: GM’s Mr. Horsepower has an electric conversion: “The prospect of Mr. Lutz going green represents a sharp reversal.” Lutz had regularly mocked environmental advocates, saying that except for “a few nuts in California,” no one cares about the impact cars have on the environment. Just this past December, he told Fox News: “At $1.50 a gallon, the American public wants sport utilities and large pickup trucks.”

Apparently all those people who bailed on GM and started buying Toyotas cared. And apparently relying on gas to remain at $1.50 a gallon was an incredibly stupid, clearly short-sighted business decision.

As he demonstrated on the Colbert Report, Lutz is a charming, funny loudmouth. And he might well have been a model executive - in 1965. His failure to look at a calendar, to familiarize himself with reputable science and to anticipate the effect of peak oil leaves him, in my view, completely culpable.

I heard on the news today that GM execs are “slashing” their pay by 10 per cent. That’s not nearly enough. There are tens of thousands of laid-off GM employees who were relying on Lutz and the other front office guys to run the company responsibly. He let them down - and if there was any justice in the world, he would get the door with all of them - and get the same severance package given to the lowliest among them.

Actually Lutz is correct that at $1.50 people like SUVs and pickups. Look no further than the new Toyota Tundra with it’s 380 hp v8 (probably their highest fuel consuming vehicle ever) introduced just 2 years ago.

Alas their timing was bad, maybe Toyota’s not as savy as they’re made out to be.

For the record GM pickups get better milage than Toyota’s and the difference isn’t that small. Compare the C15 5.3L 4wd 14/20 to the Tundra 4.7L 4wd 13/16.

Fair enough Richard, but Lutz singlehandedly pushed and promoted the electric Volt through GM’s bureaucracy.

As for big vehicles, yes, GM was overdependent on them. This was largely the result of their onerous financial position. Massive UAW obligations meant GM had to sell the highest margin vehicles (read SUV’s and trucks) to pay their bills.

I believe Lutz to have been a very competent executive but the problems at GM were decades in the making and too big for any executive (especially one who was not the CEO) to tackle.

Why do you illustrate the article with GMs stock price? Do you mean that if you have a denier in your management team your stock price will crash? Should all deniers be forced to quit their jobs? Maybe the best is to have them shot?

I would have thought that it’s fairly obvious that part of GM’s recent decline has been due to a serious mismatch between GM’s products and the buying habits of the car-buying public. Add to that the crunch and GM’s fate [without a bail-out] seems pretty-well sealed. Surely Bob Lutz is at least partly to blame for GM’s decline before the crunch.

Ford has had much the same problem. They sold off their electric car and then the predictable rocketing oil prices occurred, caused by greatly increasing prosperity-driven demand from India and China.

There’s nothing like good forward planning, and that was nothing like good forward planning!

If General Motors is allowed to go bankrupt, the derivative nightmare will unravel in full daylight and bring down any institution that is not anchored with solid gold. It has been obvious from the start that the bailouts and financial “stimulus” packages have been delivered for one purpose and one purpose only: Helping the Banking community to triage the self inflicted wound of over- leveraged speculation. General Motors has been in hot water for some time, and it isn’t likely to let up anytime soon.  Recently, General Motors released information indicating that they have a $1 billion debt payment coming up very soon, and they might not be able to pay it. It appears that no amount of cash advances is going to save General Motors.