Detroit, Mich. — The government auto bailout claimed one of the industry’s legendary creative talents Monday when Bob Lutz, General Motors’ product czar, announced his retirement. Lutz’s departure was officially cast with the usual press release bromides: He’s 76 and “wants to spend time with his family,” his announcement “surprised analysts,” and it “makes sense considering the strong team that will remain.”
But read between the lines, and the timing of Lutz’s departure–just as America’s largest auto company is being quasi-nationalized–is no coincidence.
Noted for his keen eye for product and design, Lutz was brought to GM in 2001 to resuscitate its bland brands. With award-winning vehicles like the Chevy Malibu, Cadillac CTS, and Pontiac Solstice, he’s returned GM to the forefront of design excellence.
But now that the company is a government project, green morality has replaced product innovation.
Lutz admitted the fed’s wet blanket in an interview with the Detroit News, saying oversight attached to the $13 billion loan package helped convince him to retire. It “just made it real hard, increasingly hard to get up at 4:30 in the morning and get really excited about what I’m going to do today,” he told News reporter Dave Shepardson.
Ironically, Lutz is the godfather of GM’s ultra-green Chevy Volt electric car–the darling of Washington. But Lutz won’t stick around for its launch next year, which is perhaps commentary enough on whether the car is really the future of automobility the press claims it is.
Indeed, at a time when government money dictates that GM invest in green, Lutz’s presence as a true global-warming skeptic was increasingly inconvenient. Unusually candid in a world of corporate suits, Lutz has consistently belittled the green religion, recently telling journalists that global warming is “a crock of s***.”
But when Nancy Pelosi is a large investor, such truth-telling will not be appreciated.
Even without government intervention, GM faces a joyless future of downsizing its top-heavy dealer and brand structure. But Lutz’s departure is also a reminder of the deadening hand of government subsidy.