GM's Lutz Already Making 'Em Nuts

By Michelle Krebs July 14, 2009

By Bill Visnic

Bob Lutz introduces the Pontiac G8 - 254.JPG The ink wasn't yet dry on Bob Lutz's new contract with the newly constituted General Motors Co. to be vice chairman of, ah, just about everything, and Lutz was back to the business of baiting the media and most likely making his peers and superiors (if he has any) slightly crazy.

Exhibit 1: Lutz - whose job GM loosely and rather unnervingly describes as "vice chairman for all creative elements of products and customer relationships" - had Automobile magazine slurping out of his hand when he tossed out the remark that GM isn't going to let the rear-drive G8 sport sedan slip away with Pontiac when the division shuts down at the end of the year. The G8, Automobile breathlessly reported, will "live on" in the Chevrolet division as a new-age Caprice.

"The last time we looked at (the G8), we decided that we would continue to import it as a Chevrolet," Lutz told Automoblile.

The problem: GM CEO Fritz Henderson was widely quoted last month, including here on AutoObserver, as summarizing his product-development preferences by saying, "I'm no fan of rebadging," squarely implying the G8 would not continue under another nameplate after Pontiac's shutdown.

Skinbacks On Second Day On The Job

After Lutz's comments to Automobile about the G8 made the rounds, the subject cropped up in a webchat GM's Fast Lane blog, long one of Lutz's favorite forums for all manner of tweaking of the media and competitors. Lutz seemed to be hurriedly turning down the hype-meter, saying, "We're studying the feasibility of bringing (the G8) in as a Caprice for both law enforcement and the public."

By the time GM's public relations arm got a hold of the issue, no time was lost in skinning back Lutz's obvious conflict with GM's CEO about the future of the G8. When the Wall Street Journal reported the potential for the G8's return, a GM spokesman characterized as "premature" any talk about the G8's rebadging or what nameplate a new U.S.-bound variant might have.

Old Dogs Perform Old Tricks

The PR staff also might have been wishing Lutz had not spent so much time in elaborating to Automobile about the likelihood for all manner of future variants of Cadillac's high-powered and low-volume V-Series performance models, such as coupe and wagon variants of the CTS-V sport sedan.

Lutz has famously championed sometimes questionable executions of narrow-focus performance models such as the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters (all of which are gone from the new GM), not to mention most of Cadillac's V-Series lineup - models GM critics often cite as evidence of GM's inability to prioritize resources to develop more-successful mainstream models.

Is Lutz's recall as a high-level executive and his backing of rebadging the G8 evidence that, post-bankruptcy and flush with taxpayer billions, GM is back to its old - and not very successful - habits?

Some are suggesting that GM - and Chrysler Group LLC, with the announcement it's keeping its Viper supercar and restarting production - having been resuscitated through not-entirely-above-the-board bankruptcy processes that instantly erased their crushing debt, might brazenly (or perhaps mindlessly) return to the practice of making what they want rather than what they can sell. 

Longtime GM critic The Truth About Cars definitely has an opinion:

"Ultimately, Lutz proves exactly how little GM has changed. His old-school, hard-charging pursuit of glamor, performance and excitement are little more than a fading afterglow from the good old days of Motorama excess. The market has moved on, but GM hasn't."

Photo by GM

GM's Bob Lutz introduces the Pontiac G8 concept at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. 

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nitephire says: 7:23 AM, 07.14.09

Actually keeping the G8 as a Chevy is not a bad idea at all as it gives them a Large rear wheel drive sedan above the Malibu. The current Impala is not worth even looking at at this point. The Solstice if it were reembodied would make a great Buick. Buick needs more mores for volume and not a knockoff of a Beat or Cruze. Personally I just overlook TTAC the guy who runs it is so single minded it not even funny. Hates everything American no matter how good the vehicle might be against its competitors.

guy1974 says: 7:54 AM, 07.14.09

The critics are stupid when they say GM cannot develop high performance versions of cars otherwise they will neglect the mainstream car. Does anyone say BMW shouldn`t continue develop M versions otherwise their base cars will suffer??? A decent car company can do both - GM and Ford easily do it in Europe with the VXR and RS (respectively) brands

iskch says: 8:15 AM, 07.14.09

Same old GM mentality. Why they kept Bob Lutz in the first place I have no idea. They should gave him his retirement package and send him away. I.M.O

billddrummer says: 8:37 AM, 07.14.09

Meanwhile, Honda, Toyota, Subaru and Kia will continue to cement their positions in the mainstream cars that Americans seem to want. And let's face it: Designing and building efficient, attractive small cars isn't as sexy as a 600 hp Cadillac--even if only .5% of the public can afford it.

If I had that kind of money I'd buy an M class BMW or Mercedes AMG. guy1974 is right about the fact that BMW's M vehicles don't detract from their mainstream models. On the contrary, design elements on M vehicles typically find a home in the mainstream lineup (the Valvetronic fuel management system first appeared in the M-3). But as guy1974 says, a 'decent car company' can do both.

I would submit that neither GM or Chrysler (new or old) qualify as 'decent car companies.'

mirth says: 8:57 AM, 07.14.09

I hope they put Lutz in charge of PR too. They need someone who will make bold assertions and stand up for themselves, rather than the whiny, "may I have another sir" attitude that currently infests the company. Go Bob.

starbird says: 12:50 PM, 07.14.09

Except the Impala still sells in significant quantities compared to the G8. They should be concentrating on what to new with a new Impala and ignore all the people who liked the G8 (including me) but wouldn't buy it.

misterfusion says: 6:38 PM, 07.14.09

So, let me get this straight: According to some of the commenters here, it's fine for Hyundai to offer a RWD V8 sedan, but if GM has one, the terrorists win?

fulcrumb says: 7:53 PM, 07.14.09

What's next? Are they going to revive Pontiac and move Buick totally to China?
The perfect solution.
Fritz doesn't like badge engineered product, so a Caprice nee G8 wouldn't work; GMC would want a version then. Too high of a price point for Chevrolet-too young for Buick.
Bob rocks. Let him do his thang. When he does mainstream products, we get Buick Terazza "sport vans".

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