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Steve Parker: Our Top Ten auto industry stories, 2009

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

1- GM – The bankruptcy (which is ended) and the ongoing revolving door for top executives at GM haven’t give the public a lot of confidence in the company. It’ll take two to three years of stability for GM to have a chance of staging a big comeback. The corporation closed Saturn after a failed sale involving Roger Penske, sold Hummer to a Chinese company, cancelled the sale of Opel to the German government and unions, is closing Saab and shuttered Pontiac and now consists of Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The irony? GM is making the best cars and trucks they’ve ever produced.

2- The entire family of Ford Fusion cars won the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. I think that’s the only award people pay attention to because it’s the oldest and the advertising for cars and trucks which win it runs all year mentioning the award. Ford didn’t need a federal bailout and is headed in the right direction, showing a profit the past two quarters. One of the most anticipated cars coming from Ford is their new 2011 Fiesta, based on the Euro version of the car, one of the most popular over there. Ford also responded quickly to the V6 300-horsepower Camaro, coming out with their own Mustang V6 matching the Camaro in horses. Rumor is a new V8 will be introduced at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show to challenge Camaro’s 400-hp unit. Ford has also just sold Volvo to China’s Geely.
2009-12-24-FordFocusCCC.jpg Ford Focus in rally racing trim

3- Chrysler has only one new model for 2010, but the new 2010 Ram truck won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year prize. Chrysler cold use a boost and Motor Trend gave them a big one. The company, now controlled by Fiat, will concentrate on building mid- and large-size cars to be marketed by Fiat worldwide. Fiat will build small cars for Chrysler to market. Just announced, Chrysler will display an electric Fiat 500 at the Detroit Auto Show. The 500, or Cinquecento, is essentially the Italian version of the Mini. Jeeps will now be built on the all-wheel drive Fiat Panda platform, so you hard-core off-roaders should get your hands on a Rubicon edition and fast — it’s the last “real” Jeep.

4- Toyota has gone through a year from PR hell. As GM found out, being the world’s biggest carmaker can lead to slips in quality. Toyota’s now the world’s biggest, and they might be having that same problem. They announced the biggest recall in US history (almost 4 millions cars and trucks for acceleration problems), another for rust problems with their Tundra pickup and more. What the company said was a problem with the driver’s side floor mat catching the gas pedal and holding it open, the company looked bad when the government said the problem stemmed from the throttle-by-wire system. The company’s sales continue strong, and their announcement of a plug-in Prius hybrid coming next year caught everyone’s attention.

5- Nissan is spending the next few months displaying a close-to-production version of their Leaf electric car throughout the US. Leaf is on-track to become the first mass-produced EV which does everything a “regular” five-door hatchback can do. Company chief Carlos Ghosn made a decision years ago to skip developing their own hybrid and jump right into EV R&D and production. Late next year, sales will begin, with the car initially being made in Japan, the UK and Tennessee.
2009-12-24-130.JPG Nissan’s Leaf EV at its first coming-out party in the US, in Santa Monica, CA

6- GM’s Volt will go on-sale late next year. Volt is an “extended range hybrid”; a small gasoline engine keeps the batteries charged in this five-door hatch. There is no connection between the battery system and the Volt’s (front) drive wheels; that’s all done EV-style with an electric motor. GM says Volt allay “range anxiety” (my favorite new auto term of the year), which people worry about in EVs but GM says Volt will get over 340 miles per thankful of gas. I’ve driven Volt and it could be a huge winner for GM and help get the company back on track as an innovator. We hope that happens.

7- Korean car-makers are thriving in a down market. Hyundai was the only car-seller in the US to see a rise in their sales this year. What’s the secret over at Hyundai/Kia? It took a few years, but those cars and trucks have risen in quality to that of Japanese vehicles. Also, and perhaps most important, prices are kept low versus comparable cars made in other countries. One more thing: their new cars and trucks are damn good-looking. “Hyundai” is no longer the butt of jokes across America.

