Legendary car guy talks about future of industry

Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors, spoke Thursday night at Eastern Michigan University to share his experiences from his 47-year career in the auto industry and discuss his latest book, “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters.”

The “legendary car guy” focused on how GM and other companies hit an all-time low in 2008, but looking back, he said, “Saving the companies was the right thing to do.”
If the auto industry hadn’t been saved, he said the aftermath would’ve made the Great Depression look like “a walk in the park.”.

According to Lutz, the downfall of the Big Three was due in part to the companies being run by those who were driven by revenue instead of those who were creative and passionate about producing high-quality cars.

“Passion and drive for excellence will win over the computer-like, dispassionate, analysis-driven philosophy every time,” he said.

Lutz suggested the companies also made the mistake of neglecting the customer’s experience. He said without customer satisfaction, it is difficult for any company to be successful.

He continued by assureing the audience that the auto industry has come a long way since the bailout and is doing better than ever before.

Taking the time to respond to questions regarding how schools can encourage students to become interested in the auto business, Lutz said, “It’s just a question of exposing kids to the marvels of science and technology and once you’ve got them hooked, the interested ones will grab a hold and go with it.”

Known for speaking his mind, Lutz didn’t hesitate to criticize the American education system.

“I think the American K-12 system, in general, is a mess,” he said. “To say that the most important thing is to come out of school with an enhanced sense of self-esteem, where you feel like a winner even though you’ve never done anything legitimate in your life is absolutely ridiculous.”

He also said American schools should place more emphasis on math and science.

“You go into the esoteric engineering areas and it’s all populated by people from China, India, Pakistan, I mean countries that really push math and sciences in their education system,” he said.

Above all, Lutz stressed the importance of challenging the norm and refusing to accept things the way they are, when there is room for improvement.

“Those are the people that are going to be the leaders of the future because they’re not satisfied with the status quo,” he said.

When it comes to students seeking employment after college, Lutz said it takes more than a high GPA to stand out.

“They have to actually know something,” he said. “Very often, it’s not just book learning because some of the high GPA guys and females have all this textbook knowledge but very little practical ways of practically applying it and frankly, they’re not worth a lot.”

Lutz ended the lecture with a message for the professors in the audience.

“Inspiring this little bit of insubordination, questioning the status quo, I think good teachers engender that in the students,” he said. “To the extent possible in an academic environment, encourage non-conformity and the questioning mind, as opposed to robotically perfect high GPA people.”

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