By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - Bob Lutz, the outspoken former product development czar at General Motors, has been hired as a part-time adviser to the top U.S. automaker.
Lutz, 79, retired from GM in 2010. A charismatic figure known for his blunt criticism of GM's worst cars and slow-moving bureaucracy, he both questioned global warming and pushed for the development of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.
During a 47-year career in the auto industry, Lutz also held senior positions at Ford Motor Co, Chrysler and BMW.
Lutz left as GM's head of product development after the company's restructuring in a government-funded bankruptcy and before its initial public offering of stock. At the time, he had clashed with then-Chief Executive Ed Whitacre.
Since leaving GM, Lutz has continued to meet with current product development chief Mary Barra on an informal basis.
His new consulting post formalizes that arrangement and will make him available to other GM executives as well, GM spokesman Jay Cooney said.
"There's not a topic we don't expect him to have opinion on," Cooney said. "We expect him to give us a fair assessment on any issue that we bring to him. He's outspoken, and he tells it as it is."
In addition to shepherding the development of the Volt, Lutz also pushed GM to develop better interiors on the Malibu sedan and the new Cruze. Those vehicles are credited with helping change the automaker's reputation for skimping on investment in smaller and lower-margin vehicles.
Lutz once declared global warming a "crock of s**t." He was also unstinting in his criticism of what he saw as corner-cutting in GM engineering. He once said that operating a turn signal in a Chevy from early in the past decade felt like "breaking a chicken bone."
Lutz began his auto career in 1963 at GM and left after a decade to spend 12 years each with Ford and then Chrysler.
He rejoined GM in 2001 at the invitation of then-CEO Rick Wagoner and was named president of North American operations. He later became head of product development.
Lutz, who was born in Zurich and maintains a home in Switzerland, was a U.S. Marine Corps jet pilot in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
At GM, he was known for commuting by helicopter from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the automaker's Warren, Michigan, technical center.
Earlier this year, Lutz published "Car Guys Vs Bean Counters," a memoir of his time at GM that chronicles how the automaker allowed short-term financial considerations to trump investment in vehicle quality and design.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by John Wallace)