February 9, 2009 / 5:45 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-Bob Lutz, GM's colorful product czar, to retire

(Attention to strong language in paragraph 5) (Adds details on Lutz’s tenure at GM)

By Poornima Gupta

DETROIT, Feb 9 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp’s (GM.N) vice chairman and product chief Bob Lutz will retire at the end of this year, ending a legendary automotive career that spanned 46 years and included top jobs at all three Detroit carmakers.

Lutz, 76, will transition to a new role effective April 1, as vice chairman and senior adviser — providing input into GM’s global design and key product initiatives — until his retirement at the end of 2009, the automaker said on Monday.

Tom Stephens, currently GM’s executive vice president of global powertrain and quality, will take over product development at GM.

Lutz was widely credited for the success of GM’s more recent products, including the Chevy Malibu sedan and was the leading proponent for its Chevy Volt, an electric vehicle with a small, range-extending gasoline engine.

But at the same time, Lutz remained a controversial and outspoken figure, recently telling a group of journalists that global warming was a “crock of shit.”

A former U.S. Marine fighter pilot, Lutz began his automotive career in 1963 at GM. He then went on to work for BMW in Europe, served on Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) board and spent 12 years at Chrysler before rejoining GM in 2001.

A consummate showman, Lutz was famed in Detroit for flying his own helicopter and a collection of aircraft, sometimes to corporate events.

“Bob Lutz was already a legendary automotive product guy when he rejoined GM in 2001,” GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said in a statement.

Lutz had previously said he wanted to see the Volt through to launch, which is not scheduled until late 2010.

The Volt, which travels 40 miles on pure electric power, represents GM’s attempt to break a costly association with gas-guzzling SUVs like the Hummer line, which the automaker is seeking to sell under its restructuring plan.

WAITING FOR THE PLAN

The move by Lutz to step down comes as GM scours its vast operation for cost cuts, including among its white-collar employees, ahead of a Feb. 17 deadline to provide an updated plan to U.S. government officials on how it can become viable.

GM has been pledged $13.4 billion of loans from the U.S. Treasury as it works to restructure amid a deep slide in U.S. auto sales to the lowest levels since the early 1980s and a national recession.

Lutz — sometimes referred to as “Maximum Bob” — also was an outspoken critic of GM’s earlier attempts to cut costs by using cheaper materials in vehicle interiors and its past failure to maintain consistent quality.

His efforts to revive GM’s product lineup, though highly regarded by critics in the automotive trade press, received a mixed reception from consumers.

Under Lutz, GM completely revamped its Saturn brand lineup in a highly touted move that failed to reverse the brand’s sagging fortunes.

Lutz famously said at the time: “If this doesn’t work, I’m out of ideas.”

Saturn sales fell 22 percent in 2008 and the automaker is reviewing its options for the brand in negotiations with dealers. (Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki; editing by Patrick Fitzgibbons and Tim Dobbyn)

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