8- Chinese EVs are going on-sale in the US, probably next year. BYD is one of the best-known EV makers and has grown into a gigantic auto and electronics conglomerate in less then ten years. The company sells their cars for much less than competitors. BYD’s secret to keeping their costs lower than other EVs? The company is making the batteries and other components by hand, not on assembly lines with robots as most other makers do. The employees are happy to have jobs and the Chinese minimum wage is just that – minimum.
2009-12-24-_mg_0652.jpg Chevy’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf and Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid all go on sale in 2010

9- Smart car sales have dropped 38% in the US this year. The tiny, quirky cars are distributed in the US by Roger Penske. Sold in the “smile belt” from Southern California to Florida, the drop in sales indicates most people feel gas prices have stabilized. Pickup truck sales are traditionally used to gauge the economy; dropping sales of small, very high-mileage cars shows gasoline is steady for the time being. I still wouldn’t want to be on the I-10 with a big rig trying to pass me in one of these.

10- There’s not much doubt that North American-built cars and trucks are at least as high-quality as imports. It’s taken 35 years, but Ford and GM have plenty of vehicles high on the quality surveys. At Consumer Reports, some 90% of Dodge Challenger owners surveyed said they’d buy another – possibly the highest number in CR’s history.
2009-12-24-2010cadillacsrx.jpg Cadillac’s all-new 2010 SRX

What did we leave out? What should not be on the list? And happy, safe holidays.

Steve Parker: Our Top Ten motorsports stories of 2009

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

1- Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009. This is simply an incredible, amazing achievement. Associated Press just named Johnson their Athlete of the Year. I’ve known champions in many forms of racing, and there’s always something which sets them apart from their competitors; a focus and fearlessness not apparent in others. NASCAR is a tough sport, and to see someone like Johnson, from Southern California, soft-spoken and polite, win these four titles proves drivers don’t have to be outwardly wild, angry, upset, whatever; sometimes nice guys do finish first.

2- Brawn Grand Prix didn’t exist in 2008 in the Formula 1 circus, but in its first year of competition, 2009, team driver Jenson Button won the World Driving Championship and Brawn won the coveted manufacturer’s title in an unprecedented attack on the series. Button was considered a-soon-to-retire F1 driver with few wins and certainly no championships. Ross Brawn, formerly the genius behind Ferrari’s string of championships with Michael Schumacher, took over the Honda team when the Japanese maker dropped out of the sport in ‘08, switched to Mercedes engines and proceeded to dominate F1. Next year, the team will be known as Mercedes Grand Prix, the first time in over 50 years Mercedes has used their name as the title of a race team; the company left racing for many years after a privateer Mercedes crashed into the main grandstand at LeMans, killing some 80 people.
2009-12-24-brawngpbuttonsmiling.jpg Jenson Button on his way to the F1 world championship

3- Danica Patrick will run in NASCAR and IndyCar this coming season. The most-popular driver in IndyCar, the only woman to ever win an IndyCar race, will drive a limited Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Rick Hendrick. Earnhardt has been NASCAR’s most popular driver seven years in a row. American racing’s best-known names on the same team will be good for all motorsports. Patrick will open her NASCAR season at California Speedway the third week of February. She plans to compete in the entire IndyCar series.

4- Rick Hendrick has the strongest, most dominant team in NASCAR Sprint Cup. He counts drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon among his stable, and co-owns a team with Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Hendrick is one of the country’s biggest car dealers, focusing on Chevrolet and Honda. He’s had his challenges, too. In 2004, a plane crash claimed the lives of 10 Hendrick relatives and associates, including his son, an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. Hendrick has also had leukemia. But he’s won four consecutive NASCAR titles with Jimmie Johnson, and each one of his drivers is a serious contender for next year’s championship.

5- Tony George, who ran Indianapolis Motor Speedway for several years, and whose family saved the track from becoming a housing development in the 1950s, was fired from his top position by his own family and board of directors. Apparently due to his pouring never-ending millions into the Indy Racing League, being in-charge when the most-embarrassing F1 race in history ran at Indy (just six cars started), watching the Indy 500 lose customers and TV viewers, and working out a deal to put most IndyCar races on an unknown cable channel called Versus, they’d had enough. Now bean-counters run the place, and it remains to be seen if they have the passion for racing Indy needs. One more thing: George didn’t get along with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, but with George gone, it’s possible the USGP will return to the track in 2011.
2009-12-24-danicapatrrickblackorangecar.jpg Danica Patrick is bringing her magic to NASCAR

6- Michael Schumacher is returning to F1, at least for the upcoming season. He’ll be paid about $10 million for the year, and the 7-time world champion of driving will be with the Mercedes team, formerly Braun GP and the current world championship team. Schumacher’s appearance will excite F1 fans worldwide, who want to see if he can regain some of his former glory. And Schuie will be working again with Ross Brawn, who strategized the driver’s world championships at Ferrari (last one in 2004). Danica Patrick signing a NASCAR deal and Schumacher’s return are the most important driver stories of the year, so far.

