DETROIT (AP) -- Bob Lutz, a giant personality in the auto industry,is set to retire from his post at General Motors Corp. at the end of the year, the company said Monday.
The 76-year-old GM product development chief and vice chairman is credited with revamping the automaker's product line and shepherding its efforts to roll out the Chevrolet Volt electric car.
Lutz is well-known for his off-the-cuff remarks. Despite his support of the Volt, he once said his biggest worry is that the "global-climate-change mania" in Washington will be coupled with "perhaps ill-conceived ways to curb fuel use," during an automotive conference in 2007.
Lutz will be replaced by Thomas Stephens, who now is executive vice president of global powertrain and quality.
The company said in a statement that Stephens will take over the product development post and become a vice chairman April 1. Lutz will stay as a vice chairman and senior adviser until the end of the year.
GM said it is integrating its powertrain functions into their respective global GM functions, so Stephens, 60, will still have responsibility for global quality and powertrain engineering, but powertrain manufacturing will report to Gary Cowger, GM's group vice president for global manufacturing and labor relations.
GM said the changes are part of its efforts to restructure and become more efficient.
Lutz once said he would remain at GM until the company's reputation improved.
"At some point I would like to retire, and I'm not going to go until this perceptual or reputational lag is gone," Lutz said in 2007. "And I don't intend to work till I'm 90."
Lutz, who served as Chrysler's vice chairman, president and chief operating officer and headed product development there from 1986 to 1998, was largely responsible for the automaker's wild success in the 1990s, said Michael Robinet, vice president of global forecast services for auto industry consultant CSM Worldwide of Northville, Mich.
"The whole renaissance of Chrysler, a lot of it was due to products he championed through the system," Robinet said.
During that time, Chrysler came out with the new, more aggressive Ram pickup truck, vaulting the company to a much larger share of the market, Robinet said.
"He was a risk-taker, but he also had a pretty good pulse on what the public wanted and didn't want," Robinet said. "It's a sad day in Detroit. This industry will be different without Bob Lutz."
Some of those risks were outside of the auto industry. The former marine aviator crashed his personal helicopter at an Ann Arbor, Mich. airport in 1991.
Lutz, who started his career at GM in 1963 and also worked at Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG in Europe, may have made his biggest contribution to the industry by leading GM's move to globalize its vehicles, Robinet said.
Globalization of design, engineering and manufacturing saves GM about $1 billion per vehicle platform and gives it far greater ability to get cars to market faster, Robinet said.
"That was necessary medicine to really set GM up for survival in the future," Robinet said.
When GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner recruited Lutz away from his post as chairman and chief executive of battery maker Exide Technologies Corp., Lutz said he found a company hamstrung by hundreds of rules that limited design.
"The system here was really focused on stuff like that, where they'd ruin a design to get an inch more rear headroom or something," Lutz said in a December 2007 interview with The Associated Press. "The rational, functional elements were always emphasized over the aesthetic."
Lutz pushed the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS, two of GM's top sellers and symbols of the next generation of GM products. He also pushed to upgrade GM's vehicle interiors, making them at least competitive with Japanese models.
And Lutz championed the Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric car that is due in showrooms in 2010.
Even though he is the icon of American muscle cars powered by big internal combustion engines, Lutz saw the need for fuel efficiency and independence from foreign oil with the Volt, which he has promised will be able to travel up to 40 miles without using gasoline.
"He pushed it through the system," Robinet said.
GM's future and reputation, though, are still in doubt because it is living on $9.4 billion in government loans and is racing against the clock to develop a viability plan that will persuade the Treasury Department to lend the company another $4 billion.
Lutz was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and earned a bachelor's degree in production management, and master's degree in business administration from the University of California-Berkeley.
Shares of GM rose 5 cents to $2.89 in midday trading.