Luts may retire in 2010
General Motors vice-chairman Robert Lutz, who is 75 years old now, is going to be sticking around for a few more years, at least until he ushers the new Chevy Volt into dealer showrooms. "I’d like to see the Volt launched because I think that is an absolutely critical product," Lutz told the Associated Press in an interview being reported at CNN Money.com. But, Lutz was typically vague about his own plans. "You never know about your health. You never know about the needs of the corporation," he said in his office at the company’s design center. "You never know what the board wants to do, or Rick wants to transition to a younger team. All of those things are possible."
Lutz also offered some insight into General Motors’ apparent strategy for meeting the proposed 35 mpg fuel economy standards which would be effective in 2020. The strategy an be summed up in one word: Volt. Lutz says the Volt is probably the only way that General Motors can meet those standards.
Lutz joined GM in 2001, after having retired from Chrysler and having served as president of Exide Technologies, one of two companies manufacturing automobile batteries in the United States. He was initially contacted by Rick Wagoner for a recommendation of an executive that GM might hire to oversee development of new models and, instead, recommended himself. He has steered development of new GM products, including the Enclave and the Malibu, changing production and design methods as well as influencing all other aspects of product development.
But the Volt has clearly been his baby since day one. In some respects, it seems and odd choice for Lutz – he’s the father of the Dodge Viper and the Pontiac Solstice and clearly a car guy. The image of an electric car isn’t an image that appeals to most people who love performance cars.
Yet, it is a measure of his influence within the corporation that GM’s entire domestic strategy now appears to depend on the success of the Volt. Lutz has been very bold in predicting in a recent speech that GM will leapfrog Toyota with the Volt, predicting that Toyota will end up with “egg on its face.” Unlike GM, Toyota appears to have essentially quit efforts to bring a lithium ion battery to large-scale automotive production.
It is, literally, betting the company – but, if Lutz pulls it off, he’ll go down as one of the giants of the automotive industry. Unlike the Prius, current and future, the Volt is no contemplated as an “economy” car. It is targeted at the $30,000 price range, fully $10,000 above the current Prius and well above the price point Toyota claims it will set for the next Prius. At that price range, there is a lot of competition, currently. But, much of that competition may evaporate in light of the new fuel standards, as car makers allow current platforms to run out their production lives without replacing them with equivalent new models.
If Lutz does actually retire from GM, we can only hope he doesn’t waste time in getting his memoirs published. That should be a fun read – and a best seller.