Maximum Bob

June 1, 2009 at 6:45 am 1 comment

bob%20lutzAmid the big news of the GM bankruptcy, “Maximum” Bob Lutz will be retiring as vice chairman of GM, culminating his half-century in the auto business. In other postings, I warn against corporate leaders who avoid the media and assiduously suppress their public profiles. Maximum Bob never had that problem.  Contributor to GM’s FastLane blog, guest on Letterman, frequently quoted and interviewed, the man has been highly visible.
Bob Lutz has had a hand in some of the most influential and provocative cars of our time:
  • The BMW 3-Series, the best-selling Bimmer model, a consistent darling of the auto media
  • The Ford Explorer, bellwether of the SUV craze
  • The Dodge Viper, the 10-cylinder hellspawn snuggling Mom’s minivan in the showroom
  • The Cadillac CTS, proof that Detroit could build a modern luxury car
  • The new Chevy Malibu, proof that Detroit could build a modern bread-and-butter car

Unfortunately, Bob Lutz may be best remembered for his shoot-from-the-lip moments more than any iconic vehicles under his watch. Global warming is “a total crock of (excrement)”  is not a great talking point for any corporate leader, especially one whose products have tailpipes. When the Toyota Prius ascended earlier this decade, he dismissed the car as a PR stunt. Right. By the way, how many Hollywood stars have proudly pulled up in Vipers on Oscar night? How many “stunts”  make the top ten for best-selling cars in the U.S.? Maybe the Prius is a money-pit to manufacture, but how many zillions has Detroit blown in long-forgotten TV ads and profit-killing “employee discount” campaigns? OK, I’ll stop now.

To Bob Lutz’ credit, he preached what he practiced. Speaking at the Public Relations Society of America’s 2008 International Conference, he said, “I’ve been a lifelong critic of corporate communications that don’t communicate, or are too sanitized.”

As he exits, Bob Lutz is cheerleading for the electric Chevy Volt and insisting that GM erase its “reputational deficit.” Too little, too late, perhaps. Or maybe a sincere valedictory for a car guy who refused to be sanitized.

POSTSCRIPT, JULY 11: Bob Lutz has cancelled his retirement and will be staying on. “GM’s brands, marketing, advertising and communications will report to Lutz for consistent messaging and results,” according to an official statement.


Entry filed under: Creativity, Leadership, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Tigers by the Tail Sales Vs. Marketing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. James Strock  |  June 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

    One wishes Mr. Lutz well–from afar.

    When I served as environment secretary for California Mr. Lutz was doing his best to resist rising environmental consciousness among consumers, especially the rising generations.

    Now, as if in penance, he champtions the Volt.

    Like many in the US auto industry, he ridiculed and resisted innovatinon in emissions control and energy efficiency–then expresses wonderment when people are later skeptical when the very same companies claim they can produce a great product under those very standards.

    Mr. Lutz’s approach brings to mind what was said of the Bourbons: they learn nothing, and they forget nothing.

    The legacy we now see at GM is tragic. Mr. Lutz is among those corporate bureaucrats helicoptering out of the ruins of what once was one of the great enterprises of human history. It is reminiscent of a nation utterly devastated in wary, forced to unconditional surrender.

    There’s no exit option for most of those negatively affected by the massive leadership failiure at GM. They must live with the consequences wrought by people whom they trusted.


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