GRUYERE , Switzerland -- General Motors Co.'s retiring Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says the company has the right management, is on track for a comeback and finally has its priorities straight.
“The thing that encourages me is that the official credo of governing now is, ‘design, build and sell the best cars and trucks,'" Lutz, 78, said in an interview today in his native Switzerland after the Geneva auto show.
"The company's mission has never been that clearly defined before," said Lutz, who started at GM in 1963 and worked at BMW, Ford and Chrysler before rejoining the Detroit automaker in 2001. GM announced today that Lutz plans to retire May 1.
Lutz also commented on:
• Whether he was asked to leave:
"No. Absolutely not.”
• GM's prospects for success:
"The company is on the right track. As far as senior leadership is concerned, they got the right people in the right jobs."
• Whether it was a mistake to kill Pontiac:
"No. While I loved Pontiac, I think Pontiac was on the cusp of finding an identity, which is the identity of a moderate, priced-high performance brand focusing primarily on rear-wheel-drive vehicles.
“We were on the cusp of really getting that going, and a new demographic was starting to buy the G8, real performance car fans. So to me, it was genuinely unfortunate that we had to drop it."
• GM's decision to kill brands:
“We knew we had to drop four brands. Two were easy: Saab and Hummer. Saturn was a little more difficult, but we were still able to do it because it really never made any money. And, Pontiac was No. 4.
"I think a number of us felt a deep attachment to the Pontiac brand, and I still do. I have Solstices that I intend to keep forever."
• Why GM kept Buick:
“We didn't want to let Buick go because Buick was also on the verge of a resurgence. And the tremendous importance to the company of Buick in China."
• His latest GM role, as vice chairman and adviser:
“Minister without portfolio for generalized advice of counsel.”
• The one project he's most proud of:
“If you want to point to an individual project that I am particularly proud to have been a leading advocate of -- if not the originator -- that would be the Chevy Volt. At the time when electric anything was a dirty word at General Motors after the EV1 financial disaster, the Volt was hard to get going and hard to get approved."
• Other points of pride:
“Being instrumental in making the organization aware of product excellence in sheet metal execution, fits and finishes, paint, interiors, and getting that renewed commitment to great styling.
“Putting all that stuff in place, re-instilling a knowledge in the company that great design is the be all and end all. If you don't have great design, it does not matter how good the car is. Nobody is going to take a look at it.”
"I was very happy with the (Saturn) Aura, with the Malibu: They were both exceptionally good execution. I am (also) very proud of the the globalization of product development."
• Being a full-time auto executive at age 78:
“There is something that gets old about getting up at 4:30 in the morning. At some point you have to do something new.
“Even yesterday walking the show -- and maybe it was because many of the design concepts were so depressing -- that I really thought: ‘How much longer do I want to keep doing the same thing?'"