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Proud papa says buzz about the Solstice isn't a surprise
Automotive News / August 15, 2005

Robert Lutz: "This is the kind of car you have to do if you want to get buyers back."

Add General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz to a select list of industry executives who have become known as the father of an iconic sports car. They include Nissan's "Mr. K," Yutaka Katayama, who made the Datsun 240Z a success in 1970; Tom Matano, who designed the Mazda Miata in 1989; and now Lutz, who brought the Pontiac Solstice to life.

Lutz spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett on Aug. 5 about GM's new $20,000 roadster.

Were you surprised by the level of enthusiasm, especially on the Internet, for the Solstice?

No. I'm delighted, but not surprised. This is a car that is very emotional. It is fair to say that GM has been lacking in cars that generate an emotional reaction and that people really fall in love with and feel that they must have. One of the Solstice's great values is that it is an object lesson to the GM system that this is the kind of car you have to do if you want to get buyers back.

What did the Internet chatter teach GM?

There were a lot of comments about what the car should be and what it shouldn't be. The Solstice and Pontiac teams paid a lot of attention.

There was panic when the press erroneously said the car wouldn't be out until September. We tried to say no, no. But by then the headlines were all written.

What's the life span of the Solstice? Will it need regular face-lifts and updates?

I think this car can live for a long time, just like the original Mazda Miata lived for a long time. And the MG lived for a long time. What you do is periodic upgrades and then come in with new engine options. Someday we may do the fastback coupe. That might be an additional model that would make the car accessible to a lot more people. So this car is going to live for a long time.

Why does an inexpensive two-seat roadster seemingly never go out of style?

They are emotional objects. They almost always have the same proportions, a long hood and small passenger compartment and a short deck. The good ones almost always look voluptuous, and that's a style that will work 20 years from now. They are timeless.

You tried to bring similar sports cars to market when you were at Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. What happened with those projects?

We just couldn't do the business case. At Chrysler we had the one made out of plastic - I forget what we called it, but it kind of looked like a Porsche Boxster. We used a Neon engine. I badly wanted to do the car, but we just didn't quite have the resources.

Same thing at Ford. We did the Fiesta Barchetta at one of the European shows. For a while we had a lot of momentum going on it. We could identify about 20,000 sales a year in Europe, but we just couldn't generate any enthusiasm on the U.S. side. So that program died.

The Solstice is the one GM car that people are buying without test driving and also trading import-brand cars for.

It proves my point that all cars today are good. They all fill transportation functions; they all meet government safety regulations. Functionally, there is not a whole lot of difference anymore. And therefore the customer is perfectly justified in picking a car based on how well they like it. It's like picking a watch. It's not about telling time anymore.

Not that you need it, but this car really cements the Lutz legend, doesn't it?

I'm not going to go there. But two-seat roadsters are always easy; judge me after the next minivan.
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