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Lutz is a winner, but don't expect overnight miracle

A savior. God. Moses. Such were the comparisons that accompanied the news that General Motors has hired Bob Lutz as vice chairman and product development chief.

Indeed, it was a bold, shrewd move. But let's not underestimate the challenges ahead.

This isn't a basketball team. Hiring the auto industry equivalent of Michael Jordan won't make you a champion overnight. GM is a huge organization. Lutz himself once said that turning around GM would be nine times as hard as fixing Chrysler.

There are other questions. No one knows how Lutz is going to fit into GM. It may be unfair to remind people about what has happened to past GM mavericks - Ross Perot and Ignaki Lopez come to mind - but anytime you bring in someone who has the personality force of Bob Lutz, the potential for culture clash has to be considered.

It's also not out of line to ask what effect Lutz's age (69) and his short tenure (three-year contract; extensions possible) will have on his ability to influence GM people.

What's more, Lutz is not replacing a slouch. Tom Davis quietly led a resurgence of GM's truck line before being given responsibility for cars, too. For at least one GM insider, the biggest news GM announced on Aug. 2 was bad news: Davis is retiring.

Lutz says he believes GM has turned the corner, and he wouldn't have joined GM if it hadn't. But Lutz can't escape a sense of urgency. Companies can't lose market share forever. And, on the car side at least, GM's bleeding hasn't stopped.

So for now, let's take the hiring of Bob Lutz for what it is: a strong sign that CEO Rick Wagoner is serious about change.

Wagoner has shown class and guts in hiring someone whose star is higher than his own. And he is quite right in stressing the role that Lutz must play as a mentor to his troops.

Lutz, meanwhile, for all his accomplishments, will stand at yet another starting line on Sept. 1.

The time to crown him is not now but when his GM work is done.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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