Bob Lutz Drives Home a Few Key Points for the Energized Automaker and the Industry as a Whole
by Alain Gayot
From his early upbringing in Zurich and cross educational platforms in Lausanne and UC Berkeley to a five year stint as a US Marine Naval Aviator, Vice Chairman of GM Robert Lutz has been a citizen of the auto world. With positions at General Motors in Europe starting in 1963, BMW, Ford Europe and U.S., Chrysler and back in the General ranks since 2002, the multi-lingual executive wants to hang on until his “Intense Focus on Superior Products” doctrine sticks at The New GM. “Our J.D. Power Initial Quality Study results are at par with Honda and Toyota… and we can still do much better,” claims Lutz. “Residual values for our new models are up,” he added, “sales are up, and we are energized with the launch of the Volt in the fall of 2010.”
Whether GM builds the best cars or not as stipulated in their current ad campaigns, the troubled automaker still has to win over the hearts of many. Indeed, the products are far superior than what they were a few years ago, from the ferocious Cadillac CTS-V to a reasonable Chevrolet Malibu. In its bankruptcy, GM lost brands (Hummer, Pontiac, Saab…), but today, sales are up with fewer products, led by the Buick La Crosse, the second best-selling sedan in the U.S. after its cousin, the Chevrolet Impala. Shoppers are also taking to the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain. In the small car arena, Mr. Lutz points to the global Chevrolet Cruze sedan, the Chevrolet Spark econobox, a completely newly designed Chevrolet Aveo with a sport RS version, and a baby GMC Granite concept.
One thing seems certain: for reasons that make sense, the General is staying away from a clean diesel option. There are some experiments with hydrogen vehicles, they brought to market flex fuel capability in many models, but a lot rests on the much anticipated Chevrolet Volt, an electric hybrid vehicle with an estimated 100 MPG range which recently was seen shuttling athletes and VIPs at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Is the ill-fated EV1 back?
Despite the high hopes for the revolutionary car, Bob’s views were that many other things have to change in the transportation infrastructure. It might be surprising to hear from an auto executive that fuel tax needs to be raised over time to catch up on practices in foreign countries and that mass transit needs serious development, but we tend to agree. Also, we have heard rumors that utility companies are quite concerned about the simultaneous power demand should five of your neighbors try to plug in their electric vehicle all at once on your block, and that local transformers won’t be able to deal with the issue. Bob is convinced that the Volt will be a sell-out as techno-cool gearheads are going to want to be the first ones on the block to own one, but that ultimately improved combustion engines with better compression and lighter materials will prevail in the everyday car. “Soon to market will be a regular gasoline powered Cruze that gets 40 mpg to equal even hybrid performance,” finished the insightful gentleman.
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