Lutz: GM might revive the G8 under Chevrolet Caprice name

July 13, 2009

Lutz: GM might revive the G8 under Chevrolet Caprice name

By Justin Hyde
Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON – General Motors Co. might revive the Chevrolet Caprice name as a way to save the outgoing Pontiac G8 sedan, and will not consider diesel cars for the United States until the business case improves.

Those comments and others came from Bob Lutz, GM’s new head of design and marketing, in a web chat today where Lutz took on topics from GM’s warranties to his infamous remarks from last year about the validity of global warming.

The rear-wheel-drive G8, built and designed by GM’s Australian unit, had been a small but significant bright spot for Pontiac this year, with sales totaling 15,691 through June. But the model is scheduled to disappear with the rest of Pontiac by the end of the year.

“The G8 has finally been discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public,” Lutz said in the chat. “The owners are ecstatic about them, many calling it the best sedan they’ve ever driven. We consider it too good to waste. So we’re studying the feasibility of bringing it in as a Caprice for both law enforcement and the public.”

The Caprice was for decades GM’s top-of-the-line Chevrolet sedan, but was discontinued for U.S. buyers in 1996 when the company ended most of its rear-wheel-drive passenger car lines in the United States. The model was also a perennial favorite of police departments and taxis, a market GM mostly ceded to Ford Motor Co.’s Crown Victoria.

While enthusiasts had called on GM to import some of its sportier models from other parts of the world for years, the financial barriers remain high due to fluctuating exchange rates and the costs of tweaking models for different markets. The Saturn Astra, a European-built hatchback that GM also had high hopes for, failed to make any impression among U.S. buyers.

Lutz also said that the company had shelved any plans for diesel-engined passenger vehicles in the United States due to the extra cost he estimated at $6,000 for emissions controls, despite a 20% boost in fuel economy.

“Several Europeans and both Toyota and Honda have canceled their U.S. passenger car diesel plans, as have we,” Lutz wrote.

As part of GM’s emergence from bankruptcy, the 77-year-old Lutz reversed his decision to retire, taking over responsibility for marketing and public communications in addition to holding onto oversight over vehicle design. In the chat, Lutz repeatedly vowed to shake up GM’s advertising, saying the company had misfired in the past.

“My top priority now is to enhance the ability of GM to let the public know about what great cars and trucks we build,” he said. “For all the money spent in the past, this seemingly simple task has eluded us.”

And after years of giving his public relations staff heartburn over comments such as one from February 2008 calling global warming a “total crock,” Lutz vowed that his personal beliefs would not influence his professional performance.

“I obviously won’t go out of my way to upset people but since I have a tendency to speak my mind I will occasionally unwittingly do so,” Lutz said, adding, “by the way we just had the coldest June on record in the East, and are in the middle of the coldest July.”

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