L.A. Auto Show: GM's Lutz fills in for ousted Fritz
GM's venerable Bob Lutz came to the L.A. Auto Show to talk about electric cars and, particularly, the company's Chevy Volt. The only thing anyone else wanted to talk about, however, was Fritz Henderson.
Henderson, of course, was until Tuesday the chief executive of General Motors, and was to give the keynote speech to open the L.A. show. But by the time a two-day board meeting in Detroit wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon, Henderson was gone, having resigned at the board's request and leaving Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. in charge of GM's day-to-day operations.
That put Lutz, the company's vice chairman in charge of marketing, in the uncomfortable position of having to step up and make today's speech. And the former Marine did so rather adroitly, considering the circumstances.
Lutz adapted the same speech that Henderson was to have given, an individual familiar with the company's operations said, sprinkling in a few of his trademark jokes.
But he steadfastly refused to talk about Henderson's ouster.
"I know you'd all like the true account of what happened at General Motors" Tuesday, Lutz said. "I'm not going to tell it."
He admitted to being surprised by the news, and spoke highly of Henderson, who leaves after 25 years at the company and was named CEO in March, immediately following the ouster of his predecessor, Rick Wagoner.
Fending off questions about the automaker's executive turmoil from the hundreds of reporters gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Lutz stayed on topic.
The good news, he said, is the plug-in hybrid electric Volt, which will come to California first starting at the end of next year. Another positive, Lutz said, is that the massive cuts of brands, personnel and factories that GM has suffered through in the past year has strengthened the company's balance sheet.
"We're poised to be profitable in anything close to a normal auto market," Lutz said. "We have new shareholders and we're going to do our duty and keep the focus on the product," he said, grimly staring into the television lights.
Photo: Bob Lutz, GM's vice chairman and head of marketing, gives the keynote speech to open the L.A. Auto Show. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times