General Motor’s chief climate denier (he prefers skeptic) is finally on his way out the door.
GM just announced that it is retiring Bob Lutz as vice chairman for global product development. He’ll be replaced on April 1 and fully retired at the end of the year – if GM lasts that long.
We hope Lutz is the last of that model to emerge from Detroit. Last year, we called for his resignation as a condition of the Big Three bailout.
In his more than four decades in the auto business, Lutz earned the nickname "Maximum Bob" for pushing horsepower and a macho image of big trucks and fast cars with no thought to fuel efficiency or emissions. Worrying about the environment wasn’t part of the equation for Lutz – until he was recently saddled with the Chevy Volt, GM’s in-development electric car.
When Lutz began the public pitchman role for the Volt last year, The New York Times wrote: GM’s Mr. Horsepower has an electric conversion: "The prospect of Mr. Lutz going green represents a sharp reversal." Lutz had regularly mocked environmental advocates, saying that except for “a few nuts in California,” no one cares about the impact cars have on the environment. Just this past December, he told Fox News: "At $1.50 a gallon, the American public wants sport utilities and large pickup trucks." Then there was his comment to a group of Texas journalists that global warming was "a crock of s—"
Here’s how Lutz responsed to criticism of his "crock" comment:
My beliefs are mine and I have a right to them, just as you have a right to yours. But among my strongest beliefs is that my job is to do what makes the most business sense for GM.
The man replacing Lutz is Tom Stephens, GM’s vice president of powertrains. He should be healthier for the company and hopefully for the planet, too. While Lutz was making fun of Toyota’s hybrid Prius in the early 2000s, calling it a publicity stunt, Stephens was working on three new hybrid gas/electric powertrains for GM vehicles.
Stephens explained his hybrid strategy to the Detroit News in 2006: "I’m going after the highest-consuming vehicles first, because that’s where the big payback is."
GM needs all the help it can get. Bloomberg reports today:
General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC may have to be forced into bankruptcy by the U.S. government to assure repayment of $17.4 billion in federal bailout loans, a course of action the automakers claim would destroy them.
Lutz, meanwhile, will be out as head of global product development in seven weeks, but he’ll stick around as a consultant through December. He talked about his departure on his blog this morning, under the headline, "You’re Not Rid of Me Yet":
So I’ll be around the rest of the year, helping with the transition and acting as senior adviser to [GM CEO] Rick Wagoner, and I’m sure you’ll read further updates in this space about how it’s going. Most importantly, I remain as confident as ever in the future of General Motors and the continued excellence of its products.