It should have been an omen. The keynote speaker for the 2009 Los Angeles Auto show was supposed to be Frederick “Fritz” Henderson. His name was spelled incorrectly on the schedule: “Henerson”. It should have been an omen.
What was supposed to be a turnaround week for General Motors turned out to be tumultuous at best. General Motors as we know it started falling apart less than 24 hours before Henderson was to start his speech. After his speech, he had media lined up the rest of the day, back to back.
Then the news came: Edward Whitacre Jr, General Motor’s Chairman, announced that Fritz Henderson had resigned. Then came the emotionally charged message on GM’s Facebook page from Fritz’s daughter, Sarah. Dropping the F-bomb in every sentence, she defended her Father and denied that he quit, or that he would ever quit.
It was announced that Robert “Bob” Lutz was going to give the keynote speech. Lutz’s speech was sprinkled with humor, saying that he wouldn’t give us any information about what happened, until he published his next book.
He acknowledged surprise and sadness about Henderson leaving, after having guided the company through bankruptcy. Lutz pleaded with us to stick to questions about the product.
Here is the video of Lutz after the scrum. I only included the questions he answered. There were more that he said he would not answer.
I was to have an interview with Lutz at 1:30. At 1:09 he told me Whitacre had called him back. I had two minutes to ask questions. Instead of risking asking questions I was pretty sure he wouldn’t answer I stuck to questions I knew he would.
Since returning to Detroit Lutz has lost his responsibilities for marketing and communication, but will stay on as Vice Chairman, acting as an adviser on design and global product.
Here is the video of Lutz talking after the speech, in the scrum, and 2 minutes before he leaves the 2009 Los Angeles Auto show.