Lutz on Design Driven Car Companies
Former General Motors President and CEO Rick Wagoner convinced Bob Lutz to return to GM to take charge of the company's product development in 2001. What he found was, from his perspective, an insipid line up of mediocre designs, few or any of which could be considered winners at the emotional, aesthetic level. Worse, most of those design were so far along in the production cycle that there was little he could do to revamp them, not for years; and just as the cars he helped influence began to hit the market, the economy went into free fall in 2008, and GM declared bankruptcy in early 2010.
Since he couldn't immediately cause the Titanic to change course, he turned instead to revitalizing the product design system, which he recounts in his latest book, Car Guys vs Bean Counters - The Battle for the Soul of American Business.
In part two of our telephone interview, he talks about the process of designing truly beautiful cars like the Buick LaCrosse, as well as why the Volt evolved from a hot, long-hooded, chopped roof roadster to a far more pedestrian design. In the case of the Volt, two factors dictated its shape: the quest for 40 miles of EV driving range and the need to fit into one of GM's new world car platforms, in this case the Cruze.
Beyond the question of shaking up GM's management processes, especially in the area of product design and development, Lutz discusses his views on the media, especially the left and right extremes. He explains why he feels the U.S. government had to provide funds to rescue GM and Chrysler, leveling his criticisms at presumed U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, along with Rush Limbaugh. He notes that the idea for loaning the car companies money in exchange for equity was the idea of the Harry Wilson, the only free market Republican on the Obama Automotive Task Force.
He is convinced that the changes he implemented will stay in place because the new management at GM -- Dan Akerson (Chairman and CEO) and Dan Ammann (CFO) -- aren't steeped in 30 years of automotive bureaucracy. Lutz believes both men recognize that the previous approach of just looking at the money going in and coming out, without regard to the product in the middle, resulted in the withering erosion of market share and profitability. From periodic meetings with Akerson and tours of the design center to see what's on the drawing board for the next few years, Lutz is convinced that GM is now headed in the right direction.
This portion of our interview is 22 minutes in length. You can listen to it using either of the two MP3 players embedded in the right-hand column, or by downloading the file to your computer to transfer to your favorite MP3 device.Part One of the interview is also available.
Our thanks to Mr. Lutz for granting EV World time to discuss his book and his views.