Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This blog has the potential to become a rant, so I will try to tone it down.

I just watched an interview on PBS with Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of Global Product Development for General Motors.


He is heading up the development of the Chevy Volt PHEV, expected to be released in 2010.

Mr. Lutz commutes regularly, by flying his own helicopter and also uses it to fly to his two private ex-military jets which he flies for his amusement.

The interview and surrounding video was little more than an infomercial for the Volt, but there were some telling moments. For brevity, I will paraphrase. Please watch the video for your own interpretation.

When it was suggested by Charlie Rose that GM should have seen high gas prices coming, his emphatic response was “Nobody could have seen it coming.”

Touting the company and the product, he asserted that no other car company in the world had the technical skills, knowledge and resources to produce the Volt. That could easily be argued, but if that level of depth and expertise does exist, it begs the question why no one in authority at GM understood the ramifications of the works of M. King Hubbert, Robert Hirsh, Robert Hansen and many others.

The issue of climate change was raised as an impetus for a change in marketing strategy. Mr. Lutz opined in a derogatory tone that certain market segments had a perception about what was needed or wanted in a car and so GM is responding. His tone and demeanour suggested that he was dragged kicking and screaming to change direction. I admit that this was just my perception, but it was very clear that he holds educated people in contempt. I see this as a tacit admission that people looking “behind the curtain” are a threat to GM's success. I posit that Mr, Lutz just might be a conservative, his "right brain" assertion notwithstanding.

His direct response directly about climate change was a vague “well, some say”, but it was clear to me that he rejects the concept. It was unclear whether he rejects the idea entirely, or whether he just doesn’t believe that the cause is anthropogenic.

Through the entire video there was a real shell game being played with words. Mr. Lutz regularly emphasized that GM was “design driven”, and then said the “design” was passed on to the engineers to somehow make it work. Ease of manufacture was clearly second. As an engineer, the suggestion that the design is done before the engineers get the job is highly insulting. Any oil depletion mitigation will be done by engineers, not by sketch artists.

“Design Driven” is the mantra of the GM CEO, Lyle Wagoner. It is also bafflegab. What Mr. Lutz is really talking about is the styling of the car. How it looks trumps how well it works.

I don’t discount the importance of style, we all prefer things which are visually pleasing, but GMs history of putting a new skin on an old frame make me wonder how much focus was put on real technical innovation. Are you old enough to remember “fins”?

One point was particularly egregious. Mr. Lutz stated that high gas prices were beneficial in that they “aligned” the consumer with products that GM would have to make anyway, due to government imposed fuel consumption restrictions. Apparently, he feels that these restrictions were some sort of arbitrary draconian imposition by the government, punishing both the auto industry, and the consumer. Poor GM is now hampered in its benevolent efforts to give the customer what they want.

This offensive spin attempts to hide the fact that it disrupts the ongoing drive by GM and many others to tell the public what they need. I am disappointed that it has made its way onto PBS.

Obviously, Mr. Lutz is a shill of the first order and probably should be dismissed as such but it begs the question “How pervasive is this attitude in the corporation?” I have no sudden urge to rush out and invest in GM shares.

Overall, I found the so-called interview riddled with arrogance, hubris and contempt. Mr. Lutz’s lifestyle, generation and attitude give new meaning to the term “fossil fuel”

Sad, really.

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