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Bob Lutz Offers To Sacrifice Himself To Keep Wagoner In Charge Of GM
These are somber, serious economic times — but it’s still hard to hang up from a 10-minute phone chat with Bob Lutz without chuckling.
“If Congress wants a sacrifice, it should be me,” Lutz declared this afternoon, as he defended his boss, General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner.
“I’m older,” Lutz said. “And I’ve made politically incorrect remarks about global warming, so it should be me.”
We were talking, ironically, just as one of the greenest of green Democrats, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was announcing a new bill that would quickly send $15 billion in loans to Detroit’s neediest auto companies, GM and Chrysler LLC.
There would be strings attached, there would be shared sacrifice and strict oversight to ensure that Detroit gets lean and green and viable. But no sacrificial Detroit auto executives’ heads on platters, at least not yet, despite chatter about Wagoner’s ouster possibly being a condition for GM to get aid.
It’s probably best that Lutz, 76, GM’s vice chairman and head of global product development, didn’t do too much public chirping this past month while GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. were pleading for federal loans to keep their companies afloat.
Like many in Detroit, Lutz has difficulty suppressing his disdain for the comments certain senators and TV talking heads made about the self-inflicted problems of the domestic auto industry.
“It just infuriates to hear supposedly intelligent people describe the GM of the 1980s as if it was today,” Lutz told me.
As I said, it’s probably good that Lutz wasn’t testifying before the House and Senate committees. Wagoner and his fellow Detroit CEOs weren’t the world’s most persuasive orators, but they did do the abject begging necessary in Washington to get Congress to provide the rescue funds.
Lutz, who earlier this year called global warming “a crock of” well, you know what, might not have been so meek.
He has worked for GM, Chrysler, Ford and BMW in his storied career, and he can be highly critical of all four if you get him going. “You could argue,” he said Monday, “that some past GM chairmen were merely building occupiers, not builders.” But Wagoner, GM’s chairman since 2003 and CEO since 2000, has done an amazing job of changing the industrial giant.
“GM used to have 22 different purchasing organizations,” he said. “It’s now down to one.”
Even the possible phaseout of GM’s Saturn division, he said, was in the works well before Congress demanded that GM produce a so-called viability plan by Dec. 2 to show it can become self-sufficient and pay back its loans Saturn has its best-reviewed product lineup in years, including the Aura sedan. But GM management made a proactive move to look at phasing out the brand because its sales didn’t match the critical acclaim. “We had to reassess. There’s simply not enough money to support all the brands,” Lutz said.
His point: GM in general and Wagoner in particular are gutsier than they’ve been given credit for.
“Against the advice of a lot of people,” Lutz pointed out, “Rick made an unconventional and bold move to hire me, at age 70, to come in a run product development. You talk about bold moves — that certainly was one.”