Bob Lutz Strikes Again: Automakers Should Just Give Up, “It’s All Over”

MAY 1 2018 BY EVANNEX 65


Bob Lutz may be the ultimate car guy – he sat at the top table at all of the Big Three automakers, and he was the driving force behind the Chevy Volt. Lutz was a GM exec in 2008 when he heard about the Tesla Roadster, and reasoned that “if some Silicon Valley startup can solve this equation, no one is going to tell me anymore that [an electric car] is unfeasible.”

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

Above: Bob Lutz (Image: Charged)

Lutz famously said that “the electrification of the automobile is a foregone conclusion,” and that he would always owe Tesla a debt of gratitude for having “broken the ice.” In recent years, however, he has become a harsh critic of Tesla.

When Lutz speaks, the auto industry listens, and when he spoke at SAE International’s recent annual meeting (WCX) in Detroit, he had unwelcome news to deliver: people who like to drive, and car companies that rely on branding, have another 25 years at the most. After that, “it’s all over.” Humans will travel in standardized automated vehicles with little differentiation and no soul.

Lutz’s speech recapitulated an article he wrote for Automotive News last November, in which he sadly concluded that “we are approaching the end of the automotive era.” He predicts that vehicle autonomy will gradually take over more and more of the driving task, and that “the end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway.”

Automated driving will erode the notions of performance, luxury, and mystique on which automakers build their brands. The autonomous vehicle will become a commodity, much like a subway train or a bus – just a module that gets us from one place to another. That will mean the end of automotive brands as we know them. “The OEM is the link in the chain that is the most vulnerable,” Lutz said. “Do you really care who made the subway car?”

Above: Bob Lutz discusses his speech at SAE International’s recent annual meeting, WCX, in Detroit (Youtube: WebsEdgeEducation)

“The car as we know it will still be with us, in declining numbers, for a few more decades,” Lutz said, predicting that enthusiasts will meet at off-road tracks to have some fun with their retro toys, much as lovers of horses or sailboats do today. As for car dealers, they’re pretty much toast.

As is the case in today’s smartphone ecosystem, the fun and profit will be enjoyed by the companies that package and market the service to consumers, not the ones who manufacture the hardware. Automakers that can “move downstream and get into value creation” may be able to adapt to the brave new world. “General Motors sees the handwriting on the wall. It has created Maven and has bought into Cruise Automation and Lyft,” Lutz wrote in November. “It doesn’t want to be the handset provider. It wants to be the company that creates the value and captures the value, and it is making the right moves to be around when the transition occurs.”

As much as he regrets the end of an era, Lutz seems to believe that automation will be a good thing for society on the whole. He told the SAE engineers that automated driving will deliver “a vast improvement to national productivity” as traffic jams and accidents become rare events, and will eliminate perhaps 90% of the 40,000 annual traffic deaths in the US.

Above: Lutz has some strong views about the future of autonomous vehicles and how it will impact the auto industry (Image: Automotive News)

The time has come to leave the driving to machines. “Traffic is getting to the point where mobility is reduced,” says Lutz, and human drivers cause “enormous loss of time and efficiency, not to mention lives.”

People will always need to get around, and new technology is poised to deliver a more efficient way to do it. “The need is societal,” Lutz said, “and it is getting harder and harder for automobiles to fulfill that need.” Autonomous vehicles are necessary and inevitable, he concluded, but “are they gonna be fun? Absolutely not.”


Written by: Charles Morris; Sources: SAE InternationalAutomotive News

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

Categories: General

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

65 Comments on "Bob Lutz Strikes Again: Automakers Should Just Give Up, “It’s All Over”"

newest oldest most voted

Why use an Internal Combustion Engine that cost 3 to 4 times more to run than an electric car with level 5 autonomous functionality? The reason for fleets to chose EV or ICE is purely economical. We all know what money means to shareholders of large companies in the US.

If it goes like that?

Google, and Apple? I’d say payday. At some point the thing that will bind people to the ride sharing service is their smartphone. So those two will dominate ride sharing.

Amazon? Again payday. Lowered cost on deliveries means even more people will use online delivery.

GM, Ford, FCA, but also Tesla will have to find a way to compete, or will be demoted to suppliers. The oil companies will transform, recycling and refining carbon products will always be needed (clothes, medicine, plastic…), or go down.

That’s what could happen. But that’s just one possibility. Maybe people will still want their own cars, but just value things differently. And who knows if smartphones will still be relevant in 10 years?

What Bob doesn’t get is that in road charging and or better battery technology will bury the the ICE engine sooner than he thinks. When Governments mandate it is amazing what can happen. Even in Communist China when they are choking on polluted air are heading in the right direction – way faster than the USA.

I agree with him.

Once the full autonomy is here, the car will become “transportation pods” that nobody cares and it will just all look the same or very close and it becomes a functional pod for people to travel in.

