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Fondue and farewell: How Bob Lutz told me the news

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Fondue and farewell: How Bob Lutz told me the news

Rick Kranz

Automotive News -- March 8, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

GRUYERES, Switzerland -- After media days at the Geneva auto show, half a dozen reporters and a couple of analysts got drive time in the Chevrolet Cruze and Spark, cars destined for U.S. sale.

After a morning of driving through the Swiss countryside, we stopped here, and Bob Lutz joined our group.

I was scheduled for one-on-one time with Lutz, so at lunch we sat at the far end of a long, narrow table lined with reporters.

During lunch he spoke about the demise of Pontiac, past members of General Motors' management team and the book he is writing.

Halfway through lunch, in a low tone, I raised the topic of retirement.

Lutz turned his head in my direction, whispered: "Rick, I don't want you to be blindsided. Tomorrow, I will announce I am retiring. The story is embargoed until 10 a.m. tomorrow."

As Lutz continued, his voice grew louder, conversational. Other journalists at the table caught the news and began texting his comments back to the States.

As Lutz dipped his bread into the cheese fondue, he talked about his accomplishments, the GM management team and GM's future. About 15 minutes later it was time to leave.

A GM spokesman said the retirement news was off the record. But it was too late.

Lutz interrupted, his fingers pushing the buttons on his mobile phone.

He read the embargoed release off the cell phone screen, adding, "I drafted most of that. I gave them the stuff that I wanted to say."

He continued: "There is something that gets old about getting up at 4:30 a.m. And another thing, at some point, even yesterday, walking the show, and maybe it was because so many of the design concepts were so depressing (the group laughed), I really thought, 'How much longer do I want to keep doing the same thing, the same thing? It is really time to go?' It really is."

The group burst into applause.

Laughing, he added: "Early retirement is finally here."

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