Bob Lutz, legendary gear head and businessman who has worked at BMW, Ford Europe, Chrysler and General Motors tackles the challenges he faced during the decline of General Motors in his book Car Guys vs. Bean Counters. He writes about the disorganized management, layers upon layers of red tape and the embarrassing debacle known as the automotive bailout when General Motors pseudonym became Government Motors.
The book has gotten a bad rap because Lutz blames a large chunk of GM’s downfall on the penny-pinching financial types who were given charge of the automotive design. These folks were focused on cost-cutting, systematizing production and making the most money on each car produced, even if that meant sacrificing quality. As a result, Lutz contends, General Motors was building vehicles notorious for wide body gaps between panels, cheap interiors and being, well, really ugly.
Furthermore, too much emphasis on consumer focus groups and surveys also led to GM’s downfall. Instead of producing quality vehicles that looked beautiful, Lutz points out, GM spent more time deliberating how to incorporate consumer desires into their vehicles. In one instance of this, GM spent years developing a completely hands-free, voice controlled radio and instrument panel. This system was so complex and confusing that finally, after millions of dollars spent in production, it was eventually scrapped. Ultimately, the design of cars should be the focus of the designers and engineers. Nobody else.
In a letter he wrote to his GM cohorts, Lutz laid out his idea of what makes for a good automaker. This can also be translated into what makes for a good brand too. Here are some of the highlights:
-Democracy doesn’t work in a company. Conflict is necessary for success.
-Embrace and seek out new ideas. Go beyond what consumers think they need.
-Let the experts do their thing, especially the designers. Design is imperative in everything.
-Create something first and then adapt it to the market.
-Everything is a tradeoff, be prepared for them.
-Be confident in your beliefs. The Lutz motto is “Often wrong, but seldom in doubt.”
After reading his book, it becomes apparent there is really no recipe for success when it comes to cars. Price, design and the amount of money spent on advertising a product all directly correlate to the success or failure of a vehicle, but even that doesn’t always matter. Cars are like art and whether a design is “pretty” or “ugly” is all subjective. Sometimes it just works and other times it doesn’t. Either way, Lutz seems to know what works and he is either really lucky or a genius. Put your money on the latter because from 2001 to 2010 while at GM, here were some of his greatest contributions.
Cadillac CTS Coupe
Photo credits: DetroitNews, MotorAuthority, CarScoop, CNN, CarBodyDesign, AutoSpectator