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L.A. Auto Show notebook: Robert A. Lutz returns as Lotus advisor

The outspoken auto industry veteran looks approvingly on former employer General Motors' return to the stock market.

November 20, 2010|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Outspoken and colorful auto industry veteran Robert A. Lutz, 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.

"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.

Lutz, who has spent 47 years 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. The auto show is open to the public this weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center and continues through Nov. 28.

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 or five years.

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

Lotus said it had lined up $1.2 billion to devote to bringing the vehicles to market.

Lutz also had some fond words for his former employer and its initial stock offering this week.

"I predicted that the 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.

Other show highlights include:

• Smart's electric bicycle: Not everything is automotive at the show. Several cars were displayed with bicycles and bicycle racks and Fiat was showing off a special folding bike that will fit inside its tiny 500 subcompact car that comes to market this model year.

The German manufacturer of the Smart car showed off an electric drive version of a bicycle — the Smart Ebike Concept.

Like many production electric bicycles already on the market, the Smart Ebike is propelled by a 250-watt brushless DC motor in the rear-wheel hub and a 36-volt lithium-ion battery pack hidden in its aluminum frame.

Designed in collaboration with the Berlin-based electric-bicycle manufacturer Grace, Smart's Ebike works in conjunction with a smart phone. A dock in the center of the handlebars holds the phone, which not only activates the electric drive system but also functions as the bicycle's speedometer and GPS system. Removing the phone automatically locks the drivetrain, preventing the bike from being wheeled away by thieves.

The Smart Ebike is operated with a "muscle power/electric hybrid drive." In other words, the electric motor kicks in whenever the rider pedals.

• Subaru's plans: Subaru used the auto show to give us a look into its crystal ball. The company recently announced a new design philosophy of Confidence in Motion, and debuted the first practical application of it here with the Impreza Concept.

Tim Mahoney, Subaru's chief marketing officer, said the Impreza would be the next model that Subaru introduces, but he wouldn't say what we could expect in the way of a powertrain. He did allow that this design study was "a good hint" at what the Impreza would look like, and said the basic proportions of the concept would carry over into production.

Overall, the car is certainly larger than the current Impreza and features cleaner, more mature styling. The design maintains the unique look of Subaru in a class in which many cars are treated as little more than appliances. Look for a more production-ready version to show its face at an auto show sometime in 2011.

For extensive L.A. Auto Show coverage online, visit http://www.latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/autos

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

Times staff writers Susan Carpenter and David Undercoffler contributed to this report.

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