EXCLUSIVE: USA: Lutz joining GM comeback trail?

By just-auto.com editorial team | 3 August 2001

Yesterday's bombshell announcement that Robert Lutz will become General Motors vice president for product development on September 1 is fostering a growing perception in Detroit that General Motors is on the comeback trail, writes Marty Padgett.

Although GM's market share has slipped in the first half of the year to 28 percent - below CEO Rick Wagoner's target of 30 percent - the automaker has seen heartening increases in its share of the lucrative North American truck market.

The hiring of Lutz could give the company added momentum and a much-needed boost in morale. In his days at Chrysler, he marshalled the turnaround of the company, which very nearly declared bankruptcy in 1991.

Under his direction, the company developed memorable vehicles such as the Neon, LH sedans and most notably the V-10-powered Viper sportscar.

More recently, Lutz took on the challenge of resurrecting the Cunningham name.

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General Motors

In a unique proposition, he and the Cunningham family proposed at last year's Detroit auto show to build a new Cunningham sportscar as a virtual company - that is, farming out the major component and system development to suppliers and leaving final assembly and marketing to themselves.

General Motors has been deemed, inside and out, in desperate need of a product champion. Its lineup of cars, trucks and SUVs has some notable highlights, including the Corvette, the Cadillac STS and the Chevrolet/GMC full-size trucks.

But when the company flops, as it did recently with the controversially styled Pontiac Aztek SUV, it has flopped spectacularly.

The prospects for Lutz' future at GM may hinge on the sale of GM's Hughes Electronics subsidiary, or at least a large piece of it to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

GM and News Corp. have been in negotiations since the beginning of the year for News Corp. to acquire a part of Hughes, the parent company of American satellite-television provider DirecTV.

The money from a DirecTV sale or investment is said to be earmarked for the development of a new generation of vehicles for all the GM brands, from stalwart Chevrolet to recent acquisition Hummer.

Lutz will have just three years by the terms of his employment to make an impact on General Motors.

Of course, he stayed on longer at the Chrysler Corp. than the mandatory retirement age of 65, and faces a task that could take much longer than three years to grasp.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The world's car manufacturers: A financial and operating review

Automotive regional report: North America