7- In 2012, IndyCar will introduce an entirely new, wingless race car to the series. A consortium of top IndyCar people, owners and officials, are funding the car’s development. No outsider has seen it yet, but there are no wings, front or rear, and it’s described as looking like a Stealth fighter. Crucial is the development of a new turbocharged engine which will be able to get (they hope) as many as ten miles per gallon, while current cars achieve between one and three mpg (these cars run on ethanol, not gasoline). The whole idea is a spec car which is less expensive to buy and maintain than the current racers. This could be a big boost to the sport’s popularity and introduce a new generation with the ‘green’ theme.

8- Trying to connect with their fans and make new ones, after almost three decades of NASCAR holding their Sprint Cup awards ceremony in New York City, this year they moved the celebrations to Las Vegas. And let the public buy tickets to certain events, another first. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was NASCAR’s NYC host, a fit that never seemed completely right. You don’t hear a lot of “southern” spoken near the Hudson River. But NYC is the media center of the world, guaranteeing lots of TV appearances for drivers (Jeff Gordon even co-hosted ‘Regis and Kelly’ and has an apartment in NYC), and many of the sport’s largest sponsors have their headquarters in New York. We’ll see if it worked.
2009-12-24-jimmiejohnsonand4trophies.jpg Jimmie Johnson and his four NASCAR Srpint Cup championship trophies

9- Formula 1 is nothing if not dynamic, during the racing season and off. The sport has made rules changes for 2010 which most of the drivers like, especially those to the points system, which instead of awarding points to the top eight drivers in a race, will award the top ten. The points have also been changed to favor race winners. Refueling during races is banned, a good safety move. There will be 13 teams, 26 cars, starting in F1 in 2010, some of the highest numbers ever.

10- This past year was the first NHRA ran a full season with their shortened track, done to slow the cars. The change was made in mid-2008 after several injuries and deaths in professional drag racing. The ¼-mile, 1320 feet, is now 1,000 feet for the fastest professional classes. It’s worked, but now 5 second races are in the 4’s and all the old records no longer count. Many think the cars will eventually be made to go just as fast as they did in the full ¼. Word is NHRA is considering mechanical or electrical governors on the cars among other solutions to get them back on the traditional ¼-mile.

What did we leave out? What should not be on the list? And happy, safe holidays.

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Seven Chevy models eligible for $199 Autonet Mobile WiFi router

December 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Slowly but surely, General Motors looks like it’s pushing Autonet Mobile’s in-car WiFi option to each and every one of the vehicles it sells, and while we recently heard that it was making its way into a few other autocars for the not-at-all-appealing price of $500 (up front), this offer sounds a wee bit more palatable. Dubbed “Chevrolet Wi-Fi by Autonet Mobile,” the add-on is now certified for installation in the Equinox, Traverse, Silverado, Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche and Express, and if you get in before December 31st, you’ll be able to add internet to your ride for $199 after mail-in rebate — though a 2-year service agreement (at $29 per month) is also required. Just think how silent your kids will be on that cross-country trek to visit the in-laws this Christmas, though. Totally worth it.

Seven Chevy models eligible for $199 Autonet Mobile WiFi router originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 14 Dec 2009 19:37:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Chevy Volt gets its own song and dance, humanity weeps aloud

December 15th, 2009 admin No comments

And you honestly thought you’d see a decent return-on-investment from bailing these guys out.

Continue reading Chevy Volt gets its own song and dance, humanity weeps aloud

Chevy Volt gets its own song and dance, humanity weeps aloud originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 14 Dec 2009 18:22:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Steve Parker: Tell Bob Lutz what GM must do now

July 16th, 2009 admin No comments

With the Core Four divisions of Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, and with Bob Lutz back on-board, General Motors is now very much on its own.

They don’t have the kind of partnership and help which Chrysler will be getting from Fiat and Washington is on-hand only to protect the public’s huge investment in the company.

The new smaller, leaner GM corporation, with much less debt than before, now 60%-owned by the American people and newly-emerged from bankruptcy while cutting-back on white collar employees by the scores, begs the question: What now?
2009-07-16-boblutzreporters.jpg Bob Lutz as he most likes to be … the center of attention

Industry newspaper Automotive News ran a multiple-choice poll in Wednesday’s edition, asking readers: How can Bob Lutz best help GM improve its marketing?

