General Motors’ ‘product czar’ Robert (Bob) Lutz, officially vice chairman – global product development, will become vice chairman and senior advisor from 1 April, at 76, where he “will provide strategic input into GM’s global design and key product initiatives until his retirement at the end of 2009”.

‘Retiring’ is not a word usually used to describe the charismatic, confident Lutz, around whom a media scrum always forms at auto industry events. He will be replaced by Thomas Stephens reporting to president and COO Fritz Henderson, rather than CEO Rick Wagoner, as Lutz does.

Stephens, 60, is currently head of GM’s global powertrain and quality and will keep the latter responsibility.

GM is also restructuring its global powertrain group “to integrate powertrain functional activities into their respective global GM functions”.

Stephens will also have responsibility for global powertrain engineering, in addition to global design, product engineering, product planning and programme management.

Powertrain manufacturing will report to Gary Cowger, head of GM global manufacturing and labour relations. Other staff that support the powertrain organisation will be integrated into their respective global functions.

“These moves represent another important step in GM’s restructuring initiative to create a leaner, more efficient organisation,” the automaker said in a statement.

Bob Lutz was already a legendary automotive product guy when he rejoined GM in 2001,” Wagoner said, “and he’s added to that by leading the creation of a string of award-winning vehicles for GM during his time here. His 46 years of experience in the global automotive business have been invaluable to us.”

“Tom Stephens is the perfect guy to take the reins of GM’s global product development,” Wagoner added. “He’s had extensive experience in virtually every aspect of our global product development activities. With his 40 years at GM, Tom has an extraordinary understanding of our products and our organisation, and is highly respected worldwide.”