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L. A. Auto Show: Industry icon Bob Lutz surfaces at Lotus

November 19, 2010 |  2:34 pm

Robert A. Lutz, the outspoken and colorful industry veteran who has worked for all the major American car companies and retired from General Motors Co. in May, has resurfaced, helping British sports car maker Lotus expand its range of vehicles. Lotusevora

Lutz, who has a 47-year career in the industry, sat down with The Times at the Los Angeles Auto Show and talked about Lotus and GM’s return to the stock market.

Lutz is joining the advisory board of Lotus as the automaker gets ready to develop a range of five new or new-generation sports cars over the next four to five years. They are intended to compete with what Lutz called the “supercar” offerings from Ferrari and Lamborghini, but at much lower prices.

All of the offerings are high-performance cars and stick to Lotus' “E” nomenclature, including the Esprit, Elan, Elise, Elite and Eterne.

Lutz “I first saw these cars as just clay models and I am convinced that this is a serious and well-funded plan,” Lutz said.

Lutz noted that Lotus has had an up-and-down history, plagued by capitalization problems and gyrations in direction and philosophy.

“I am convinced that this company has the best team in the history of Lotus. This may be the first time they have had it all together,” he said.

Lotus said it had lined up $1.2 billion to devote to bringing the vehicles to market. The automaker also said it would produce hybrid versions of its sportsters, and that for the first time it would build its own engines for IndyCar racing.

Lutz also had some fond words for his former employer.

“I predicted that the [initial stock] offering would be oversubscribed," said Lutz, who was GM’s vice chairman when he retired.

He said he put in an order for 800 shares, the most he could purchase under the allotment system for former employees.

GM is now producing cars that people want to buy, and that is paying off in the success of the company's offering, Lutz said.

"GM is seeing the average transaction prices for its newer cars $4,000 to $5,000 above the models they replaced. Now people want Buicks instead of just accepting them. I think GM has a huge upward potential," he said.

The executive pointed out that GM has posted a string of quarterly profits this year, a period when the auto industry is still moving at a historically slow pace, selling barely 11.5 million vehicles this year.

“When auto sales really start to turn up it will really start to make some money,” he said.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photos, from top: The Lotus Evora; Lotus advisory board member Robert A. Lutz. Credits, from top: Jeff Amlotte/Los Angeles Times; Associated Press