The answers supplied included these four:

- He should mimic Lee Iacocca and pitch GM cars in ads (16% answered yes to this choice as of 6pm Eastern time Wednesday);

- He should make sure that GM’s marketing of its vehicles is consistent with their design (40%);

- He should be the public face of GM at auto shows (5%);

- He should carry out his new role in the background and yield the spotlight to younger executives (39%).

Lutz is no stranger to automotive marketing. In his many years in the industry, during executive stints at Ford, BMW, Chrysler and GM, he’s often had a hand in marketing, promotion, advertising and sales.

He was there and had a voice when Ford’s Explorer SUV and Merkur imports were first suggested, when the successful Chrysler “cab-forward” LH cars, Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler were put in-production and at GM he brought the “new” Pontiac GTO and Pontiac G8 from Australia to the US market, for better or worse, along with the Buick Lacrosse crossover and the sporty Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice coupes and Chevy Malibu sedan.
2009-07-16-1993PlymouthProwlerConcepttakeout.jpg 1993 Plymouth Prowler concept

While at BMW, where he worked on the original 3-Series, he dealt with the ad agency which developed the fabulous slogan, “The ultimate driving machine,” a winner which Bimmer uses worldwide to this day.

After last week’s Detroit press conference where he “unretired” and was named in-charge of GM marketing and advertising, Lutz told reporters that he has, to paraphrase, “(O)ften been a critic of our (GM) advertising, and maybe that’s why I got this job. They figure if I don’t like it, let’s see if I can come up with something better.”

Can he come up with something better than the “sale of the week” ads which many local dealer groups run, amidst a hodge-podge of regional and national TV, radio, Web and print ads which seem to have no cohesive message?

Lutz has been talking-up focusing on GM’s styling and design, and the company has a strong history in that arena.

GM was the first car company in the world with a dedicated styling department, and the first car-maker to produce a “concept car,” the 1938 Buick “Y-job,” overseen and built (and then driven almost daily) by the industry’s first legendary designer, Harley Earl.
2009-07-16-buickyjobharleyearl1938.jpg Regarded as the world’s first “concept car,” the 1938 Buick Y-job

There have also been many slogans throughout the years, from the memorable corporation-wide “GM – Mark of Excellence” to Cadillac’s “Standard of the World.” Should these be resurrected?

GM advertising has used both photography and artwork through the years, like the fantastical, exaggerated automotive renderings of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman, particularly of Pontiac’s “Wide-Track” models of the ’60s and ’70s (later mocked by artist Bruce McCall).

But with still so many different kinds of cars and trucks, can GM find one theme which runs through their entire line-up, something which will wake-up the public?

Also, while Lutz says styling must be part of GM’s new ad theme, are average buyers so concerned with their vehicle’s appearance?
2009-07-16-fitzandvan1967pontiacbonneville.jpeg Artwork of a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville by GM’s Fitz and Van from a GM print advertisement

Maybe style is a major factor for luxury car-buyers, but for most of us, aren’t reliability and quality factors at least as important as looks? Don’t bottom-line price and the overall “buying and service experience” trump snappy style? JD Power and Associates doesn’t query consumers about “style,” but about quality, dependability and value.

Certainly the somewhat bland, appliance-like styling of so many under-$30,000 cars tells us that a product’s perceived worth is often more important than design.

So we put it to you: If you were Bob Lutz, how would you begin promoting, advertising and marketing (three quite separate disciplines) the new General Motors to the American public?

More on Cars


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Steve Parker: Tell Bob Lutz what GM must do now

July 16th, 2009 admin No comments

With the Core Four divisions of Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, and with Bob Lutz back on-board, General Motors is now very much on its own.

They don’t have the kind of partnership and help which Chrysler will be getting from Fiat and Washington is on-hand only to protect the public’s huge investment in the company.

The new smaller, leaner GM corporation, with much less debt than before, now 60%-owned by the American people and newly-emerged from bankruptcy while cutting-back on white collar employees by the scores, begs the question: What now?
2009-07-16-boblutzreporters.jpg Bob Lutz as he most likes to be … the center of attention

Industry newspaper Automotive News ran a multiple-choice poll in Wednesday’s edition, asking readers: How can Bob Lutz best help GM improve its marketing?

