Lutz Departure Another Modest Sign of Modernization

GM's-Bob-Lutz-with-the-7-seater-Buick-TerrazaMany in the green car movement are cheering the announcement that Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman, will retire at the end of 2009. Environmental Defense Fund automotive guru John DeCicco celebrates the news on HybridCars.com today, calling Lutz part of a “cohort of corporate leaders who rose to the top eerily disconnected from the parallel rise of environmental values in American culture.” But a speech last week by Hyundai North America’s CEO — billed as a wake-up call by the Detroit News — reinforces the impression that changing the industry’s environmental perspective will require a much broader shift in personnel.

Lutz earned the ire of the environmentally-inclined for two reasons. As product development chief he contributed to GM’s reliance on ever larger and less fuel-efficient SUVs trucks. And he made headlines with his contempt for the theory of climate change. Dallas-based D Magazine quoted a private conversation with journalists just one year ago in which Lutz called global warming a, “total crock of ****.”

Lutz added, according to D, that, “my opinion doesn’t matter.” But how could that be, with GM gearing up to woo environmentally-minded consumers with advanced vehicles such as the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt? Such comments reverberate louder still within the industry, signaling to junior engineers that an environment-be-damned ethic endures in Detroit’s board rooms.

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