GM 'car czar' is force behind push to abandon old ways of building cars

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GM 'car czar' is force behind push to abandon old ways of building cars http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2006-12-27-gmboblutz_x.htm?csp4
DETROIT - Since becoming General Motors' (GM) "car czar" last year,
Bob Lutz has delivered a consistent message to engineers and designers: abandon business as usual.
With GM staring down bankruptcy fears in 2005, Lutz, 74, was the catalyst behind a successful effort that brought the launch of the new Silverado and Sierra pickups forward by three months. Getting the revamped GM trucks to dealers this year helped to shore up sagging U.S. sales and beat rival Toyota Motor's much-anticipated Tundra by a full quarter.
More recently, Lutz, GM's vice chairman, has had Toyota in his sights again by pushing GM development teams to leapfrog the Japanese automaker in areas such as electric vehicles, according to people familiar with the effort.
Although Chief Executive Rick Wagoner was in the hot seat this year as the automaker slashed costs and shut plants after a $10.6 billion loss in 2005, the next stage of GM's turnaround will hinge on efforts spearheaded by Lutz, analysts say.
"Lutz is a man with vision and discipline," said Dave Cole, chairman of Center for Automotive Research. "Most importantly, he has an absolute passion for the product."
In the past two years, Lutz has pushed for change in areas where he admits GM lagged, such as design, quality of interiors and the time it takes to bring new vehicles to market.
"GM has such a reputational deficit to overcome that it has to be very good for a few years before people actually get it," Lutz said in a recent interview.
Known for his outspokenness, Lutz is a former fighter pilot who sometimes flies his helicopter to work, buzzing over the glass GM towers on the Detroit River to a helipad nearby.
He began his career at GM Europe in 1963 and went to BMW, Ford Motor and the former Chrysler before retiring in 1998.
Asked by Wagoner to rejoin GM in 2001, Lutz came back with a mandate to overhaul GM's approach to products based on a tough-minded assessment of problems.
"When I came back to GM, the Japanese and Germans were way ahead of us in quality," he said. "And that gave everyone a bad impression, especially import owners.
"They would rent a GM car at the airport, drive it and it would be OK, but everything they looked at was gray and depressing and inexpensive looking. And they thought, 'Now I know why I'll never buy an American car, particularly not one from GM.' So we had to fix that."
Lutz is also changing the way GM engineers cars in a bid to cut costs and show that GM does not need an alliance partner like Nissan-Renault to prosper.
A U.S.-based team will focus on SUVs and pickups for GM, while Europe will handle midsize cars, ensuring that the automaker uses fewer vehicle platforms around the world.
With GM only about halfway to its goal of dropping structural costs to 25% of revenue from 34%, the reengineering effort could help GM cut billions in costs by reducing the average cost of building vehicles, according to analysts.
For example, the Saturn Astra, a U.S. version of the German Opel Astra, will hit American showrooms next fall. The Astra will be made in Antwerp, Belgium. By 2009, the once-ailing brand will have three cars from Opel, rebadged as Saturns.
"Design has to lead the creative process," Lutz said, conceding during a briefing for journalists this month that "there was a period when GM kind of lost its way."
Lutz said he was optimistic about 2007 - a year when a number of products he has helped steer will go on the market.
GM will launch the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu next year. It also has well-reviewed crossovers - car-based utility vehicles that are smaller than traditional SUVs - such as the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave.
The new Saturn Vue, Aura and Astra will also hit showrooms next year, as will the new Cadillac CTS sedan.
"If this product line doesn't do well, then I'm out of ideas," Lutz said.
Analysts say GM, whose sales have fallen more than 8% in 2006, still faces a number of risks next year.
A slowing economy is likely to cause an overall industry decline in sales next year, and weakness in the housing market is expected to hurt pickup sales. GM also needs to work on connecting with younger consumers, analysts have said.
Still, analysts say the next phase of GM's turnaround will largely be influenced by the success of its new models.
"This product resurrection that GM is in the midst of right now, they would not have ... without Bob Lutz," said IRN analyst Erich Merkle. "You can restructure, reorganize, you can right-size ... but if you do not have the right product in place, no turnaround can exist."
GM's board this month increased Lutz's retirement benefits by $3.4 million, sparking speculation that he could be nearing the end of his run at the automaker.
"I think it would be safe to think, at 75, that your career has peaked. But am I going anywhere? No. I'm very happy with my role at GM and will be here for a little while," he said.
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Did you read this, Mike Hunter and others?
snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

