Bob Lutz Returns To General Motors In Advisory Role
By Carl Malek
In an announcement that surprised some in the industry last Friday, General Motors announced that legendary automotive executive and car enthusiast Bob Lutz will be returning to the company to serve as a consultant to the company’s senior leadership. The 79 year old former vice chairman and “Car Czar” retired from the company in 2010, but still provided the company with free informal advice and counsel during his time away from the company.
While some may criticize GM’s move as another example of the company returning to its old ways, Lutz does have a long history in the automotive world, and brings over 40 years of knowledge and experience that should prove to be very useful to executives that seek his counsel and words of advice.
During his tenure at General Motors, Lutz was responsible for encouraging development of vehicles such as the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Camaro, the reborn Pontiac GTO two door, the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, and the Pontiac G8. Despite being associated with mostly performance oriented vehicles, Lutz was also an advocate of developing fuel efficient vehicles and was a key advocate of the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle which helped bring much needed attention to Chevrolet brand and General Motors as well.
In addition to these achievements, Lutz is also considered by many both inside and outside GM to be the key driving force that pushed the company to improve build quality and refinement as well as the styling of its products to help them compete much more effectively against offerings from companies such as Toyota and Honda. Many of GM’s recent gains in these vital areas can be attributed to Lutz’s efforts.
Word on the street was that the reason GM had not previously brought Lutz back more formally in the period between his 2010 retirement and last week was partially because the company is still owned in part by the US government, which puts it under TARP pay restrictions. Having a top executive retire and then returning on a consultancy basis almost immediately had the potential appearance of possible funny business as far as trying to dodge TARP pay restrictions. Though it’s not clear whether anything external changed aside from the passage of time, presumably GM’s largest single shareholder (the guy in the red, white, and blue suspenders and top hat) is fine with Mr. Lutz’s return to the company as a consultant.
General Motors has not disclosed Lutz’s compensation schedule (nor would it typically be for other similarly-situated consultants, with the exception of hiring ousted CEO Fritz Henderson as a $60,000 per month consultant), nor has the company disclosed precisely what responsibilities that he will be entrusted with. However, Lutz told the Associated Press in an email on Friday that his advice will not be limited to only product development (arguably his strong suit) and will be general in nature.
His most recent book (Car Guys vs. Beancounters: The Battle For the Soul of American Business) seems to show that he not only has strong opinions on various subjects, but at least according to him, he pushed through significant cultural and organizational change during his nearly decade-long tenure as one of GM’s vice chairmen. With CEO Dan Akerson anxious for even more cultural and organizational change as quickly as possible, perhaps Lutz can leverage those strong opinions and decades of experience to assist the company’s current leadership team in its push to further strengthen the company.