Lutz to retire? Again…

Thanks to Ted in comments for dropping this bit of news, via Autoblog:

Bob Lutz has already retired at least once from an executive position at a car-maker when he left DaimlerChrysler following the merger. When he joined General Motors a few years back to oversee its product development, he was already well past the standard retirement age and by next year he will be 75 years old. According to Just-Auto.com, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster has been informed by Chairman Rick Wagoner that he will be taking over Lutz’s seat on the board of directors as well as his role leading product development in 2008.

Ted augments the link with the following question:

Is this perhaps a good thing for Saab?

I tend to think it is.

Lutz has been good for GM and the products reputed to be in the pipeline are supposed to be quite special. That’s good for the company as a whole. Lutz hasn’t been a big advocate for Saab though. Despite all the talk about aggressive model development etc, it’s beginning to look more and more like the refreshed 9-3 that we’ll see this year will need some very broad shoulders.

The 9-5 has now been put back. My most recent mail indicates a MY2010 release, which is a staggeringly long time for a flagship vehicle that’s as old as the current model is. The 9-2 is in Saab’s plans, but it’s also mentioned with a three year timeframe at best. That leaves the 9-4x, which I’m led to believe we’ll see as a MY2009 in mid-late 2008 at the earliest.

So the 9-3 is going to have to carry the brand for some time to come. If Saab are going to make a real imprint with a new generation of models, then here’s hoping that Carl-Peter Forster is the man to make this happen.

I can’t speak for Carl-Peter Forster on the brand as a whole, but I’ve quoted him on several occasions here on the blog and he seems to be a straight shooter and overall, appreciative of Saab’s presence and potential.

CPF is the current head of GM Europe and added to this, he’s also the current Chairman of the Saab Automobile board, so he should have a very good working knowledge of Saab’s model line, future plans and heritage. This can only be a good thing if he’s about to take on a position of even greater influence with GM.

A few quotes from CPF about Saab:

In an interview with Car Magazine, 2005

We hear Saab might be sold to the Chinese or Renault-Nissan.
Bullshit. GM is committed to Saab……

….What makes a Saab a Saab?
Saab design should be Swedish, clean and modern, with carefully selected chosen materials like pale woods. It’s not difficult to create a Saab look. It has a great heritage but has lost much of it. How the hell could it give up the wraparound windshield? I would rather invest in that than electrical systems. The next generation will be distinctly Saab.

One of the reasons he appreciates Saab. Business.

Saab’s position inside GM is less about when they are going to earn some money and more about what Saab as a brand can bring to GM. That distinction makes head of GM Europe Carl-Peter Forster in an interview with Automotive News Europe. “The question is whether Saab is adding something positive to GM or not”, says Forster.

A question he answers himself by stating the fact that Saab attracts customers to GM. “We have strong evidence that no other GM brand are attracting that type of customers to GM.”

But there’s more Saabstance to him than just that:

Forster said GM will create a global Saab crossover vehicle. Front-drive is no longer a core value for Saab. “But agile, predictable handling definitively is,” he said at the Geneva auto show……

……Saab’s future brand image will include distinctive design.

“We will see and feel the aero heritage in next-generation Saabs,” Forster said. He promised a return to the wraparound windshield: “It is like the canopy of an aircraft. How can you possibly give that up?”

Some recent Newspaper clippings, 2007

“Ethanol has a big potential and Sweden has taken the initiative. I think Sweden should continue with an European initiative,” says Carl-Peter Forster, who more or less guarantees a continuing production of about 100.000 cars a year in Trollhättan.

Forster underlines the need for pioneering achievements in producing ethanol from cellulosa, but also for the infrastructure [for delivering ethanol to the consumers].

“We must put more resources into the alternatives,” says Forster, who reveal that Saab’s ethanol engines will be introduced at the American market.

Unfortunately he’s one of the drivers of Caddy development too:

General Motors Corp. said Tuesday it expected an increase in its European market share this year and flagged plans to increase sales in higher-margin areas.

