ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Chrysler Vice Chairman Robert Lutz was not involved in the merger talks with Daimler-Benz AG.
'I knew about it, and I wholeheartedly approved of it in principle,' Lutz said after Chrysler Corp.'s annual meeting of shareholders here Thursday, May 21. 'Neither company needs the other. That's what was appealing to us.'
Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton announced during the meeting that Lutz will retire as vice chairman July 1. Lutz also will give up his seat on the board of directors at that time.
Lutz said that he and Juergen Schrempp, Daimler-Benz chairman, spoke briefly in Europe shortly before the 1998 Detroit auto show.
Schrempp told him it was a shame that the two automakers had not reached an agreement on a joint venture during talks in 1995 and 1996. So Lutz said he was not really surprised when Schrempp brought up the subject once again before the Detroit auto show.
'He wondered if we couldn't talk about an even greater solution,' Lutz said. 'I immediately related it to Bob Eaton because that kind of stuff is the stuff of CEOs.'
TRIBUTE FROM EATON
At the annual meeting, Eaton said Lutz can take the largest individual share of the credit for Chrysler's 'terrific product' during the past few years.
'I firmly believe Bob Lutz has been the greatest president that Chrysler has ever had in its 73-year history,' Eaton said.
Lutz, 66, was Chrysler president from Jan. 14, 1991, to Dec. 5, 1996, when he was named vice chairman. Lutz has been on a leave of absence at his request since late April. He will remain on leave until his retirement.
Lutz said he had settled on July 1 to depart when it became obvious that the merger was going to be consummated by Chrysler and Daimler-Benz.
Although this was his final meeting as a member of the board of directors, Lutz said he will not dwell on it.
'Otherwise you get maudlin,' he said. He said this is similar to the feeling he had when he left active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps.
DAIMLER A BETTER FIT
Lutz has not completed plans for the near future but said he would not rule out a job with a supplier.
Lutz also said:
While Chrysler has the highest regard for BMW AG, Chrysler's product fit with Daimler-Benz was better.
Automakers will produce more heritage cars like the Volkswagen New Beetle.
Automakers must tread with caution regarding sport wagons, truck-like vehicles built on car platforms. If the public perceives that the manufacturer is giving them a passenger car disguised as a truck, it will not work.