Bob Lutz's Environmental Legacy in GM's Hands

Today GM announced Bob Lutz, their 76-year-old GM product development chief and vice chairman, would retire by end of this year.

When it comes to the environment, Bob Lutz's legacy is shaped by two, somewhat paradoxical ways. The quote that environmentalist will forever remember him by is his proclamation about a year ago that global warming "is a total crock of sh*t". On the other hand, there is chance that his eco-legacy maybe be defined by his championing of the Chevy Volt, the plug in hybrid that is supposed to come to market in late 2010.

Which he will most remembered for? The answer depends on whether GM is willing to move beyond its "just say no" attitude towards fuel economy and global warming pollution regulations.

To the environmental community, Bob Lutz was emblematic of an entire auto industry that "just doesn't get it". When Mr. Lutz arrived at GM, he epitomized the swaggering, macho Detroit attitude that bigger is better and a product plan philosophy that seemed to consist of  "back to the future" (think Pontiac GTO and Cadillac "Sixteen" concept car).

While Mr. Lutz may have brought focus and some good sense to their product design (thank you Mr. Lutz for banning body cladding from the Pontiac lineup), he was mosty a retrograde influence on moving GM more rapidly into the 21st century when fuel economy and pollution performance matters. And with quotes like global warming "is a crock of sh*t" and his recent, short sighted pronouncement that Americans still want big SUVs, GM must be painfully aware that he is a political liability as the company returns to a skeptical Congress for more bailout money.

The question is whether GM will harness the focus Mr. Lutz instilled so that GM can finally be part of the solution, rather than a big part of the problem. To complete this transformation, GM must start by moving boldly and swiftly in supporting a national adoption of the California Clear Cars program (as I called for in a previous blog) while simultaneously dropping all current and future litigation against the California program. This will clear the path for Congress to consider another round of bailout money, and for the critical, but skeptical green-minded consumers to adopt the Volt as the green car of choice.

Mr. Lutz's environmental legacy is in GM's hands.