May 2008 Luncheon
By Paul Borden 

 Photos by Angelica Willard and Ron Beasley

Some politicians like to campaign on the theme that they are going to give you straight talk; but no matter what their party, few, if any, live up to such promise.

That wasn’t the case at the May SAMA luncheon meeting where GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who has been likened to a “rock star” in the automotive world, gave a packed ballroom at the Grove Isle Hotel a message in good old Sergeant Friday (for you old-timers) fashion: Nothing but the facts.

More than 40 SAMA members turned out for this memorable event that drew a passel of local GM dealers and area business leaders as well.

Before the luncheon began, Lutz gave some welcoming remarks in which he noted that the South Florida market is a key one for General Motors and one that in the past hasn’t been served particularly well, at least in terms of quality of product and market share. But Lutz noted that GM has put things like unexciting vehicles made with low-grade materials and cheap plastics with body fits not what they should be, not to mention a general lack of precision and execution, in its past.

“Today, I can honestly say everything we produce has a world-class interior, world-class engine, world-class body fits, fabulous paint – we’ve gone from having perhaps good paint, solid paint, reliable paint, paint that didn’t fade or chip or peel off, but it lacked luster. Over the last three years we have brought the luster of our paints up to where we are ranked equally with Japanese luxury cars.”

Now the goal is to get that word across to the buying public, Lutz said.  

“What we need really is a little bit of consideration for our products,” he said. “I realize that is a very tall order, especially in a place like Miami when our reputation has been as damaged as ours has been over the past few years, or decades.”

In his formal remarks, Lutz touched on several areas of interest not only regarding GM but the automotive world in general, including alternative fuels, the impact of increased CAFE standards, the effect of ethanol on the food industry, and the future of such performance-oriented vehicles as the Cadillac CTS-V.  

“When you talk about energy solutions, we realize that no single solution fits the huge array of energy challenges,” he said. “So we are pursuing a number of different strategies, including more efficient internal combustion engines, alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, electrified vehicles, diesels, and, of course, the hydrogen fuel
cell.”

In his typical tell-it-like-is manner, Lutz had a blunt challenge for Congress and its requirement that manufacturers increase their fleet average to 35 miles-per-gallon by 2015.
“We cannot emphasize this often enough,” he said. “This is not going to come cheap. Whether it is alternative materials or alternative technology, this is going to raise the price of cars and trucks in the United States by five to eight thousand dollars. It’s going to be interesting to see how willing the public is to pay for it.”  

He also rebuffed critics who blame ethanol entirely for the rise in food costs, noting that not only is the rest of the world changing its diet, which is affecting food prices in the U.S. market, petroleum factors heavily into all areas of the agricultural industry and thus contributes to the rise in costs.

“The primary driver of food prices is not the ethanol,” Lutz said. “It’s plain and simple that the high cost of petroleum is feeding into everything. Anything that uses energy is going up in price. It’s called price-push inflation. Food isn’t isolated. Aluminum cans are not going to be isolated. Plastic isn’t going to be isolated. Anything that uses petroleum in its manufacture or transportation is going to go up. That’s the plain and simple fact.”  

Though he warned that unless something is done about the fuel situation we may no longer see or have available to purchase high-performance vehicles, GM will still continue to produce higher-power cars like the Cadillac CTS-V in the near future.

“Not everything we do is going to be green. People say, ‘How can you produce a 550-horsepower sedan when you’re talking about conserving energy?’ All I can say is as the nation tends toward vegetarianism the grocery stores expand their vegetable sections, but they don’t eliminate their meat counters. And this [the CTS-V] is pure red meat.”

All in all, Lutz’ appearance will go down as a special affair for SAMA. We want to thank GM for providing the group with this special opportunity.

Among business items discussed, President Ron Beasley again reminded members that renewal for annual dues is coming up. Our membership year runs from July 1 through June 30, and dues are due by July 1. For information on individual or company or associate memberships visit the website at <www.samonline.org>.
The next SAMA monthly luncheon meeting is scheduled for June 19 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables with Shell Oil on board as the sponsor.