Bob Lutz, the Original ‘Car Czar’
By Sam Boni
Born in Switzerland, he is the only top executive who worked in that capacity (in alphabetical order) at BMW, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, in Europe and on this continent. At Chrysler he was the driving force behind the V10 Dodge Viper. At the age when most people retire, he was persuaded to become CEO of Exide Technologies, the battery maker. After he “retired” from that position, General Motors coaxed him into revamping its model line-up as vice chairman of global product development.
You will know by now that we are talking about Robert A Lutz, “Maximum Bob” as he is known in Detroit these days. He started to influence the new cars coming from ‘The General’ a few years ago, and that influence has only gotten stronger. The beautiful Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars were some of the early models designed and produced under his leadership. The amazing 1,000-horsepower V16 Cadillac, which could have topped Rolls Royce, has become a victim of the times. The world now awaits the Volt, the extended-range electric car that everybody knows about before anybody has actually seen the final production model.
“This is now what I’m more excited about than I was about the Dodge Viper,” Mr. Lutz said in early 2008. “I think this can bring about the revolution and really make us independent of foreign oil and solve all the other problems.”
The one problem Bob Lutz did not anticipate is the financial and credit meltdown caused by years of ineptitude by the Bush administration. We hear every hour on the hour how deep we are in trouble, and how much money the auto industry needs to convert for the time “After Oil”.
Bob Lutz, the wise old man of the auto industry, the “Car Czar”, as they now refer to him, might soon have a namesake, a politically appointed car-czar. (Can’t they come up with their own description?)
Does the present US government really think it can tell Detroit how to build cars? Did you expect oil-man Bush promoting fuel efficient vehicles or alternative energy? When his ‘house of cards’ started to collapse, people began losing their houses; when greed tripled petroleum prices, people curtailed driving — and now Detroit gets the blame. And at the time of writing this, the GOP refuses to help and admit their blunder.
The two ‘car czars’ are now counted on to ‘deliver us from evil’; “Maximum Bob” Lutz, as Vice Chairman, is staking General Motors’ future on the Volt and other alternative and flex-fuel vehicles. He said: “Well, whether we need it or not, I think it’s reasonable that when the federal government steps in with taxpayer money, they’re not going to — they’re not going to lend us the money and just say, ‘Do the best you can with it and tell us when you need more
Stuart Bauer, of the Flint Journal in Michigan, reports that Mr. Lutz is very positive about the future: “As our sales increase and as we become a sought after automobile company as opposed to one where the customer takes it because of the incentive … that rising tide is going to lift all boats.”
The reporter asked him why he did not take the day off on his 75th birthday; “I was able to drive a few prototypes on our test track, that’s even better than having a party; I also have an expensive hobby, — flying, — that’s why I have to go to work every day,” he answered. More questions: “Tell me, what really prompts you at your age to go to work each and every day?” “The knowledge that my work is changing this company for the better. I’m not a designer nor an engineer, but I can influence the way our people do their job. I even love to talk to journalists; I must admit I have a little bit of a teacher in me, but hopefully nothing of a politician.” “How long do you plan to continue working?” “I plan to stay until my work shows itself in GM’s products, and that includes the Volt.” “What were some of the highlights in your carrier?” “I think I’m the only person to have won several “Car of the Year” awards in Europe and in the USA; and a “Truck of the Year” as well as “Motorcycle of the Year”. (The Ford ‘Cargo’, the BMW ‘R90S’ motorbike and cars from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were developed and produced under Lutz’s leadership.)
Bob Lutz has never been shy to tell his superiors “You are wrong!” The reporter wanted to know an example; “GM president Cole was annoyed that we used a 1.9Litre engine in the (German) Opel GT in 1965. “ That car needs a ‘Vette engine.” “But here we are taxed on engine capacity”. Cole’s reply: “How long have you been in this industry? Perhaps you should listen to people who have 30 years of experience.” —The Opel GT was a big success in North America even with that small an engine.
We hope that ‘Maximum Bob’ Lutz can give the world more cars we can afford and enjoy to drive.
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