Ford merged its independent German and British units in 1967. But the consolidation was far from complete when Robert Lutz joined Ford of Europe in 1974.
Although the organizations were combined, the corporate culture was divided, Lutz recalled in a recent interview with Automotive News Europe.
"I would say the integration was complete, but it was still to some extent a divided culture," Lutz said. "The Germans resented what they believed was a British takeover."
Lutz hired in as general manager of Ford of Germany. He came from BMW, where he had been vice president of sales. At Ford of Europe, he rose to president in 1977 and chairman in 1979. In his tenure at the top, Lutz recalls, he tried to revamp the "somewhat Anglocentric culture."
While decisions were made at Ford Motor Co. headquarters in the United States, they generally were made in response to strategic and product plans drawn up by British executives, he says.
"The benchmark tended to be the British market, what sells well in Britain, what British people like, and the German market was kind of, 'Well, that's one of our export markets,' " Lutz says.
"I was constantly giving the speech, 'Guys, we're focusing on the wrong country.' Because you can take a car that does well in Germany and it will do well in Britain, but it is by no means clear that a car that does well in Britain is going to do well in Germany. So I was pushing to emphasize the importance of Germany vis-a-vis Britain."
The British market was distorted by high income tax rates, Lutz recalls. Companies gave employees cars in lieu of taxable income, tilting the market toward conservative fleet vehicles. Germany was more representative of overall European car tastes.
Lutz's influence on car development took hold when he was made vice president for sales and marketing in Europe, says retired Ford public relations veteran Harry Calton.
During Lutz's tenure, Ford of Europe moved from the Cortina, which Lutz describes as "a very Anglocentric car," to the Sierra.
"His influence on the new 1980 front-wheel-drive Escort was strong, but the 1982 Sierra was really his car," Calton said. Soon after the Sierra launch, Lutz was transferred to the United States.
But the Sierra was a slow starter, Calton added, and Lutz was told to repair the damage: "When the Sierra failed to deliver, Ford sent Lutz back to Europe, where he pushed Ford to European market leadership in 1984 as chairman of Ford of Europe."
Through it all, Lutz stayed true to his car-guy nature. He always tried to drive Ford's cars to the limit, says Rainer Nistl, Ford's motorsports publicist at the time.
When Lutz took Granada prototypes for the weekend, he usually returned on Monday saying how much he loved the car, Nistl recalls. "But then he added that the car eventually broke down and could be collected at a remote autobahn exit because he could not resist the temptation to fight a top-speed battle with a BMW."
Lutz impressed both the media and Ford's own sales organization. "He was able to convince journalists that the Ford Granada, which had rather soft American road manners, was a better car than the BMW 5 series," said Nistl. "Lutz challenged them to prove the contrary."
Lutz made the Granada a success.
"Ford did not have a large budget for product development, so he could only make small changes, like painting the chromium ornamentation matt black, and stiffening the suspension," Nistl said. "But it worked."
Lutz stayed at Ford Motor 12 years. He was an executive vice president when he moved to Chrysler Corp. in 1986.