The answers supplied included these four:

- He should mimic Lee Iacocca and pitch GM cars in ads (16% answered yes to this choice as of 6pm Eastern time Wednesday);

- He should make sure that GM’s marketing of its vehicles is consistent with their design (40%);

- He should be the public face of GM at auto shows (5%);

- He should carry out his new role in the background and yield the spotlight to younger executives (39%).

Lutz is no stranger to automotive marketing. In his many years in the industry, during executive stints at Ford, BMW, Chrysler and GM, he’s often had a hand in marketing, promotion, advertising and sales.

He was there and had a voice when Ford’s Explorer SUV and Merkur imports were first suggested, when the successful Chrysler “cab-forward” LH cars, Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler were put in-production and at GM he brought the “new” Pontiac GTO and Pontiac G8 from Australia to the US market, for better or worse, along with the Buick Lacrosse crossover and the sporty Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice coupes and Chevy Malibu sedan.
2009-07-16-1993PlymouthProwlerConcepttakeout.jpg 1993 Plymouth Prowler concept

While at BMW, where he worked on the original 3-Series, he dealt with the ad agency which developed the fabulous slogan, “The ultimate driving machine,” a winner which Bimmer uses worldwide to this day.

After last week’s Detroit press conference where he “unretired” and was named in-charge of GM marketing and advertising, Lutz told reporters that he has, to paraphrase, “(O)ften been a critic of our (GM) advertising, and maybe that’s why I got this job. They figure if I don’t like it, let’s see if I can come up with something better.”

Can he come up with something better than the “sale of the week” ads which many local dealer groups run, amidst a hodge-podge of regional and national TV, radio, Web and print ads which seem to have no cohesive message?

Lutz has been talking-up focusing on GM’s styling and design, and the company has a strong history in that arena.

GM was the first car company in the world with a dedicated styling department, and the first car-maker to produce a “concept car,” the 1938 Buick “Y-job,” overseen and built (and then driven almost daily) by the industry’s first legendary designer, Harley Earl.
2009-07-16-buickyjobharleyearl1938.jpg Regarded as the world’s first “concept car,” the 1938 Buick Y-job

There have also been many slogans throughout the years, from the memorable corporation-wide “GM – Mark of Excellence” to Cadillac’s “Standard of the World.” Should these be resurrected?

GM advertising has used both photography and artwork through the years, like the fantastical, exaggerated automotive renderings of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman, particularly of Pontiac’s “Wide-Track” models of the ’60s and ’70s (later mocked by artist Bruce McCall).

But with still so many different kinds of cars and trucks, can GM find one theme which runs through their entire line-up, something which will wake-up the public?

Also, while Lutz says styling must be part of GM’s new ad theme, are average buyers so concerned with their vehicle’s appearance?
2009-07-16-fitzandvan1967pontiacbonneville.jpeg Artwork of a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville by GM’s Fitz and Van from a GM print advertisement

Maybe style is a major factor for luxury car-buyers, but for most of us, aren’t reliability and quality factors at least as important as looks? Don’t bottom-line price and the overall “buying and service experience” trump snappy style? JD Power and Associates doesn’t query consumers about “style,” but about quality, dependability and value.

Certainly the somewhat bland, appliance-like styling of so many under-$30,000 cars tells us that a product’s perceived worth is often more important than design.

So we put it to you: If you were Bob Lutz, how would you begin promoting, advertising and marketing (three quite separate disciplines) the new General Motors to the American public?

More on Cars


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

BREAKING: Early Camaro SS manual transmission failures reported, factory hold issued

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

Filed under: Maintenance , Coupes , Recalls/TSBs , Safety , Chevrolet 2010 Chevrolet Camaro – Click above for a high-res image gallery Sporadic reports have begun popping up in the Camaro5 forums about issues with V8-powered SS models equipped with the manual transmission. It seems that doing a hard launch or using the launch control system occasionally results in a broken output shaft, a serious failure that will most likely leave the car immobile and in need of repair. We s

Categories: World Tags: , ,

Steve Parker: What!?! Bob Lutz back at GM!

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

General Motors has come out of bankruptcy after a somewhat-biblical 40 days and nights of massive reorganization, as a new, smaller company more than 60% owned by the US government (that’s US, as in “us”).

