Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

I didn't think I'd be writing about Bob Lutz again but then I thought he'd retired for good. Silly me.

Last week Automotive News announced that General Motors was bringing back Lutz. Are they nuts? To make matters worse this week a retired GM exec, Richard Herdegen, in a letter to the editor in Automotive News calls Lutz, "the most knowledgeable car guy in the global automotive industry." OMG! If Lutz is the most knowledgeable the automotive world is in trouble.

You have to wonder why GM would bring back a 79-year old guy to advise them on product. Have they learned nothing over the years? Are the ranks at GM so thin that this is the best they can do? I don't happen to think so. Personally I think there are hundreds if not thousands of qualified people who work at GM who could do as good or better a job.

If GM needs Lutz to tell them that the fit and finish is not up to par, or that a specific car or part of a car sucks, then their problem is bigger than Lutz.

In the same issue that Mr. Herdegen lauds Lutz (September 12, 2011) there is a front page article on Steve Girsky, Vice Chairman of GM. Mr. Girsky evidently spends a lot of time listening to almost everyone at GM. Now that makes sense. Sounds like Mr. Girsky has more car and common sense than Mr. Lutz.

Nothing Lutz did at GM or Chrysler was really innovative. He stole ideas from the Japanese auto makers and stuffed big engines into cars (wait a second, isn't that how John DeLorean made his bones?).

General Motors just needs to look within itself for those who can show it the way. There are no secrets to any of this. When I worked for Honda many moons ago we all (I was mid-level) were involved in continuous improvement. We had weekly meetings to report on problems and what was being done to fix them. We did port inspections of incoming new vehicles to measure body panel gaps, check the fit of upholstery, etc. And although we did not get involved in design, I know that even the design of the cars had input from below.

Does GM need Lutz to tell them that a tailpipe is wimpy and should have a brushed stainless tip? Do they need Lutz to tell them that the wheels and tires are too small for the wheel openings? Of course not.

What GM needs is to stop building just grandpa cars. They have all the parts to build some really exciting cars. Lutz may be great when it comes to building the ultimate Camaro but the Camaro is aimed at guys my age. If GM needs a car guy, get someone younger, someone who actually has their finger on the pulse of where the world is going, not where it's been.

GM turning once again to Lutz scares me because it's an indication that GM under Chairman Akerson is no different that GM under every other Chairman - out of touch. GM used to build cars that all ages lusted after. It looks to me like GM is still playing the corporate game that got them into the mess they were in. They may be profitable now, and they build very good cars, but now it's time for someone to tell them to build blood stirring cars.

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