What to make of the departure of Bob Lutz [wiki], the septuagenarian marketing guru from General Motors, and what does the move say about the future?
Lutz, a former Marine and jet fighter pilot has a resume encompassing nearly every major manufacturer in the North American and European segments of the industry and a fair number of hits. Lutz is credited as having an instrumental role in the creation of the original Dodge Viper, the Plymouth Prowler, Neon, Chrysler LH sedans, as well as “the Cadillac Sixteen Concept; Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice; Pontiac G8; Chevrolet Malibu; Cadillac CTS; Buick Enclave; Cadillac Converj Concept; Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept; Chevrolet Camaro Concept; Chevrolet Camaro (production version); Chevy Beat, Groove and Trax Concept Studies; and 2010 Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Equinox, and Cadillac SRX” (via Wikipedia).
As of last year, he was talking directly to the customer via GM’s Fastlane blog. Lutz – who occasionally steered onto the shoulder while speaking publicly, such as his dismissal of both electric vehicles and global warming – also had a firm grasp on the wheel and a strong sense of direction.
There are two GMs – the Old GM, and the New GM. The old GM was a manufacturing behemoth who enjoyed a period of dominance in both style and sales, which eventually culminated in the misreading and mismatch of product to consumer needs, a much lamented attempt use marketing to compensate for bland product, and a vicious spiral of legacy costs, quality deficiencies – both real and perceived – and an addiction to market share over profit, punctuated by the occasional hit.
The New GM casted off the chains of the past (as Motors Corp), shed the sick, lame, and lazy divisions (initially Oldsmobile, followed by Saturn, Pontiac, Saab, and Hummer), and shed thousands of white and blue collar jobs and unviable dealerships.
GM is enjoying somewhat of a nascent recovery with competitive offerings such as the current Chevrolet Malibu, Cadillac CTS, and Buick Lacrosse as well as forthcoming product like the Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Regal, and others. The fear is that the bean-counters, bankers, and marketing guys of old – responsible for such ‘hits’ as the Cadillac 4-6-8 engine, the X-cars, badge-engineering, and of course, the Aztec – will have resumed control after the latest management putsch, most notably of car guy CEO Fritz Henderson by former-AT&T Executive Ed Whitacare. GMs greatest weakness is its culture – without strong leadership – as exemplified by Lutz – it will be far too easy for the company to fall back on old habits.