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Lutz: High-revving personality exits the stage he loves

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Lutz: High-revving personality exits the stage he loves

Charles Child

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

Bob Lutz, Detroit's No. 1 car guy, called it quits last week.

In a 47-year career, he has held a host of jobs at General Motors Co., Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG. But for Lutz, also a skilled marketer and navigator of corporate politics, it has been mainly about product.

He helped engineer Chrysler's come-back in the 1990s with such cars as the Dodge Viper sports car.

At GM starting in 2001, he crafted such well-received cars as the current Chevrolet Malibu sedan and Equinox crossover, GMC Terrain crossover and Buick LaCrosse sedan.

He had a knack for bringing out the best in designers. His charisma energized staffers and helped popularize his ideas with the press.

For such a legendary figure, though, the end is coming quietly. Reduced by GM CEO Ed Whitacre to an adviser without operational duties, Lutz told reporters at a restaurant in his native Switzerland last week that he will retire May 1.

When the GM board ousted CEO Fritz Henderson on Dec. 1 and added the interim CEO title to board Chairman Whitacre, Lutz lost a trusted ally. Within days, Whitacre took away Lutz's assignment -- marketing -- leaving Lutz as merely an adviser.

Lutz, who took over GM marketing and advertising in August, was working on GM's nagging image problems. The automaker had improved product quality and design, but many shoppers, particularly on the East and West coasts, still consider GM cars stodgy.

"I have always been a vocal critic of much of the [advertising] that we do," he said after being picked for the post. "Maybe one of the reasons I got the job was 'OK, you don't like it, you fix it.' "

But last week, Lutz's evaporating clout was highlighted when one of his loyalists, Bryan Nesbitt, was shifted back to GM's design staff. Lutz had promoted him in August to be general manager of Cadillac.

Throughout his career, Lutz, the cigar-smoking former fighter pilot and collector of military jets, has backed high-horsepower performance cars.

At GM, he demonstrated his versatility by overseeing the plug-in Chevrolet Volt hybrid, scheduled to roll out late this year. The Volt became a cornerstone of GM's effort to show it could compete on hybrid technology.

But while championing the eco-friendly Volt, he dismissed global warming as a "crock." It was classic Lutz -- outspoken and a bit outrageous. Those qualities help explain why he never became CEO of a major automaker.

Last week, Lutz told reporters that at age 78, it is time to leave the stage that he has enjoyed for so long.

He said: "There is something that gets old about getting up at 4:30 in the morning."

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100308/OEM02/303089961/1021#ixzz0hhVjrvmq

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