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Of Bob Lutz, the CTS coupe and Glasnost

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Of Bob Lutz, the CTS coupe and Glasnost …

Eric Mayne March 15th, 2010

Wanted: Publisher for tell-all book about General Motors Co.’s transformation from an inward-looking institution obsessed with placating Wall Street, to a vibrant organization focused on delivering innovative products that electrify the consumer.

This from Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who describes for me the outline of his post-retirement project. The 77-year-old executive steps down May 1, capping a 47-year career in auto industry.

“The theme of my book is going to be cultures, why some work and why some don’t, and why the GM culture was an example of one that didn’t work,” he says in a recent interview at the auto maker’s design center.

Lutz says he will detail the “pluses and minuses of various leadership styles.” And he will name names.

“I’m not going to make disparaging comments,” Lutz says. “These were all, to a very great extent, highly motivated, highly intelligent, well-educated and seasoned people who were just off on the wrong track.”

For example, he recalls the mindset that existed as the Cadillac CTS coupe was taking shape.

“In some of my early meetings around here, we’d sit and we’d look at the clinic results and the car had been a resounding smash hit – annihilated the competition,” he says. “But everybody said the visibility out the back really sucked. And then there was all this hand-wringing.”

Followed by calls to change car’s edgy design.

“I said, ‘Guys! It won the clinic hands down! It blew everybody away! They voted it No. 1 despite the fact that they can’t see out the back!’”

The car is due to hit dealerships in second quarter.

Expect Lutz also to pay tribute to former GM Chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner, disparaged by former Obama Admin. auto task force chief, Steve Rattner, for displaying “friendly arrogance.”

Says Lutz: “Rick got a number of e-mails, early-on, saying, ‘Hiring Lutz is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made. We’ve got a great system here. We have a process for creating cars. This guy is disruptive. He’s not following the process. He’s a dangerous hip-shooter,’ and so forth.’”

But Wagoner wanted Lutz to overhaul GM’s process-driven culture. “It was a little bit analogous (to) the declining days of the Soviet Union,” he says, likening Wagoner to then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Gorbachev realized there was a need for change. The people at the bottom got it and were hungry for change. The bureaucrats and functionaries who had made their careers under Communism said, ‘We’re not going to let go of this.’”

Hmmm. Is anyone out there interested in Lutz’s musings?

(Note to Bob: If you need an editor, I can help you.)



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