Not much news but a piece on Lutz and the Solstice....
Link: (warning pop-up ads)MercuryNews.com said:Is Solstice GM's savior?
GM COUNTING ON FIRST `LUTZ-MOBILE' TO ADD RAZZLE-DAZZLE TO ITS LINEUP
By Danny Hakim
New York Times
DETROIT - For much of his career, Robert A. Lutz has been trying to build a curvy two-seat sports car for people who can't afford a Porsche or a Lexus. He finally has -- the Pontiac Solstice.
The goal was always the same,'' said Lutz, General Motors' 73-year-old vice chairman and product development chief. Use low-cost mechanical components, change as little as possible, use stuff out of your parts bin and try to get there for under $20,000.''
Lutz, a former Chrysler president, was brought to GM four years ago to restore razzle-dazzle to the company's cars and trucks. For much of his tenure, though, he has been peddling vehicles largely created under someone else's watch.
He has had a chance to influence a few new vehicles that have come out in recent months, such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Buick LaCrosse, which are generally regarded as improved but not dramatically enough to rescue the company from the industry's bargain basement.
Now Lutz gets to pass or fail on his own work. The Solstice, which is expected to retail for just less than $20,000, is the first vehicle created from start to finish during Lutz's tenure, and the start of a wave of wholly made Lutz-mobiles coming over the next two to three years that will make or break his legacy at GM. Coming off a $1.1 billion first-quarter loss, GM badly needs his products to succeed.
While the Solstice is a niche car that will not come close to saving GM -- the company plans to produce at most 20,000 annually -- Lutz says it is designed to appeal more to buyers' emotions than to their pocketbooks. And that, in many respects, represents his entire thesis for reviving GM's product line: make Chevrolets and Buicks and Pontiacs that seem more expensive than they are, cutting corners that buyers will not notice while carefully crafting the details they will, both on the inside and outside.
Producing an exciting little sports roadster for $45,000 to $50,000 is not an engineering or industrial feat,'' he said. But producing a very, very nice roadster using as many parts as possible that you already have in the parts bin to avoid investment and piece costs, and then bringing that out where you can still make money at a base price of $20,000, that's a good trick.''
Living off the cuff
A former Marine, Lutz is a car magazine's fantasy of what an auto executive should be. He chews on stogies. He likes to drive fast. He flies a Soviet-era fighter jet for fun. He makes the 42-mile commute from Ann Arbor to Detroit in a helicopter. He thinks global warming is a bunch of tree-hugging liberal hokum and lives off the cuff. Of late, he has taken to posting on GM's new Weblog, http://fastlane.gmblogs.com, with relish.
I thought The Wall Street Journal might feel a little bit left out after I singled out The New York Times in recent posts,'' he wrote in March, before offering a typically sharp-elbowed rebuttal of the Journal's review of the compact Chevrolet Cobalt.
In an impromptu speech at GM's shareholder meeting last month, he said: What we maybe had to relearn as a company is that we're not in the transportation business, we are in the arts and entertainment business. And that's what explains a vehicle like the Pontiac Solstice, which I think is the first expression of a new, less analytical, more emotion-driven product strategy.''
Born in Switzerland but raised mostly in the United States, Lutz moved easily between car bureaucracies in Europe and America. His stops in the industry have included a stint at BMW in the 1970s and a seat on Ford's board in the 1980s. As president of Chrysler in the 1990s, he championed the idiosyncratic PT Cruiser and Dodge Viper, and an early luxury SUV, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
At GM, Lutz has been knocking down geographic barriers between the company's global design, engineering and manufacturing organizations to consolidate and do more with less. The company will need to. A recent Merrill Lynch report said GM spent less on product development, relative to its revenue, than any other major automaker. GM recently said it would increase its budget for product development this year to $8 billion from $7 billion.
At home, GM's new plan is to leave Chevrolet and Cadillac as the only full-line brands. Buick, GMC, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Hummer, which are in various states of revival and distress, are being fashioned into smaller brands with fewer, but better, products.
The company will lag by three years in offering the public a hybrid comparable to the Toyota Prius, and the first wave of Lutz-mobiles will be new versions of GM's big SUVs and pickup trucks coming next year, because they were due for redesigns. On the other hand, GM will be unveiling a crop of lighter sport-utility vehicles, known in Detroit as crossovers, a segment where Toyota and other foreign rivals are more dominant. And Lutz treats passenger cars as less of an afterthought.
We are no longer as lopsidedly dependent on the full-size sport utilities and pickups going forward as you can argue that we were in the last five or six years,'' he said. That was what was selling and it was carrying everything else.''
Focus on product
GM has plenty of issues, including its standoff with its labor union over health care costs, but ultimately car companies are like movie studios: It's about the product.
One hitch for the Solstice is that the company has waited to introduce a summer car until the fall. Nonetheless, GM already has taken down payments from 9,000 customers, which will account for about six months of volume.
Some followers of Lutz's career say they still wonder what he might say of some of GM's vehicles were he not on the payroll. Asked recently to recommend cars selling for less than $30,000, Lutz recommended the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, a speedy version of a car often sold to rental car companies and corporate fleets, and a similarly souped-up version of the Chevrolet Impala.
I'm not just being a homer,'' he wrote on GM's blog.
John Brown, a 30-year-old personal injury lawyer and car enthusiast in Los Angeles, did not let that pass.
Come on Bob!'' he wrote on the site. You're responsible for the Dodge Viper and the Solstice, for Pete's sake, and you fly a fighter jet in your spare time. Don't try to shill for the GXP and the Impala, it's just not even remotely believable.''