GM's Lutz Already Making 'Em NutsBy Michelle Krebs July 14, 2009
By Bill Visnic
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.