General Motors Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz, 78, will retire effective May 1, 2010, ending a 47-year career in the auto industry that included senior leadership positions at four of the world’s leading automakers.
It also included the bankruptcies at three of the companies where he was a senior member of management where high stakes bets are the price of poker.
The announcement came as no surprise in Detroit circles where it was increasingly clear that GM CEO and Chairman Ed Whitacre was spending little – if any – time with Lutz, but rather listening, raptly, to the advice of Steven J. Girsky, 47, who in February was appointed GM vice chairman, corporate strategy and business development after a long career with now controversial Wall Street firms.
Girsky was appointed to the GM board of directors, with U.S. Treasury Department approval, as GM was emerging from bankruptcy in July 2009. Whitacre, of course, also owes his job to Treasury, which financed GM’s survival with billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
Lutz, 78, rejoined GM September 1, 2001, as the head of product development, and has led the company’s resurgence in developing great cars and trucks. He also worked at BMW, as president of Chrysler, vice president of Ford and CEO of Exide battery.
Lutz had announced his retirement last year, but stayed on at the request of then CEO Fritz Henderson, who Whitacre replaced with himself.
Lutz set GM product development and design on the path it remains on today, with markedly improved cars and trucks appearing with each new iteration. He also presided over some flops, notably moving an expensive European product lineup into the now failed Saturn brand.
Much beloved by the media for his irreverent and non-scripted quotes, Lutz performed the Herculean task of cleaning out GM’s Augean Stables with unparallel success.
It remains to be seen if the momentum he provided in product development can be maintained in a company run by financially and politically oriented executives – who make no bones about paying off massive government loans of $50 billion as their primary task. (more…)