Editor’s note: This story is part of a special section in the March 7 edition of Automotive News marking the 100th anniversary of BMW AG.
When automotive legend Bob Lutz joined BMW in 1971, the company built 200,000 cars and 20,000 motorcycles annually.
"By world standards, we were tiny," Lutz recalled.
But Lutz, a board member in the early '70s, played a significant role in raising BMW's profile. In particular, he is credited with helping create company-owned sales arms in Europe. As head of global sales and marketing, Lutz was also instrumental in BMW taking over distribution in the United States.
Lutz says setting up the sales companies wasn't easy. In fact, he sites his biggest achievement as: "Ridding BMW of the parasitic European national importers."
"It took enormous energy and battling against opponents both inside and outside the company," he said.
A BMW spokesman credited Lutz with many achievements, including modernizing BMW's design practices. And legendary CEO Eberhard von Kuenheim noted that in the critical fight to gain control of foreign sales from distributors, "I had very good help from a man named Bob Lutz. That was one of the secrets."
In the United States, Lutz had to deal with Max Hoffman, an Austrian immigrant who began importing BMWs and many other major European brands in the 1950s.