GM’s Bob Lutz to Retire on May 1
By Chris Haak
General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who is perhaps the most active septuagenarian in the auto industry, and a man who has forgotten more than most others in the business will ever know, is retiring from GM on May 1.
Lutz, 78, who had pulled a Brett Favre in 2009 when he called an audible and announced that he in fact would not be retiring as planned in 2009, appears to be leaving GM for good this time. In February 2009, he had announced his retirement, and then in July 2009, he changed his plans and became head of marketing. At that time, he remarked that he had been complaining about GM’s marketing for years, and how marketing efforts weren’t selling what he believed to be excellent products developed under his watch as head of product development.
Though Lutz is obviously a seasoned executive, and who did in fact have significant sales and marketing responsibilities earlier in his career (it was under his management that BMW came up with its “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline that lasted for decades), the experiment of putting him in charge of GM’s marketing ended in late 2009, around the time of then-CEO Fritz Henderson’s resignation. Currently, Lutz is an advisor to Chairman & CEO Ed Whitacre on product-development matters, and has remained a vice chairman of the company.
Bob Lutz’s tenure at GM has unquestionably improved the company’s products compared to where they were prior to his arrival. Though he has made some poor product decisions (such as devoting resources to the Solstice/Sky roadsters, both of which were prematurely killed, devoting resources to rejuvenating Saturn’s lineup, again to see the entire brand killed, the company built some of its best vehicles ever under Bob Lutz’s tenure. The Cadillac CTS, Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Malibu, and many of the company’s trucks are leaps and bounds better than their previous generations, and look a heck of a lot better too.
Bob Lutz began his automotive career in 1963 at GM Europe, where he remained until 1971. Following that, he worked at BMW from 1971 to 1974, and moved to Ford in 1974, where he remained until 1986. After his career at Ford ended, he moved to Chrysler, where he worked in various positions including leading product development and eventually becoming president and chief operating officer and later vice chairman. He was a candidate for the CEO job upon Lee Iacocca’s retirement, but his and Iacocca’s strong egos clashed, and Iacocca gave the nod to Bob Eaton instead. We all know how that one ended (*cough* DaimlerChrysler *cough*). Lutz left Chrysler shortly after its “merger of equals” with Germany’s Daimler-Benz, and became CEO of Exide Technologies, where he remained from 1998 until joining GM. In 2001, he rejoined General Motors as vice chairman in charge of product development, a role he held until mid-2009 when he was briefly an advisor, and later took the marketing reins.
For more biographical information about Bob Lutz’s career, his official GM biography (click here) has a bit more detail than given above. Suffice it to say that he’s one of the most colorful, quotable executives in the history of the auto industry, and his impact upon GM’s product-development process will be felt for years after his departure. Gearheads can only hope that Mr. Lutz was able to institute a culture at GM that puts the product first and the bean-counting second. Also, I’m not convinced that this is the last we’ll see of Bob Lutz in the business world. He told The Detroit News that it was “time to move on.” That sounds to me like he may make at least one more career stop before finally hanging up his suit jacket for the last time, but we’ll have to see.
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