Yet GM is stubbornly holding onto Buick and GMC, when the other two of the General’s remaining “Core Four,” Chevrolet and Cadillac, are all they really need and all that make sense.

It appears, though, that the vestiges of cars and trucks past aren’t the only things GM is clinging to: Bob Lutz, 77, has “unretired” and will continue as GM’s vice-chairman.

He will head the company’s marketing, advertising and communications and have significant input on product design. In February, Lutz had said he would retire by year-end after eight years as GM’s product development chief.

In an interview heard on All Things Considered on NPR Friday, Lutz told host Robert Siegel that, “We took our eyes off the ball in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s,” when it came to product quality.
2009-07-11-BOBLUTZCIGAR.jpg GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz

Siegel naturally asked Lutz how the company might overcome more than 20 years of admittedly poor product and with a reputation and market share dropping almost by the minute, and all Lutz could offer was, “Well, none of us were here when that happened.”

During the interview, he also managed to work in the usual litany of thinly-veiled anti-union rhetoric; “legacy costs” and the like.

The always-quotable and sometimes-acerbic Swiss-born Lutz, a favorite of reporters, has also been at Ford, BMW and Chrysler — where he served as one of the top two executives along with Bob Eaton — is an ex-Marine fighter pilot who collects cars … and fighter jets.

He may be possibly the last remaining still-active genetic throwback to the revered and storied “GM General Manager,” the men who ran the separate GM divisions as their own private car companies, battling the company’s board of directors for every last penny for their pet projects — and constantly fighting each other to be first with the best and the most. The top general manager usually became president of the company (except Chevrolet General Manager John Z. DeLorean, but that’s another story).
2009-07-11-boblutzchevyvolt.jpg Lutz introduces the Chevy Volt concept

But is Lutz right for this job, at this time?

With CEO Fritz Henderson fast-tracking right out of GM’s bean-counting financial world, and the new chairman of the board, Edward Whiteacre, the former AT&T chief who admits, “I don’t know much about cars … but I can learn,” who will stand-up for creating and producing world-class products?

I’d say Lutz … if this were 1967 and gas was 30 cents a gallon.

In our current decade, Lutz shepherded to market the “new” Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac G8, both sales disasters because of their gas-guzzling engines. One could argue that, “Well, they were great cars but the price of oil just went crazy.”

But that’s the same excuse each of the Big Three have used far too often and for far too long. The GTO and G8 (and to some extent the Ford Flex with its big V6 and of course the Dodge Challenger and too many other Chrysler products) are only the latest examples of the short-sightedness and arrogance of Detroit executives.

Lutz is getting much of the credit for the Chevy Volt, an extended-range gas/electric hybrid which may hit the roads by early 2011. But its predicted near-$40,000 price tag and limited availability already has some analysts shaking their heads, especially when Honda is selling their Insight, a small hybrid sedan, for under $24,000, fully-equipped. And Ford’s Fusion hybrid isn’t much more.
2009-07-11-2008_dodge_viper_srt10.jpg Lutz green-lighted the Dodge Viper for production while at Chrysler

Perhaps the White House and GM should have taken note of story which came out of Louisiana just a few weeks ago. At a former GM plant there, T. Boone Pickens is among the investors in an automotive venture called VVC. When the fledgling company announced their top staff members, their design chief was revealed to be Tom Matano, formerly Mazda’s chief designer and the stylist who created the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the world’s most-popular sports car. Matano understands small cars, small engines and knowing what the public-at-large wants.

Why doesn’t GM shock the industry and wake-up the public by finding their own Tom Matano? Or does Detroit’s “Not Invented Here” philosophy still rule the day for what used to be known as Generous Motors?

Is it possible for a 77-year old gentleman to essentially do a complete 180-degree turn from his life experience and philosophy? After all, among Lutz’s major claims to fame are green-lighting the Dodge Viper and the Plymouth Prowler faux hot rod.

Can Bob Lutz get the religion necessary for the 21st century automotive world?

Maybe GM’s new owners should step in at this point for some major and meaningful executive changes.

More on NPR


Steve Parker: What!?! Bob Lutz back at GM!

July 11th, 2009 admin No comments

General Motors has come out of bankruptcy after a somewhat-biblical 40 days and nights of massive reorganization, as a new, smaller company more than 60% owned by the US government (that’s US, as in “us”).

