Bob Lutz, the Original ‘Car Czar’

By Sam Boni

12.25.2008

They called him Mr. Horsepower.

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.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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6 Comments

  1. The sub-prime mortgage collapse that helped kill the economy, courtesy of the changes in law that essentially helped inflate this bubble, came out of Congress (google Rep. Barney Frank’s role in this fiasco) during the CLINTON administration. The other big villain in this mess is the Federal Reserve, a non-elected body that has far more impact and control over the economy than any president.

    Lose the Bush bashing. He is no more responsible for America’s addiction to cheap gasoline than I am. America has never had a coherent and comprehensive energy policy. CAFE was enacted in the 1970s and, then and now, it is a bas-ackwards way of ‘encouraging’ people to buy efficient vehicles when, on the flip side, government refuses to raise the gas tax and wants to keep gas cheap. As we’ve seen this past year, expensive gas is the only EFFECTIVE incentive for getting people out of their guzzlers.

  2. James, I agree with you, Bush does not deserve the blame for the economy tanking. The blame goes to lots of people spread out over many years and many actions. The hapless Bush is merely in the arong place at the wrong time and although he deserves plenty of bashing, Bush did not cause the economic meltdown. He did nothing to stop it, but he’s not to blame for it.

    And neither did the Democrats, despite what you might hear on right-wing talk radio. The whole idea is laughable, which is why it has been embraced by what is left of the neo-cons, I guess.

    No, it was a combined effort (or lack thereof) from both parties that brought about this economic collapse.

    It’s obvious that the author of this post undoubtedly has a political axe to grind, just as you do, but that doesn’t make either of your opinions valid.

    But, here’s another thing I AGREE WITH YOU about. And it also has the side effect of getting us off of politics and back to CARS, which is what this blog is about. Or should be anyway. Right?

    Government energy policy, CAFE, gax tax, etc. I am definitely on board with you regarding that. The feds have never developed a coherent enrgy policy and the car companies keep taking it in the shorts because of it, and it makes me pretty angry.

    Now we’re in the same spot again because the Democratic-controlled congress will now demand (as part of the loan conditions)GM and Chrysler make only cars that are miserly with gas, but gas is cheap again, and Americans will want what they always want when gas is cheap, which is big vehicles. So where does that leave GM and Chrysler after they make all of these cars that get 40 mpg and American again want vehicles that get 15 mpg?!?!?!?!

  3. Wow, I really might stop reading this blog now. It is great when people’s logic is clouded by their political inclinations. The financial mess is the result of many factors, which mostly include the ability of people to get easy credit. You probably also believe that Bush was behind 9/11 and that he has a magic hurricane machine that caused Katrina. All credibility here is now lost. I guess I will go read a blog that actually cares about cars, and the facts (i.e. HP, MPG, curb weight, 0-60 time, skid pad score, etc) that matter. For politics, I will read from sources with a little bit more data to back up their assumptions.

    “It’s not that liberals are stupid. It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” – Ronald Reagan

  4. I despise the neocons. Liberals repel me.

    I split my time between New York and London, and it’s always a relief to get from the idiotic politics the otherwise great USA.

    Here’s a quote from someone that is much more appropriate:

    “A thinking man can never be a party man” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    Maybe we can get off the politics now, eh?

    I can tell you that while Lutz was at Opel, they had some good years in terms of product. It’s too bad Leyland couldn’t have hired him away because we might still have a British auto industry.

    But I don’t think there is going to be enough magic in Lutz to pull GM out of the ditch. I hope GM makes it, but it seems awfully dicey at this point.

  5. Only an uninformed and misinformed journalist, democrat and liberal could blame George Bush for the meltdown of the economy.

    President Bush has made a lot of mistakes, but the economic meltdown was caused by democrat policies that started under Jimmy Carter and put on steroids under Bill Clinton and the democrat congress.

    What Bush is responsible for is going along with such stupid, auto job killing and Big Three killing policies like CAFE standards. You much think we have been brainwashed by the UAW and the news media and are stupid. We’re not.

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