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Lutz ready to write his next chapter with video

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Lutz ready to write his next chapter

GM has bolstered lineup, so he'll author book, fly

BY TIM HIGGINS

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Bob Lutz is not an adviser.

He's 78, tired of the 4:30 a.m. alarm clock and in a role at General Motors as vice chairman in which he's not running anything.

"My work is done here," he said Thursday, in an interview with the Free Press after announcing plans last week to retire May 1.

Lutz, who feels the company has adopted his push over the past nine years to improve product quality and styling, is going to spend more time flying and writing another book.

He's got a lifetime of experiences in the auto industry with senior executive roles at GM, Chrysler and Ford to draw on for inspiration. The yet-to-be-titled book will cover a lot of ground, Lutz indicated, including his thoughts on what GM did wrong in the past and the transformation that it has undergone. At GM, Lutz is credited with breathing new life into the product lineup. The redesigned Buick LaCrosse, for example, speaks to what can be done by the company and is seeing wild success in China, where it's considered a prestigious luxury car, and is helping revitalize Buick's image in the U.S.

But it hasn't always been easy or pretty. His comments about global warming have earned him critics, and he knows that not everyone likes his approach.

He remembered facing great skepticism initially from inside GM for his approach to putting more content in vehicles and focusing on what customers want.

"The skeptics, there are none left because everybody has seen that if ... you really do an outstanding product, that astonishes the media and customers with its detailing and its low noise level and its beautiful ride and handling and its beautiful exterior and beautiful ornamentation, then automatically you're successful," Lutz said.

A government-backed bankruptcy last year has removed many of the balance-sheet hurdles that greeted Lutz when he arrived at the company in 2001 with the task of changing the product development culture.

Lutz gave the government an 'A' for its work in restructuring GM, but said having a new board with so many members who didn't understand the auto industry was "a little rocky at first."

The challenge now for GM is to take advantage of the opportunity.

Lutz's role under a new chairman and CEO, Ed Whitacre, has seemed awkward and ill-fitting. Shortly after assuming the role of CEO in December after then-CEO Fritz Henderson resigned, Whitacre took away Lutz's responsibilities for marketing and made him an adviser.

Henderson told Bloomberg News that Lutz "was never a professional adviser. He wants to be in the game."

Lutz responded: "That's the truth."

"What am I going to advise on? ... It's a combination of not having an assignment that I can sink my teeth into or something to run," he said. "It's that plus what are you going to advise on when everyone gets it?"

That said, Lutz said he has a good relationship with Whitacre.

Of course, this is Lutz's second attempt at retirement from GM. (Last year, he announced he would retire at the end of 2009 but shelved those plans after the bankruptcy.)

Any chance that he'll end up at another automaker?

Lutz smiled.

"Nobody has come to me yet," he joked. "What's the deal? What's my role?"

He paused. "Highly unlikely."

video:

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100312/BUSINESS01/3120341/1331/Lutz-ready-to-write-his-next-chapter&template=fullarticle

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