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Q&A: GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz

A candid look at government intervention, and his own legacy.

by on May.28, 2009

Whether in or out of bankruptcy, says "car czar" Bob Lutz, the automaker is about to face a "cleansing fire."

Whether in or out of bankruptcy, says "car czar" Bob Lutz, GM is about to face a "cleansing fire."

It’s down to the proverbial wire for General Motors. Within the next several days, the automaker will either work out a last-minute settlement with bondholders or face a historic bankruptcy filing.

To some, bankruptcy or not,  there’s an equally significant event occurring with the retirement of GM’s Vice Chairman and “car czar,” Bob Lutz.  The spry septuagenarian executive surprised the automotive world when he joined the automaker, early in August 2001 for what was supposed to be a couple-year assignment helping rebuild GM’s once-legendary product development operations. As he leaves, there’s little doubt that the carmaker is building some of the best products it’s made in decades, if not, as he suggests, “the best in our history.”  But what happens “if and when” it goes into court-appointed bankruptcy protection?

That was the central theme of a speech by the former Marine pilot to the Automotive Press Association, on Thursday. While he acknowledged there are many unknowns, Lutz insisted, “We will pass through the cleansing fire of a radical restructuring — whether in or out of court” and emerge a “smaller, leaner powerhouse.”  Surprisingly, the traditionally conservative Lutz said much of GM’s potential turnaround can be credited to the Obama Administration, which is the first administration “in decades” to actually pay attention to “the largest manufacturing industry in the country.”

Following his speech, Lutz offered his thoughts on a variety of other issues in this question-and-answer session.

Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comQ: It seems certain GM will declare bankruptcy by the June 1st deadline set by President Obama.

Lutz: It’s a matter of  ‘if,’ and not when.  And if we do, we intend to get in and out very, very soon. (more…)

America “Cannot Walk Away” From Auto Industry

President’s speech signals a new direction.

by on Feb.25, 2009

"The nation cannot walk away" from the auto industry.

"The nation cannot walk away" from an auto industry "millions of jobs depend on."

“The nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it,” declared President Barack Obama, during a speech to the joint houses of Congress, Tuesday night.

The 52-minute address, effectively the new President’s first State of the Union, covered a broad range of topics, from the nation’s economic crisis, to the war in Iraq, from health care to education. But a fair share of the President’s comments were devoted to the ailing American auto industry and the energy policies that could shape the future of transportation.

Noting that “millions of jobs depend on it,” President Obama said that, “We are committed to the goal of a retooled, reimagined auto industry that can compete and win.” That was undoubtedly good news to Detroit’s troubled Big Three automakers. But other comments were also aimed at chastening the executives who oversaw the domestic industry’s desperate slide.

“As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink,” said the President. “We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.”