<snip>
isn't this what I've been saying?
<snip>

that is EXACTLY my impression of GM cars.
But what is it you said - "there's no difference between cars except price?" It's reassuring to know that at least one person at GM actually recognizes the very real differences in perception and also real quality between GM and the imports. I wish him the best in addressing them because it is a shame that GM is so far behind today.
nate
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wrote:

Right on. The GM's I've owned or rented over the years get a rousing "ok". Nothing really wrong, exactly, and they got me from here to there, but that was about it - no excitement. I sincerely hope they can turn it around.
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Perception for sure. Many perceive imports to be better made and engineered, but that is all it is, a perception.. The fact remains all manufactures today are building good reliable vehicles. Import buyers will quickly discover, as I did, that what they preceded, is not fact. Look on the used car lots of domestic dealerships at all of the imports being traded on domestics. The fact is the manufacture with the most recalls in 2006 was Toyota. When buyers realize the import, that they paid a premium to drive home, as I have, is no better than what is available on the market for less, GM and Ford will rebound.
mike

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Mike Hunter wrote:

Bullshit. I offer for your consideration the transmissions of the Taurus or any number of FWD Chrysler vehicles, or pretty much any Mitsubishi product. Only a complete moron would call these "quality" products. Anyone in the know would tell you that they are marginally functional and completely unacceptable.
Anyone that can tell me that a GM car is as well engineered as a VW is either stupid or intellectually dishonest.

At least Toyota recalls and corrects their problems.

They're not going to realize that until it is true. It currently is not true. They may be paying a premium but they are getting quality and service for their money that they are not getting from other brands.
nate
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What is the color of the sky in your world? I was Group Sales Manager for one of the largest Mega dealerships groups on the east cost, that operated in six states. We sold just about every brand you can name. Three of my grand children currently work for the partners, in two states. I an assure you EVERY manufacture makes some that are not up to snuff on occasion that is why they all offer a warranty. If you think the Japs do not have problems as well you are not looking in the right places. Look in their service departments and take notice the engines and trannys sitting on the floor, for one. I owned plenty of imports, from VW to Lexus, none was any better than the domestics I have owned, they just cost more to buy, insure, service and repair.
mike

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Mike Hunter wrote:

Every time you say this, I still don't believe you. You're not smart or compentent enough to be a sales manager at Best Buy.
nate
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An engineering degree and fifty five years in all aspects of the automobile business say I'm smarter than you, and you are wrong. LOL
mike

one of the largest Mega dealerships groups on the east cost, that operated in six states. We sold just about every brand you can name. Three of my grand children currently work for the partners, in two states. I an assure you EVERY manufacture makes some that are not up to snuff on occasion that is why they all offer a warranty. If you think the Japs do not have problems as well you are not looking in the right places. Look in their service departments and take notice the engines and trannys sitting on the floor, for one. I owned plenty of imports, from VW to Lexus, none was any better than the domestics I have owned, they just cost more to buy, insure, service and repair.
mike

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Mike Hunter wrote:

I'd be willing to bet that *my* engineering degree outranks any that you may or may not have, and if you really were involved in the auto industry you didn't learn a whole hell of a lot.
nate
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I'll bet *my* engineering degree outranks *yours*....
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ACP wrote:

oh, come on, let's not start a degree dick-waving contest...
nate
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Damn........you just pegged my irony meter.
Dave
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Good one....
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of
occasion
have
on
was
Yeh..my Dick is bigger than both of yours...but I am not bragging.
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Well, Johnny Cakes, it may be the case (or it may not), but the biggest prick on this group is Mike Hunt(er). He is truly dickless.
Nate is good folks.
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my
Alright! Both of you...knock it off! Right now!
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Should I go stand in the corner? How long? 8>)
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I tuned into this thread to learn about GM's great cars, but all I see is crap. Perhaps that's fitting. >:)
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N8N wrote:

Could Mikey handle Rope A Dope Car Sales?
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Feel sorry for him, Mike's living in the past.
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