How quickly things can change. Little more than a year ago, the mood was one of gloom and doom at General Motors headquarters, along the
As 2007 draws to a close, however, GM’s sales and share are stabilizing. Its balance sheet is improving.
What may matter most, though, is that GM is rolling out an array of new products that are winning raves – and new buyers. The Chevrolet Malibu, in particular, is being hailed by critics as the first GM mid-size sedan in decades to pose a credible threat in a segment long dominated by the Asians.
“The role of that car (the
But the man behind GM’s ongoing product assault admits that the
“We were off our game for 20 years, losing our momentum,” Lutz acknowledges, after a day of driving the
Windows of opportunity
Some analysts would actually see that as overly optimistic. “Out where I live, you don’t even see GM products, other than the occasional truck, and that is going to take a long time to change,” contends a veteran industry analyst who, because of his work with the automaker, asked not to be identified by name.
Indeed, Lutz concedes that there’s a broad public distrust of domestic products, especially in the so-called “smile regions” of the country, the East, West, and Gulf Coasts, and that this skepticism is “much deeper” when it comes to the Big Three giant, General Motors, than it is for Detroit’s other manufacturers, Ford and Chrysler.
At the same time, Lutz beams, “It is clear, there is a window of opportunity” that’s been opened up by the unexpected problems plaguing arch-rival
Ironically, some analysts, such as Art Spinella, of CNW Marketing, have used the term, “GM-like,” to describe the problems plaguing
“We celebrate on the run,” he cautions, adding that “We still have substantial…problems in
So, don’t worry about GM getting cocky again, insists the septuagenarian former Marine pilot. “I think I’ll be retired – or dead,” he jokes, before “I will start worrying about reemerging arrogance” at GM.
The fuel-economy push
Though a decade past the point when a top manager would normally retire, Lutz shows no inclination to step down. And his ramrod posture underscores his good health. But despite his generally confident demeanor, Lutz has a lot to worry about.
The biggest challenge, he is asked, and he hesitates only the slightest moment before firing back a question of his own: “Tell me what fuel economy regulations will be. We will live or die on that challenge.”
Congress has been studying several proposals which could push the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards well into the 30-mile-per-gallon range. It’s a figure Lutz absolutely insists is un-doable – at least not with the current sort of products American motorists prefer. It would force the industry to sell the sort of downsized cars and crossovers now seen in Europe and
Meeting the challenge would require expensive technology, Lutz contends, so a car like the
So, says Lutz, the ongoing debate is holding GM’s plans hostage. By now, the automaker would be locking down its product programs through 2012 and even 2013. Instead, “anything beyond 2011 is fuzzy,” the executive laments.
And that only underscores why GM can’t afford to celebrate, despite the applause it is getting these days for products like