Maximum Bob Lutz, getting ready to strafe the competition
To friends and foes alike, he’s “Maximum Bob,” and there’s little doubt that in a half-century career, Robert A. Lutz never shies away from an opportunity to push things to the limits – whether helping develop a new product or racing it. His resume reads like a Who’s Who of Automakers, with names like BMW, Ford, Chrysler and, now, General Motors, where he serves as vice chairman and “car czar,” reporting directly to CEO Rick Wagoner.
The Swiss-born former U.S. Marine fighter pilot would likely see his tenure at the automaker’s downtown Detroit headquarters as the toughest fight of his career. He’s struggled to break through GM’s well-entrenched bureaucracy and get the company to refocus its efforts on making the world’s best cars and trucks. There’ve been some rewards, with newer products, like the Chevrolet Malibu, winning rave reviews. And the Chevy Volt, an “extended-range electric vehicle,” has become a symbol of the industry’s evolution from gas-guzzling SUVs to high-mileage hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles.
We had the chance to speak with Lutz about a wide range of topics, including the Volt and electric technology. It’s a curious topic for a discussion with the septuagenarian executive because Lutz is an outspoken skeptic when it comes to global warming, but he’s also hot on the subject of battery power.
Q: Any guess, by 2020, what percentage of your vehicles will have a Volt-like powertrain?
Lutz: No, it depends on whether we get a national energy policy, a stable price for fuel, which would permit for planning. Every six months, we’re stupid idiots because (prices change radically and) we should have planned in the other direction. We were stupid when we didn’t plan to build for light trucks. Then we were stupid when we didn’t see fuel hitting $4 a gallon. Now, you can’t give hybrids away, and dealers are saying, “Enough, but we’ll take a few more Tahoe (SUVS).”
Q: You used the Detroit auto show to reveal the battery supplier for your new Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle. What makes one supplier better than another?
Lutz: Oh, it’s suitability of the chemistry, experience in producing that type of battery, energy storage, speed to market, willingness to accept warranty responsibility – and last and probably least, price. We weighed a huge number of variables as we always do.