People don’t care how their bus or train or subway car or even cabs looks like. They just want to ride it in comfort, safety and low cost… At that point, everything that automaker depends on (brands, image, reputation…etc) will all go out of window. It will just becomes a commodity…

Electrify vehicles will just make that day come quicker.

I agree with him but it will take 30 -40 years for it can happen. People love the freedom to drive anywhere at anytime that is the convenience of owning a automobile

No one will take that away, that’s not what this is about.

That’s definitely what this is about. Those who see cars representing personal freedom will never, ever give up owning a personal car, even if it’s fully autonomous.

People once thought, “nobody will ever want to drag a phone with them all day, be constantly reachable, with no privacy or freedom to be alone”.

Now we all do it willingly.

People love a lot of BS. But as it becomes illegal BS tends to die out quickly.

Yeah sure, just like drugs, eh?

in 1900 in NY, people said, we love horses and never going to move to cars. 13 years later, 99 % move to cars.
let’s see what happen in 13 years(2031).

People DO care or there wouldn’t be First Class/Business Class/Premium seats on airplanes.
There are people that will pay more for a private or semi-private ride share with luxury seating – more room, etc, vs. the “people mover” with hard bench seats that stops multiple times to pick-up and let off riders.
They’ll be happy to pay more. Uber already has different classesof rides you can order up and I don’t see that changing. Will it be tied to a particular vehicle brand? It will if someone figures out how (which I find likely). In the US at least, “Cadillac” is still synonymous with luxury and quality – even if their vehicles aren’t so much anymore. That screams OPPORTUNITY for GM.

Gary (and Bob) is right.
In the era of fully autonomous vehicles, I’d want my pod to be luxurious. I no longer care about 0-60 times because there are no longer idiots on the road that I may want to pass. Just like cellphones, we’d have hardware choices but the hardware manufacturers will fight over 5 cents of profit while the service providers make big bucks.

I can’t wait for the day. All these fools with ostentatious car ownership and mindless, marketing fueled fascianation…
A car is just an object the gets you where you want to go. The less you need to think about it, the better.

There’s already Uber Black, to dispell the idea all these theoretical cars will be the same. Then there’s how many years, or >decade before autonomous arrives. But what Ford’s been hinting at, which I give rare agreement to, is that cities are the limited domain where all this happens. Diver assist technologies will likely be the height of between-city driving, but true auto pilot will be the domain of the “last mile”. Cars, possilbly even autonomous single-payer pods, will be driven out for the sake of space and mobility.

The biggest threat to the AV is banning cars. EVs have a much brighter future.

Well I disagree with you both. Throwing your tools on the ground and giving up is just stupid. Instead, adapt. Don’t pull a Kodak. Think “how can we get in on this new game?” instead.

Klutz is 80+, HE should give it up.

What about Bob?

He is the Gift from GM that keeps on giving!!
I personally can’t wait ’till he yells at me from his wheelchair on his porch, to get the heck off his damn front lawn!

I don’t understand that logic. He’s 80+ so he should give it up? I think he’s opinionated and I don’t always agree with him but his age and experience shouldn’t be dismissed. If a person if healthy and 80+ they have a ton to offer. They have make mistakes, and have a wealth of knowledge. I hope when I’m 80+ I don’t give it up.

Actually when you are 80+ and begin to develop dementia is when you run for president.

“(cough) seventy (cough).”

I know 80 year olds who have more upstairs that 20 somethings. YOU for instance.

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES will definitely significantly displace human driving including paid drivers (taxi, UBER, truck fleet, etc.) same as other forms of machine automation have displaced human labor… but I believe a large portion of the population will continue owning their own cars and/or enter into a car appliance subscription model (similar to smart phones bundled with mobile data plan).

If my Model S was fully autonomous capable I would not have less a desire to own it because of that feature availability… likely the opposite.

The big challenge for traditional car makers (including their dealer franchise networks) is that for various legacy reasons they are not capable of being “all-in” on the EV front so they are in real danger of being beaten by emerging EV competitors that are not constrained by legacy constructs.

“If my Model S was fully autonomous capable I would not have less a desire to own it because of that feature availability… likely the opposite.”

What would you like about your Model S so much, that you would like to own it? Why not just rent a much cheaper (or even equivalent, if you really need to) vehicle every time you have to go somewhere? Do you know anyone using Uber black?

Since electricity and maintenance is cheap, the cost of the car is the major factor for the price of driving. So would you really pay 3 time as much for the Model S, over a Nissan Leaf on every single drive?

R.S. said: “What would you like about your Model S so much, that you would like to own it? Why not just rent a much cheaper (or even equivalent, if you really need to) vehicle every time you have to go somewhere? Do you know anyone using Uber black?“

I’ve used Uber Black several times and use Uber X often especially when traveling… yet I enjoy owning my own car.

