Former Chevy Volt Frontman Bob Lutz on GM's Missteps

Blame it on b-school, at least in part. That’s what Bob Lutz — the General Motors executive who for years denied climate change, made his name with muscle cars and trucks and eventually came to champion the Chevy Volt — suggested Tuesday as one factor in the automaker’s missteps and financial troubles over the years.

Speaking at a sendoff party organized for his retirement from a 47-year career at the company, Lutz said GM lost focus on customers and the imperative to make the best cars, putting more emphasis on making money. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Lutz commented:

“Why is it that when you look at the best foreign companies — and it’s not that the foreign-owned companies have people who are smarter or work harder — what they have is senior management that didn’t go to business school.”

At GM, by contrast, he said at the farewell in Warren, Mich., late Tuesday, there was pressure to reduce hours per vehicle in manufacturing. “Nothing to do with customer. We had to take seminars on how to reduce die costs,” he said. “Nothing to do with customer….Instead of starting with the concept that we’re going to have the best car or truck, we had to compromise on that vision.”

That’s a different tune than what Lutz was singing back in 2008, when GM took out a full-page ad in the trade journal Automotive Week, acknowledging shortcomings and admitting mistakes like not paying attention to a changing market. Lutz gave a video interview to CNBC at the time in which he struck anything but the apologetic tone of GM’s ad. He dealt blame instead to overall poor market conditions in the global automotive market, insisting that GM matched the productivity and quality of Japanese automakers.

This isn’t the first time Lutz has announced plans to retire from GM, but he says this time will be the last. For better or worse, Lutz has been a figure on the EV scene, impossible to ignore, for longer than most — thanks in large part to his willingness to share strong opinions in a sea of carefully controlled corporate messages. He has colorfully commented on the “CO2 theory” of global warming (he doesn’t believe it), Tesla Motors (proof that electric vehicles are feasible), what made LG Chem a winner in the race to supply battery cells for the Volt (government support) — and much more. We’ve got a roundup of Lutz gems here. To hear straight from Maximum Bob himself, check out this video from Lutz’s September 2008 appearance on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report”:

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Photo courtesy of General Motors


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