“We are certainly (looking) for share growth in Cadillac,” the automaker’s Europe chief, Carl-Peter Forster told reporters at the Geneva auto show.

“Saab could grow or at least maintain its share…”

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12 Comments

  1. carl-peter forster will be a good successor to lutz, and should allow saab to be, perhaps, more european, and thus more “in touch” with its roots.

  2. Well, CPF’s comments about Cadillac are really nothing more than repetition of the already public goal for Cadillac. I’m cautiously optimistic. He gets Saab in a way that Lutz doesn’t.

    We shall see.

  3. Two thoughts:

    (1) The 9-5 is too small. I sat in the rear seat of an Aero wagon at the Detroit Auto Show and found it hard to enter/exit and just about large enough to seat two people of my size (6′ 3″ tall and about 200 lbs.)

    (2) CPF: He promised a return to the wraparound windshield: “It is like the canopy of an aircraft. How can you possibly give that up?” That sounds good if he carries through with his promise. It should please the Classic 900 loyalists.

  4. He’s obsessed with this canopy wraparound thingy! Well, that’s a good thing, I guess…it shows he’s willing to bring the quirks back, rather than just slap a split-port grille and a console-mounted ignition on a Malibu and give it squinty headlights. Somehow, through all the 9-2Xs and 9-7Xs, I have hope…

  5. I think he’s getting us all riled up about a windshield so when it IS a wraparound on a mediocre new model, we’ll be happy…

  6. I agree with Andy — the 9-5 isn’t different in size enough from the 9-3 to be strong here in the US. I’ve commented on that before on this site. However, the 9-5 in current form has to last another three model years? Wow, that’s asking an awful lot.

    As for Lutz, it makes little difference to me. I can’t imagine a corporation of this size changing everything simply because one person, no matter who it is, retires. Certainly, there will be a difference in overall personality, and each person has his/her pet projects, but his successor must still pay more attention to Chevrolet, Pontiac and Cadillac than Saab.

    (Before all of you jump on that comment, I said ‘little’ difference, not ‘no’ difference.)

  7. I understand the doctor at VAG (VW Group)[Dr B.P.] has been replaced by someone else who is also changing the guard including probably the rationalization of platform sharing and ect.

    Is this therefore not a common disease in this industry and not perculiar to GM? Something reminds me of Jacques Nasser at Ford a couple of years ago. Anyone recalls this?

  8. Danni:

    Great point. I hadn’t thought of that before.

    According to Bill Ford (another casualty), the car market is tightening — meaning that fewer cars are being sold than in previous years. I don’t have the data to back that up, but he gave that sound bite about 6 months ago when the guy from Boeing took over at Ford. When the market isn’t growing, changes are necessary for the company to survive.

  9. The new 9-5 needs to be the size of the current Audi A6 ie 1/2 way between a BMW5 and 7 series. I cant believe they are waiting until 2010 for a new model which leads me to believe that GM is adopting a wait and see approach and maybe get rid of Saab sometime in late 2008.

    This rumour-mill and GMs general lack of interest in the Saab brand is boring me and after 25 years the brand is beginning to bore me a little – I hate to say!

  10. Zippy: I doubt that the delay in the 9-5 has anything to do with getting rid of Saab. If anything, they would hurry up with a half-baked replacement to get a quick surge in sales so they could get more money for Saab if they were planning to sell them off.

    More likely that the 9-5 will share a platform with another group of cars that will be released in that span of time. Unfortunately, that means that the 9-5 will skip a half generation to get there.

  11. Zippy, do drive a Saab? Have you ever been called a pinhead?
    At a minimum the 95 needs ReaXs rear-axle and the “best key in the GM inventory” the 93s.
    The new GMC Acadia needs to be Saabized toutsuite with a turbo and a diesel for international distribution.
    Jay-Saabs dealer situation in southern US and especially Florida oh hell virtually everywhere just is…needs…help.
    Certify 4&5 cylinder diesels here.
    Lutz should see if theres a spot in the Marine reserves.

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