Even before he rode into General Motors as the product-development savior in 2001, Bob Lutz found himself being recruited for plots to take over the company.
There was Heinz Prechter, the ASC sunroof king who proposed that Lutz and ex-Chrysler executive Steve Miller join with him as a pre-assembled management team to buy shares and get the board to clean out management.
There was J.T. Battenberg, the former GM executive who undertook the thankless and ultimately impossible task of making money at Delphi Corp., the spun-off hodgepodge of former GM parts operations. Battenberg, Lutz writes in his new memoir-cum-management book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters, "called me at work one day. His proposal: he would exert backdoor influence to have me elected CEO of GM" because he was concerned about the direction of the company.
Those are among the startling revelations in Lutz's book, which hits the bookstores next month.
The book is pure Lutz. Self-confident and self-congratulatory in ways that could be repulsive with anybody else, it's funny, congenial and sometimes self-deprecatory. And honest.
The book gives the best-ever insider's view of a dysfunctional if polite GM culture that valued process, rules and hierarchy above all else, even above the product and the customer.
Lutz's book inadvertently raises the question: At GM, will Lutzism outlast Lutz? In his great success leading a top team at Chrysler in the 1990s, "I obviously failed to create a sustainable culture of customer focus and product excellence at Chrysler. But I believe the lesson will 'stick' at GM."
The jury is still out. And GM already has rearranged product development by installing a good organizer/manager, rather than an intuitive "car guy," at the head of the organization.
Lutz proudly wears his motto: "Often wrong, but never in doubt." (A disclaimer: I'm among those who give Lutz credit for revolutionizing GM's car lineup and turning dull appliances with tacky interiors into attractive, desirable vehicles that people would want to buy. Exhibit A: the Chevrolet Malibu.)
As a management book, Car Guys argues that intuitive and creative product people (like Lutz!) should be running things, not those analytical MBAs. He also argues that GM's fall was largely a result of a) terrible government policy on fuel economy, which basically gave the Japanese automakers a free pass, and b) a mean-spirited media that reveled in being unfair to GM and its Detroit peers.
Against outsiders like the media, Lutz is like the mother of the bad kid: protective. Then, after blaming others for GM's failure, he spends half the book with sometimes hilarious anecdotes about GM's stultifying culture, which almost guaranteed mediocre cars that consumers could blithely ignore. Never in doubt.