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Lutz on the Mount

Posted by: David Welch on August 17, 2007


Call General Motors car czar Bob Lutz skeptical about the likelihood that Robert Nardelli, the Former General Electric and Home Depot executive tapped as Chrysler’s new CEO, can get the carmaker humming again. Nardelli has a mixed track record. He did wonders for two major business units at GE. He also doubled revenue and boosted profits at Home Depot before leaving the company with customer service issues and a stagnant stock price. When asked about Nardelli while showing off the new Chevrolet HHR SS in Detroit yesterday, Lutz said, “The naïve belief on Wall Street that we’re a bunch of dunderheads and if you just get some GE guy to come in with fresh eyes, he will make the tough calls and turn it around … we’ll see.”

Lutz was less skeptical when Ford hired former Boeing Co. executive Alan Mulally as its CEO, but he was hardly effusive. Lutz’s point back then was that it’s tough for any executive, no matter how smart they are, to come from a business-to-business industry like selling jets to airlines and figure out what car buyers want. Nardelli does have experience with consuemrs at Home Depot. But his biggest successes at GE came selling locomotives to railroads and turbine engines to power utilities and other businesses.

Lutz has a point. Few, if any interlopers have parachuted into Detroit from other industries and succeeded. James Nance joined Packard in 1952 from appliance maker Hotpoint Inc. He couldn’t stop the now-dead luxury carmaker’s swoon. In the ‘90s, GM and Ford hired a slew of marketers from elsewhere—the most notorious being former and current Bausch and Lomb executive Ron Zarrella. None of the hires made an impact. Nardelli will definitely make his mark on Chrysler. Cerberus has wisely surrounded him with a slew of Chrysler veterans to give him advice. Like Lutz says, we’ll see if it works.

Reader Comments


August 17, 2007 4:15 PM

Bob Lutz: calls it like he sees it. He's been around the auto business longer than most and knows what it takes. Nardelli may be well advised to read Bob's book.

munidas pereira

August 20, 2007 8:34 AM

I agree with Mr Lutz in part. The part where I disagree is the failure of the big three to invest in Engineering/products. It is said that detroit hires lawyers to fight regulations and the Japanese hire engineers to live with regulations. I will give one example: The NEW saturn aura(base version) has a out of date technology push rod engine which is less smooth and consumes more gas than the smooth overhead cam Engines found on the Japanese competitors Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.


August 20, 2007 8:04 PM

so am I! Nardelli has reached a higher level of incompetence.

Bruce Parkinson

August 21, 2007 7:49 PM

Herr Lutz--speaking of the incompetence of another? Great bleeding scott! The man has come up with a brace of losers, HHR, SSR, clouded Sky, infected Poultice, funky Caddie and super-grotesque/fuel-guzzling Escalade and its Cheevie clone, let alone the balance of the GM line of largely redundant losers.

Nardelli was a dumb move, one borne of anxiety/panic, hi-hopes, yes. But it does not take a fabled 'car guy' to see this. Lutz has a tough job, I would not want it. Turn-ing a bureaucratic loser like GM is, as they say, like turn-
ing a tanker. But decades of mediocrity have taken their toll, GM has lost market share to its very clear superiors, and I happen to drive one of those vehicles with a lot of pride and no regrets at all, an '06 HONDA Pilot. Made in Canada, by the way.

Let Bob Lutz spout off, it is his right, and lord knows it is a specialty, and it shows us what he is made of or not. 'Not' translates as 'mostly hype', by the way. His GM con-tributions have been failures thus far, and are most likely to continue this way "to the bitter ende", as the under-takers say.


August 22, 2007 12:50 PM

Mr. Lutz should focus on saving the planet with his new fleet of vehicles. According to: Brazil has become completely INDEPENDENT and has no need for foreign oil. ALl the major car makers have given in and developed vehicles tthat run on 100% Brazilian ethanol. Arab countries have no power over Brazil. Our car makers need to focus on solutions such as these.

David Matiella

August 29, 2007 10:44 PM

It is true, Nardelli does not have the "car guy" experience that Lutz has; however, I believe he has the business backbone and independence to make the tough decisions that his boss Cerberus wants him to do and that is to cut costs and deadwood fast. No doubt he will make mistakes along the way; but, his basic objective to stop the bleeding at Chrysler will be achieved. Product planning and customers? He'll leave that to his car guys like Lutz.


September 14, 2007 1:29 PM

---Quote: The NEW saturn aura(base version) has a out of date technology push rod engine which is less smooth and consumes more gas than the smooth overhead cam Engines found on the Japanese competitors Honda Accord and Toyota Camry---
I disagree! if this were true, then why is the GM pick-up truck with a V8 more fuel efficient than the Toyota Tundra with a base V6??

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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