Editor's note: Richard Johnson is the author of Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, published by Motorbooks International, which includes a section on the creation of BMW's image.
With the shock still reverberating in auto advertising circles, the choice of Bob Lutz as General Motors Co.'s chief marketer has led to a fresh look at Lutz's credentials as an image-maker. Does the 77-year-old really have (or have left) what it takes to reinvigorate GM's damaged brands?
Since July 10, when Lutz reversed plans to retire and took charge of GM's marketing and communications, there has been a new spin on Lutz's career. It turns out he was only masquerading as the ultimate car guy for the past few decades. He never had been an engineer or designer (which we all knew but seemingly forgot). He was really just a sales and marketing guy all along.
"I had been practicing medicine without a license," Lutz joked recently.
Automotive revisionism or true stuff? The word now is that Lutz played a central role in one of the most significant marketing transformations in auto history — at BMW. But did he really? Did Lutz help empower the BMW brand, or is it just an urban legend?
He did indeed. Thirty-eight years ago Lutz launched the process that led to the creation of BMW's unassailable core brand strength. It doesn't mean he can do it again, but he did it once.
What Lutz helped achieve at BMW — with many partners — is precisely what he is now trying to achieve at GM. That is, make design and driving sensibilities indistinguishable from the marketing message.