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Old August 5th, 2001, 12:52 PM   #1
Magic Mtn Dan
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There may still be hope for GM afterall - here's some good news...

Oh, how we loved our Chevys, Bob! Could you bring those days back?

August 3, 2001

BY LAWRENCE ULRICH
DETROIT FREE PRESS AUTO WRITER

GM has the talent.

The resources.

The technology.

Yet so many of its cars are the automotive equivalent of Muzak -- mild, inoffensive and forgettable.

That's why General Motors hired Bob Lutz. To get us excited about driving Chevys, Pontiacs, Buicks, yes, even Saturns. To restore Cadillac to something resembling its former glory.

So how much are they going to pay this guy?

GM, of course, finds fewer and fewer Americans buying its cars. The automaker sold nearly one out of every two cars 20 years ago. That share has plummeted to nearly one of four cars today.

Back then, Americans loved their Chevy Impalas, sometimes buying more than 1 million a year. They lined up for Cutlasses and Camaros.

It seems so long ago.

Despite the brave talk emanating from GM headquarters of late, Lutz's hiring has made it clear that the automaker felt an urgent need to shake things up. And grabbing Lutz is the automotive version of hiring Phil Jackson to coach your last-place team.

Like a superstar coach, Lutz is a proven winner. Contrary to many people's assumptions, he is not an engineer, not a car designer. Rather, he is the ultimate car guy. Lutz knows automobiles. He understands their place in history, their possibilities. He proved as much by inspiring and nurturing cars like the Dodge Viper. Lutz's latest project has been to help revive Cunningham, the famed American sports and race car maker from the '50s.

That kind of automotive passion hasn't been seen in the highest rank of GM executives for years. And it shows in the vehicles they build.

Lutz's job is to make GM cars you long to own and love to drive. The kind you want to roll up to the valet stand in, not sneak around to the back.

I remember Bob Lutz this January, holding forth in his take-no-prisoners style on the bizarre blends of cars and trucks he was seeing at the auto show in Detroit. Demented trash compactors, he called them. Furious toasters.

As reporters swarmed Lutz, eating up his colorful quotes like free shrimp, there was no doubt that one target of his verbal scorn was GM's Pontiac Aztek, a furious toaster if I ever saw one.

And while the Aztek isn't toast -- at least for now -- my hunch is that under Lutz's watch, the misshapen Pontiac would have been shoved to the back burner before customers got a glimpse.

Lutz knows GM has to take more chances. But he also knows the right chances to take. The Aztek was on the right track; it was just the wrong train.

Edgy and adventurous is just what GM needs.

Edgy and adventurous is Bob Lutz to a 'T.' Make that 'PT,' for the marvelous PT Cruiser that became one of Lutz's signature successes. Like the Aztek, the PT Cruiser was different, unexpected. Just not ugly.

And as Lutz himself noted Thursday, he's not known for green-lighting many ugly cars.

Tellingly, Lutz saved much of his praise at Thursday's news conference for GM's trucks. That's where GM is strongest, with a deep lineup of pickups and sport-utility vehicles. Yet even there, GM failed to anticipate nascent demand for luxury sport-utilities, then for crossover vehicles like the PT. They're still catching up.

The infuriating irony of GM is that the company is loaded with talented designers and engineers. People who live for cars. Somehow, between their drawing board and the showroom, something goes awry.

It's up to Lutz to unlock the potential. He needs to be the benevolent godfather for the designers and engineers who lack the clout to keep their ideas from being watered down or buried by bureaucracy. He needs to make his enthusiasm contagious at the highest levels: Kick down the corporate doors, drag executives away from their spreadsheets and take them for a fast ride in a cool car.

Hallelujah, a friend said Thursday morning when he heard the news about Lutz. Maybe we'll finally see what GM can do.

At that moment, we were ogling a roomful of classic automobiles at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind. The priceless cars were clearly the product of creators with spirit, ingenuity and the freedom to express it. Not an appliance in the bunch.

If Lutz can conjure up his old magic, GM will find a way to transplant the soul and savvy of its Corvette into every car and truck it makes.

Hallelujah, indeed.

