Bob Lutz Hangs Up On Ed Whitacre’s GM

The inevitable has been announced; Bob Lutz is leaving Ed Whitacre’s new General Motors. From the New York Times:

Vice Chairman Bob Lutz will retire from the automaker effective May 1, people briefed on the plans said on Wednesday.

Lutz, 78, had been serving as a senior adviser to GM Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre after shelving retirement plans to take charge of the automaker’s marketing after it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009.
The announcement comes a day after GM shook up its sales and marketing operations in its home market for the third time in five months.

Lutz was charged with overhauling GM’s marketing efforts under former CEO Fritz Henderson, but he appeared to have been sidelined by Whitacre, a former AT&T executive brought in by the Obama administration.

In late February, Whitacre named Stephen Girsky, a former investment banker, as special adviser and vice chairman in charge of corporate strategy, a move that raised questions about the tenure and role of Lutz.

And it really was inevitable. Last December when Fritz Henderson was unceremoniously dumped in a midnight putsch by Ed Whitacre, the former corporate phone boy from AT&T, we had some things to say here. Marcy, noting Whitacre’s professed desire to ram products to market quicker – to do everything quicker – observed:

Now maybe it would be possible to bring out new products more quickly. Maybe there is merit to disrupting the very complex model year and product cycle schedules that every car company relies on to manage new product introductions.

But I worry that this push to introduce products more quickly will come at a price–the price of doing it right, both from an engineering perspective (you don’t want the Cruze to come out with all sorts of recalls, after all) and from a marketing perspective (if you introduce a product but don’t have the marketing budget to support it, it’s not going to do much good).

And I commented that the Whitacre putsch had other consequences too:

There is one other consideration. With Fritz gone, the only marketable face GM has left to the actual auto people is Bob Lutz, and he will bolt in a heartbeat if he thinks the wrong car decisions are being made. Lutz is very comfortable with the big money wheeler dealers, but he is, first and foremost, a car guy all the way. And he does not need the money or grief. If they were to lose Lutz in any short order in addition to Henderson, they will have a potential real mess.

Well it turns out the thoughts may have been prescient. And make no mistake, Lutz is in fine health and as active and ornery as ever; he is leaving because Read more

Fritz Quits

Or rather, Fritz Henderson, the CEO of GM, was pushed out last night.

As part of GM’s government-led restructuring, a majority of the board of directors was replaced when GM emerged from bankruptcy, and Whitacre was made chairman.

That new board has been questioning Henderson at every turn, skeptical that a 25-year veteran of the company had what it would take to bring about real change, the Free Press has learned.

And while Henderson had shown some results since GM emerged from bankruptcy on July 10, it wasn’t enough to impress them.

They sent a clear message to Henderson that it was time to go. He obliged with a letter of resignation.

Whether it’s a good idea or not depends on whether you think GM should have gotten rid of Opel and whether you think an old AT&T/SBC guy, Ed Whitacre, is the right guy to be running GM.

The board also balked at the idea of selling GM’s Opel division in Europe, which had been put together under Henderson’s watch. They unraveled the deal in the final stages and upset the German government, which backed the deal. Whitacre’s public comments in November about when the company might go public again also seemed to be at odds with Henderson.

Now, I expect bmaz to come in here and bitch about another ignorant MOTU coming in and pretending to know how the auto business works–and he may well be right.

But I remember how similar things were said of Alan Mulally (who came from Boeing), and he certainly stirred up Ford in a good way.

Here are my thoughts. Read more