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Lutz Says Show Me the Numbers

The numbers put it all in perspective….maybe.

by on Dec.21, 2009

Show me the numbers, says GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, referring to Buick's claims.

"Show me the numbers," says GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, when told of Buick's claims.

There are numbers, damn numbers and statistics.  Just ask the Buick folks.

The long-troubled brand has steadily seen those numbers dwindle, over the decades, though there have been a few small but important bright spots, lately, starting with the launch of the Enclave crossover and running up to the debut of the new LaCrosse.


How bright?  As it seems to always happen at press previews, Buick’s product marketing director, it was Craig Bierely’s compulsory role to put a positive spin on things, telling a captive crowd of journalists that since the LaCrosse sedan went on sale, late this year, the troubled division’s conquest sales of import buyers had quadrupled.

We in the media have learned, over the years, to smile politely, nod, and save our skepticism for our computer keyboards.

Not so Bob Lutz, General Motors’ shoot-from-the-lip vice chairman.  He has a history of making blunt, if occasionally inopportune comments – like the time he suggested Chrysler – which he worked for at the time – had little chance of finding a partner, comparing the endlessly failing maker to a “dying bride.”

This time, Lutz was only slightly less flippant.  Maybe conquests had quadrupled, but he offered the comment everyone else was only thinking, “Yeah, up from one percent,” he quipped into the ear of Susan Docherty, former Buick boss and now head of GM’s North American sales and marketing.

A little loud, as usual, enough that this reporter caught the comment and had to stifle a laugh.

Curious as to whether the cynicism was warranted, cornered Bierely after his presentation.  It turns out Buick has a bit better story to tell than GM’s Vice Chairman might believe, once again proving that the glib media’s obsession with “gotcha quotes,” such as Lutz’s, is less than helpful when analyzing what’s really going on.

“At the beginning of the LaCrosse’s launch, conquest sales to import buyers were around five-percent. Now they’re up at about 20-percent,” said Bierely, adding that “because early sales are often to loyalists, we expect that the conquest figure will continue to grow.”

Ironically, it was Lutz who took the media to task for our own skeptical way of dealing with the Buick brand.  Leaning over one of the new models due to debut at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, Lutz suggested we might want to consider how we balance our stories.  Instead of spending two-thirds of our articles lamenting the sorry state of the struggling brand, might we not begin by talking about just how good its products have become?

Perhaps, but it would certainly help if “Maximum Bob” privately expressed his own optimism about the Buick brand.

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