Has Bob Lutz warmed up to Elon Musk?
Somewhere during the course of automotive history, someone decided to give Bob Lutz an outlet with which to voice his opinions on the state of the auto industry. Maybe it’s because Lutz, who has held leadership positions at each of America’s Big Three automakers, has built a reputation for making controversial statements that make for good headline material, or maybe it’s because he has legitimately valuable input on the inner workings of the car world. But in either case, when Lutz wants to talk, the car world tends to listen.
More recently, the 87-year-old retired executive has made a name for himself by verbally bashing Tesla with every chance he gets, once predicting that the company would be out of business by 2019 and saving his harshest criticisms for the management style of Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk. So it was a surprise when his most recent column, written for Road and Track, heaped praise on the electric automaker and signaled a change in his attitude.
In his column, Lutz talks about a Tesla Model 3 he saw parked in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was one of his first encounters with the car, a phenomenon he attributes to the fact Tesla cannot sell cars in Michigan given the state’s moratorium on factory-owned dealerships.
He ended up walking up to the Tesla and inspecting its panel gaps, typically a good way to gauge a car’s production quality, and was surprised to see that the Model 3 had what Lutz considered to be "world class” panel gaps. "But, when next to the car, I was stunned,” reads Lutz’s column. "Not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach. Gaps from hood to fenders, doors to frame, and all the others appeared to be perfectly even, equal side-to-side, and completely parallel. Gaps of 3.5 to 4.5mm are considered world-class. This Model 3 measured up.”
Lutz goes on to tell the story of his own quest for tighter-fitting panels when he was at the helm of an unnamed American automaker, which was known for featuring horribly inconsistent panel gaps. At one point, Lutz asked Volkswagen’s then-CEO Ferdinand Piëch about how the German automaker got its panel gaps to fit so tightly. Piëch replied that he "…got all the production execs in a room and told them they had six weeks to achieve consistent 4mm gaps or they'd all be fired. It was easy!”
Lutz instead tried his own approach, simply asking his workers to tighten the panel gaps on the cars they made. Lo and behold, they managed to do so, citing the fact reducing panel gap was well within their range of capabilities, but that no one had asked them to do it before. Somehow we doubt Elon Musk took the same approach to get his Model 3’s gaps to where they are now, but at least he can rest easy knowing Lutz is growing on the idea of Tesla as a serious automaker.