Yet GM is stubbornly holding onto Buick and GMC, when the other two of the General’s remaining “Core Four,” Chevrolet and Cadillac, are all they really need and all that make sense.

It appears, though, that the vestiges of cars and trucks past aren’t the only things GM is clinging to: Bob Lutz, 77, has “unretired” and will continue as GM’s vice-chairman.

He will head the company’s marketing, advertising and communications and have significant input on product design. In February, Lutz had said he would retire by year-end after eight years as GM’s product development chief.

In an interview heard on All Things Considered on NPR Friday, Lutz told host Robert Siegel that, “We took our eyes off the ball in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s,” when it came to product quality.
2009-07-11-BOBLUTZCIGAR.jpg GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz

Siegel naturally asked Lutz how the company might overcome more than 20 years of admittedly poor product and with a reputation and market share dropping almost by the minute, and all Lutz could offer was, “Well, none of us were here when that happened.”

During the interview, he also managed to work in the usual litany of thinly-veiled anti-union rhetoric; “legacy costs” and the like.

The always-quotable and sometimes-acerbic Swiss-born Lutz, a favorite of reporters, has also been at Ford, BMW and Chrysler — where he served as one of the top two executives along with Bob Eaton — is an ex-Marine fighter pilot who collects cars … and fighter jets.

He may be possibly the last remaining still-active genetic throwback to the revered and storied “GM General Manager,” the men who ran the separate GM divisions as their own private car companies, battling the company’s board of directors for every last penny for their pet projects — and constantly fighting each other to be first with the best and the most. The top general manager usually became president of the company (except Chevrolet General Manager John Z. DeLorean, but that’s another story).
2009-07-11-boblutzchevyvolt.jpg Lutz introduces the Chevy Volt concept

But is Lutz right for this job, at this time?

With CEO Fritz Henderson fast-tracking right out of GM’s bean-counting financial world, and the new chairman of the board, Edward Whiteacre, the former AT&T chief who admits, “I don’t know much about cars … but I can learn,” who will stand-up for creating and producing world-class products?

I’d say Lutz … if this were 1967 and gas was 30 cents a gallon.

In our current decade, Lutz shepherded to market the “new” Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac G8, both sales disasters because of their gas-guzzling engines. One could argue that, “Well, they were great cars but the price of oil just went crazy.”

But that’s the same excuse each of the Big Three have used far too often and for far too long. The GTO and G8 (and to some extent the Ford Flex with its big V6 and of course the Dodge Challenger and too many other Chrysler products) are only the latest examples of the short-sightedness and arrogance of Detroit executives.

Lutz is getting much of the credit for the Chevy Volt, an extended-range gas/electric hybrid which may hit the roads by early 2011. But its predicted near-$40,000 price tag and limited availability already has some analysts shaking their heads, especially when Honda is selling their Insight, a small hybrid sedan, for under $24,000, fully-equipped. And Ford’s Fusion hybrid isn’t much more.
2009-07-11-2008_dodge_viper_srt10.jpg Lutz green-lighted the Dodge Viper for production while at Chrysler

Perhaps the White House and GM should have taken note of story which came out of Louisiana just a few weeks ago. At a former GM plant there, T. Boone Pickens is among the investors in an automotive venture called VVC. When the fledgling company announced their top staff members, their design chief was revealed to be Tom Matano, formerly Mazda’s chief designer and the stylist who created the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the world’s most-popular sports car. Matano understands small cars, small engines and knowing what the public-at-large wants.

Why doesn’t GM shock the industry and wake-up the public by finding their own Tom Matano? Or does Detroit’s “Not Invented Here” philosophy still rule the day for what used to be known as Generous Motors?

Is it possible for a 77-year old gentleman to essentially do a complete 180-degree turn from his life experience and philosophy? After all, among Lutz’s major claims to fame are green-lighting the Dodge Viper and the Plymouth Prowler faux hot rod.

Can Bob Lutz get the religion necessary for the 21st century automotive world?

Maybe GM’s new owners should step in at this point for some major and meaningful executive changes.

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GM Expected To Exit Chapter 11

July 10th, 2009 admin No comments

DETROIT — After a night spent signing mounds of paperwork authorizing the transfer of cash, real estate, technology and other property, GM attorneys are expected to officially usher the new General Motors out of bankruptcy protection on Friday and onto a path toward a hopefully profitable future.

