Lutz lashes out

30 Apr

I like Frank Lutz. He’s a consummate car guy. GM brought him in (he helped revive Chrysler in the 90s) to improve its product.

He’s the mastermind behind GM’s ongoing restructuring. Interiors aren’t quite as cheap as they used to be; everything has a better perceived quality and feel to it. Engines are more reliable and less coarse. Exterior design is no longer done by committee (see Pontiac Aztek), and is now done by actual designers (see Pontiac Solstice).

Last year, Lutz showed up at the NY Auto Show and declared Buick and Pontiac “damaged”, launching speculation that one of the marques would be discontinued. Buick has several all-new models out that aren’t quite up to Lexus standards yet, but are a vast improvement over what was out before.

This year, a journalist asked Lutz to comment on the notion that GM doesn’t build cars that people want to buy – a charge that was certainly true in, say, 2000.

Lutz’s reply, according to page C2 in the Buffalo News:

The Corvette C6 is sold out. The Corvette Z06 is sold out. The Pontiac Solstice is sold out. The Saturn Sky is sold out. Demand for the Chevy HHR is 200% higher than supply. The Chevy Impala outsold the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger combined in the first quarter of this year, and Chevy overtook Ford in total sales last year.

That’s great news for GM, and all of those cars (‘cept maybe the Impala, which is still boring to me) are gorgeous. I’m also wondering whether the Impala’s higher figures are due either to fleet sales or high demand/low supply of the 300 and Charger.

Lutz adds:

So then people say, ‘I’ll give you the Corvette, Solstice, Sky, HHR, and Impala, but overall your vehicles stink.’ And we’re getting this from analysts who live in New York and don’t even own a car.”

I’d go on and say that the Chevy Cobalt (especially the SS supercharged version) is a huge improvement over the venerable, mediocre Cavalier. The Malibu and Pontiac G6 (Epsilon platform) could use a freshening, but are huge improvements over their predecessors. Pontiac has shed the cheap, grey, rental car interiors and ubiquitous body cladding. Saturn is due genuinely to become the import-fighter it was always meant to be when it releases the Aura, the Outlook, the next-gen Vue, and especially when a rebadged Opel Astra replaces the design abortion called the Ion.

The more GM improves its lineup, the better it is for folks in Tonawanda and Lockport, incidentally.

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