Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – General Motors Co. could not possibly have predicted skyrocketing demand that has left it short of certain increasingly popular vehicles and prevented the auto maker from gaining U.S. market share, retiring Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, tells Ward's.

“There's been a tenfold increase on Buick LaCrosse (demand),” Lutz says, terming the sedan a “huge home run.

“It's outselling the Ford Taurus, and a lot of buyers are coming out of Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords,” he adds.

In an interview at the New York International Automobile Show, Lutz, who will retire April 30, says GM now is working to increase production of hot sellers such as the LaCrosse sedan and Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain cross/utility vehicles.

It also is planning to launch the upcoming ʼ11 Chevrolet Cruze compact with three shifts at its Lordstown, OH, plant.

“We expect it to be a smash hit,” Lutz says.

But GM won't pursue market share at the expense of profitability, he promises. “We're spending less on incentives than Toyota and Ford. If you chase market share, you're doing a wrong thing.”

Lutz says GM will have to change the momentum built up by Japanese competitors before it can wrestle more buyers away from the Camry and Accord and boost sales of cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu.

“Brand loyalty is alive and well,” he insists. “Only 3%-4% of sales of new GM models come from Japanese car owners,” he says. “It's tough to break down the semi-permeable membrane separating import and domestic buyers.”

That's not the only factor holding back GM in the market.

“Nobody is doing what they used to in sales,” Lutz says. “But we'll see if GM can remain the largest-selling brand.

“We have the cars and trucks it takes to win,” he adds.

The GM executive declines to make any volume predictions, saying that hinges in part on incentives and lease deals competitors offer.

“You cannot place your focus on market share,” he says. “Our focus has to be on making the best cars and trucks in the world.”

Lutz is confident GM will be able to do that. “That's why I feel comfortable in leaving,” he says.