Once the world’s largest and most powerful automaker, the troubled company is expected to emerge cleansed of massive debt and burdensome contracts that would have sunk it without federal loans. Spurred on by the Obama administration’s support, the process took just 40 days, even slightly quicker than crosstown rival Chrysler Group LLC’s 42-day timeframe.

On Thursday, a bankruptcy court order allowing GM to sell most of its assets to a new company went into effect. The new GM, 61 percent owned by the U.S. government, will face a brutally competitive global automotive market in the middle of the worst sales slump in a quarter-century.

At a 9 a.m. press conference Friday, CEO Fritz Henderson will announce that GM will cut another 4,000 white-collar jobs, including 450 top executives. The company still employs 88,000 people in the U.S. and 235,000 worldwide.

Henderson also is expected to describe how GM will streamline its bureaucratic management structure to become profitable again. GM has said it will be able to make money even if the U.S. auto market stays at a depressed level of 10 million to 10.5 million vehicles sold.

Yet despite massive cost reductions, experts say GM must produce vehicles that people want to buy, and change its image to one on the cutting edge of efficiency and quality.

“It is the smaller, leaner, tougher, better cost-focused GM,” said George Magliano, an automotive analyst with the consulting firm IHS Global Insight. “But they still have to deal with the problems that they faced longer-term.”

Rep. Gary Peters, whose Michigan district is home to three GM factories, said the company’s emergence signals a new era for the domestic auto industry and the thousands of people it employs.

“With bankruptcy in the rearview mirror, U.S. auto companies will even more aggressively pursue new technologies, become more globally competitive,” he said. “Decades from now, our nation will be glad we did not let a global credit crisis put an end to the American automobile.”

“I’m very much looking forward to a point where we’re operating in clear air, and the name of the company not being associated with bankruptcy and loans and these things,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s North American marketing chief.

GM ranked as the top global automaker in terms of sales for 77 years before Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. snatched its crown in 2008. The company sold nearly 8.4 million cars and trucks around the world in 2008, falling short of Toyota’s nearly 9 million.

Once the largest corporation in America, GM held the top spot in the Fortune 500 ranking for 20 years before being pushed out of the top spot in 1973 by Exxon Mobil Corp. It reclaimed No. 1 status in 1985 and held it for another 15 years.

Experts say GM’s future success will depend largely on its ability to persuade consumers that it’s a different company, one that builds cars that will equal or outlast Japanese models. To illustrate the change, GM is considering a new name.

Turning a profit will not be easy. GM lost more than $80 billion in the last four years and survives only because it expects to receive $50 billion in U.S. government loans. Without the loans, its executives have said the company would have been sold off in pieces.

The Obama administration has said it does not plan to interfere with day-to-day operations, though it ousted ex-CEO Rick Wagoner and has been involved in picking the new company’s board.

Most of GM’s model lineup is expected to stay unchanged for now. But the company on Friday will probably show off its newer, more efficient models, as well as plans for a U.S.-made subcompact and rechargeable electric vehicles.

Also on Friday, Henderson is expected to announce that Bob Lutz, GM’s product guru, will remain as a special adviser. Lutz, 77, announced in February that he would retire at year’s end.

In addition to the U.S. government’s controlling interest, the United Auto Workers union gets a 17.5 percent stake of the company through its retiree health care trust, and the Canadian government will control 11.7 percent. The remaining shares went to bondholders of the old company.

The parts of GM not moving to the new company will become part of “old GM,” a collection of assets and liabilities that will be sold to pay creditors.

Almost immediately, GM will try to show how it’s a different company, perhaps by changing its familiar square logo from blue to green, to reflect its environmental focus.

“I think that as a corporate identity the color change could well be a smart move,” said Tony Spaeth, president of Tony Spaeth/Identity, a Rye, N.Y., firm that helps companies craft identities. “It lends a little bit more reality and sincerity of intention to ‘We want to change the way we do things.’”

Today’s consumers are sophisticated and will seek out environmental information to help make shopping choices, said Allen Adamson, managing director at branding firm Landor Associates.

“They have to do this just to stay in the game and to win on that dimension. To win on green, this is a very big challenge,” he said.

Toyota, for instance, is known for its breakthrough hybrid gas-electric technology, and GM could accomplish the same thing with its Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric car due in showrooms by late 2010.

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Fredrix reported from Milwaukee. Associated Press writers Bree Fowler in New York and Stephen Manning and Ken Thomas in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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