Lutz is now a GM man. In a few years, our garages may thank him for it.
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Old August 5th, 2001, 12:53 PM   #2
Magic Mtn Dan
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Related info but OT...

Bob Lutz's seven laws of business

August 3, 2001

Bob Lutz's seven laws of business:

1. The customer isn't always right.

2. The primary purpose of business is not to make money.

3. When everybody else is doing it, don't!

4. Too much quality can ruin you.

5. Financial controls are bad.

6. Disruptive people are an asset.

7. Teamwork isn't always good.
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Old August 5th, 2001, 12:55 PM   #3
Magic Mtn Dan
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Related info on this GM News

As news ripples, worker reactions mixed

August 3, 2001

By BRENDA RIOS and KEISHA PATRICK
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS

After hearing that Robert Lutz would oversee the development of General Motors cars and trucks, many of the company's workers said they hope he can use his strong experience and reputation in the auto industry to help the company regain its dominance.

"We need someone who can make improvements to our designs," said Joseph Gavlinski, a manufacturing engineer at the GM Tech Center in Warren.

In 1980, GM had 44.7 percent of the U.S. light vehicle market share in the automobile industry; today that number has fallen to 28 percent. The company is trying to regain some of it.

Employees, who received a memo Thursday morning about the Lutz appointment, agree, for the most part, that stylish designs draw shoppers to dealerships.

"Design is where it's at," said Eli Gergics, an interactive marketing manager who works at GM's headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. "New products are how we stay competitive."

Lutz, 69, a former Chrysler Corp. executive, was instrumental in designing some of Chrysler's best-selling vehicles, including the Dodge Intrepid and Dodge Viper.

"Look at what he did for Chrysler," said Mark LeBarre, a truck designer who works at GM's Centerpoint Campus in Pontiac and is employed by Troy Design, a GM contractor. "He turned them around. Maybe he can help us."

LeBarre said Lutz's reputation in the auto industry would help muster support of employees.

Shu Chung, a power train engineer at the Tech Center, said he thinks Lutz, because of his experience, will bring new ideas to GM design.

"He's got guts," Chung said as he left his office.

Jan Lu, a staff project engineer from Troy, added that, "This one man is a key man. He is very important to the company. I'm happy to see our company moving toward the right direction."

But that reputation is not known to all of GM's workers downtown, in Warren and Pontiac. Some of them said they never heard of Lutz, or that they vaguely remember hearing his name.

And others said employees were somewhat indifferent about the appointment.

"There's mild interest, but no major concern or excitement," said David Hewett, a designer at the Tech Center in Warren.

"Let's see what happens," said Hewett, who has been with GM for six months. He was one of many GM employees who watched the news conference about Lutz on a monitor at work.

Other workers expressed some concerns.

"His appointment seems abrupt" considering the issues that Chrysler has been experiencing recently, said P.T. Jones, a development engineer who lives in Milford.

"A lot of people feel the dust has not settled yet from the Chrysler situation," said Jones, who was referring to the financial woes and internal restructuring at Chrysler Group, the U.S. arm of DaimlerChrysler AG. "Some people hope he's product-focused enough to change some processes here."

Carlos Franca, a total vehicle development engineer at the Tech Center, said one of his coworkers compared the Lutz appointment to Chrysler's hiring of Robert Eaton away from General Motors in the early 1990s. Franca said there hadn't been much talk of the appointment in his office.

Others were concerned about his age and whether he'd bring enough vitality to the company.

But Gavlinski said his age could be a good thing.

"At his age, he doesn't have to worry about politics," Gavlinski said. "He's already proven himself."

Most workers agree that Lutz can't make changes alone. He must be a team player if he wants to be effective, they said.
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Old August 5th, 2001, 06:55 PM   #4
cecil
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Re: the last 1/2 of the article shows...

how big of a problem the "car guy" faces. lets hope he chops heads and changes bureaucratic attitudes
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Old August 7th, 2001, 10:17 AM   #5
Doug in AZ
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Dan - where are these iconoclastic points cited? Thks *NM*

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Old August 13th, 2001, 11:27 AM   #6
Magic Mtn Dan
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Some of the info I pass along comes from...

www.auto.com
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