Bob Lutz once told me that real car guys, guys with vision -- he seemed to be describing himself -- didn't need consumer clinics to develop hot new products.
After all, he reasoned, consumers can judge concepts only by what's already on the road. That's like looking through the rearview mirror, he said.
No, the best products come from car guys who have the vision to look through the windshield and down the road. Those are the people who chart the industry's course.
Through the various decades of his automotive career, Lutz was involved in developing a lot of products, and he always seemed enthusiastic.
For example, when the old Chrysler Corp. redesigned the Dodge Ram pickup for the 1994 model year, Lutz predicted everyone would be passionate about the radical new design. He allowed that some people would hate the new muscular look. But most would love it, he said, and Dodge would boost its share of the pickup market.
The pickup market was going to be one-third Ford, one-third Chevy and one-third Dodge, Lutz said.
Directionally, Lutz was right. The new Ram gobbled up more market share. But it never got close to a third of the market.
Then when Chrysler was launching the 1995 Neon, Lutz and I were partners on a ride-and-drive through the Black Forest in Germany. As we took turns driving and navigating, Lutz told me matter-of-factly that the Neon would be the next Volkswagen Beetle, an icon for a new generation of young people.
OK, that prediction didn't work out.
But, as always, it was an engrossing conversation.
It was so engrossing that with me behind the wheel and Lutz reading the route book we must have missed a turn. Eventually we got back on course, but we arrived for lunch a little late.
Lutz was certain we got lost because the route book was wrong, and he set off to find whoever at Chrysler could fix it.
I never heard how that turned out.