Sunday, January 07, 2007

GM's Lutz 'not going anywhere'

Thursday, December 14, 2006
GM's Lutz 'not going anywhere'
Bill Vlasic / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Never one to mince words, Bob Lutz is characteristically blunt about rumors that he is preparing to retire from General Motors Corp.

"This is all complete and utter B.S. 100 percent fiction from A to Z," said GM's vice chairman of product development. "I'm not going anywhere."

Speculation about Lutz possibly leaving GM has circulated in the industry in recent weeks, complete with talk that his retirement was decided at a meeting last month of the automaker's top management.

But during an interview with The Detroit News, Lutz shot down the notion that he is anywhere close to calling it a career.

"There was no such meeting, no such topic, no such plan, no management shakeup, no anything," he said. "I wonder who dreams up these scenarios."

At age 74, Lutz concedes he is in the twilight of a storied career that began in 1963 at GM in Europe and then took him to BMW AG, Ford Motor Co., the former Chrysler Corp. and back to GM in 2001.

On Dec. 4, GM's board of directors increased Lutz's retirement benefits by $3.4 million to credit him for his service at the company from 1963 to 1972.

The news of changes in his retirement package -- disclosed in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission -- reignited speculation about Lutz's future.

But Lutz hardly sees his final days at GM coming soon. "I'd like to be around for another two or three more years," said Lutz, who turns 75 in February. "That would take me to 77 or 78 (years old), and that would be about right."

One industry analyst said that Lutz needs to stay on board as GM enters a heavy launch period of new products such as the Chevrolet Malibu sedan and the Saturn Outlook crossover vehicle.

"I would hate to see him out of the picture," said David Healy of Burnham Securities. "He's come up with an awful lot of good cars over the years and a lot of good one-liners."

Lutz did say that he would consider leaving sooner if the GM board felt a need to identify his long-term successor.

However, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner has consistently cited Lutz's product savvy as a key component in the company's strategy to grow revenues and recover from a $10.6 billion loss in 2005.

As head of GM's global product team, Lutz is also immersed in a sweeping reorganization of the automaker's international vehicle operations.

Under the new system, different regions of the world will have engineering responsibilities for various product segments. For example, all of GM's midsize sedans will be developed in Europe, its small pickup trucks in South America and its large rear-wheel drive passenger cars in Australia.

"We're finally getting close to running the corporation on a truly global basis," Lutz said. "It makes all kinds of sense."

Lutz has never lacked confidence in GM's prospects, even when auto analysts and some media outlets were predicting the company was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

"I never believed the 'GM is going bankrupt' frenzy," he said. "We know exactly what our cash flow looks like. We know exactly what products we're introducing. We have never discussed bankruptcy. It has never been an option."

You can reach Bill Vlasic at (313) 222-2152 or

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