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July 16, 2009

The New GM...Hopefully Not Like the Old GM

This is a guest post from Ann Mesnikoff, head of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign.

Watchers of the auto industry (and of GM in particular) have been wondering why on earth Fritz Henderson, the head of NEW GM (fresh out of a whirlwind bankruptcy) recalled Bob Lutz out of his almost-retirement to head up creative products and customer relationships.  

Why the bewilderment?  Bob Lutz is infamously know for calling global warming a total "crock of SH-T!". Other bloggers have tracked “Lutzisms” attacking fuel economy and the ability of the industry to do better – "There is no technological bag of tricks that enable much better fuel economy than we have today," and "Despite what the alarmists may think, we don't have any magic 100-mpg carburetor that we're holding back because we're in bed with the oil companies." 

Just last Friday Lutz noted “where we really messed it up and took our eye off the ball in terms of product was in ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s.”  No wonder we tax payers have spent $40 billion to keep this company afloat.  Lutz was quick to note that he wasn’t there during those many years – but his reputation as Mr. Muscle and Power may leave us – the taxpayer owners of NEW GM – wondering whether he is the right guy to put NEW GM’s eyes back on the ball.  But the fact is that new greenhouse gas standards and accelerated fuel economy standards are a ball GM must keep its eyes on.  

To his credit, Lutz has been the champion of the Chevrolet Volt, perhaps the most advertised vehicle that isn’t even for sale.  The challenge for NEW GM and Mr. Lutz is to do more than talk up the 10s of thousands of Volts that will trickle into the market out of the nearly 10 million vehicles sold each year (even in this down market).  These will be important but are not enough to the hide millions of gas guzzlers that dominate GM's fleet. 

In the same press event in which he announced Lutz’s return to GM, Henderson noted the priorities for NEW GM – Customers, Cars, Culture.  Perhaps a fourth “C” is needed – Compliance.  The company we own much of should pledge to give the taxpayers true compliance with new standards, not compliance made possible with fuel economy credits for vehicles that can (but rarely do) run on E-85, or by borrowing, banking and trading credits that will continue to make it impossible to determine if the company we own is actually complying with the law in any given year.  But, NEW GM, with compliance as a priority, and the products Mr. Lutz will create and market, should make a pledge to actually comply with the law each year.


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