I own my own home but often also rent a home or hotel… back of napkin math tells me it’s more economical and convenient to sell my home and only rent… but consumers are not now nor will they in the future be solely driven (pun intended) by rational math.

You can see the extreme example of this by visiting your nearest boat marina… it makes no economical sense to own your own boat when you can day charter a better boat at much less cost… yet the boat marina is fully occupied by boats (large and small) individually owned that often get few actual use days.

Yep, you hit on the rule of the three Fs. If it Floats, Flies or Fornicates you are better off leasing it!

Actually, I used to sailboat a lot, and I checked into a lease. Unlike cars, boats (of reasonable size) are virtually impossible to find leases for. There is just no market for it. You are better off purchasing, then selling again when done with it.

Whenever I see these discussions that hinge on what the car biz will look like once we have truly autonomous, I’m reminded of the old line, “People don’t want drills, they want holes. They buy drills purely as a way to make holes.” (Don’t lecture me on the things one can do with an electric drill besides make holes. I know. It’s a generalization. Go with it.)

I’m also reminded of the old Larry Niven stories, in which we have dirt cheap teleportation technology, so no one drives anywhere. But there are still a handful of wealthy car aficionados who drive gasoline powered cars on the (privately maintained) LA freeway and PA turnpike.

Yes, we’re going to see some incredible changes as both EVs and AVs come to dominate the market and transportation. And yes, the people paying attention (like my fellow plug-heads on this site) have figured out the broad strokes of those changes. But no one — not us, not Lutz, not Musk, not the people running the major car companies — has it all figured out. There will be some gob smacking surprises. Buckle up, kids.

I have 3 drills…. but I mostly make holes with my CNC machine now…..

go rent yourself a drill. You will get an education. Not only would it be a hassle to rent a drill every time you needed one, but because nobody rents common drills, you will only find specialty high end units like large hammer drills or coring rigs. And if you rent power equipment for a couple of days, you will easily pay the value of the item in just rent, considering it is a highly used item with far less value than new.

There’s a lot of lessons in power tool rental for cars. And people still own power tools.

If Lutz is still feisty enough to raise some Hell Let him have his fun contradicting himself . He thinks he knows it all and is making Less sense as he gets Higher Up in years.

The first thing that Bob Lutz has said that I entirely agree with.

Oh, wait…. it’s the 2nd thing. I drive a Volt.

True that; I was looking up the temperature in hell (145C by the way).

I don’t see why autonomy will turn cars into identical pods, quite the opposite, I think it will turn cars into the modern equivalent of a private Pullman cars. Instead of selling cars based on horsepower they will be sold on comfort and luxury. The industry that will be most disrupted will be airlines not automobile makers. If a car is self driving you can go much farther then is practical today. If your car’s seats could recline flat, you could hop in the car in the evening and go to sleep, arriving a thousand miles away by morning. Today a trip like that mostly likely would be done by air, but if you could avoid the horrors of an airport and do it in your own car wouldn’t that be better.

He’s probably right including the ‘few more decades’ comment. In the meantime the competitive landscape will move away from luxury/performance/status to carbon efficiency/safety-autonomy/connectivity. No wonder BMW and MB are pressing electrification so hard. Tesla has all the bases covered plus their own unique features and customer experience. Just a few production and financial hurdles to clear.

Bob states the obvious. Beautiful and desirable vehicles will be for recreation only and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Horses are no longer required for work and transport and yet, there are likely more horses today than have ever been.

From article: “Bob Lutz Strikes Again: Automakers Should Just Give Up, “It’s All Over””

Lutz was spot-on and forward thinking for his prediction years ago that EV’s will replace ICE. What Lutz failed to predict is that for traditional car makers the transition to making and selling EVs is much more involved than transitioning from an ICE to electric power train.

The well established horse drawn carriage business was not successful in replacing the horse with ICE…

He’s right.

50 years from now, the auto industry will 5 to 10 times smaller than it is today.

Can’t wait for Waymo to hit our city. No more crowed bus, and who needs a car!

Bob Lutz is off the beam. so it makes no difference if the vehicle is ice or battery powered? Really? How ridiculous. He should have hung it up years ago.
You see Bob, Ford is cancelling most of their line of cars because there is not much demand for them. It has little to do with autonomy it’s just you can get something better for less money.

You try so hard but you don’t understand.
There’s somethin happening, but you don’t know what it is, Do you Mr. Lutz.

Any guesses on when General Motors will change its name to General Mobility?

Yes, life in the 22nd century with be somewhat different than it is now. But for a few more decades we’ll still be in the 21st century. People in the 22nd century will have to deal with their own sets of problems. But for now I can still drive my electric car myself, and autonomous tests so far are much more dangerous than humans driving. This should reverse sometime in the indefinite future, and when that happens Insurance companies will basically kill individual driving. But until then I’m driving my car myself.

I would give up my cars today if it was cheaper and as accessible to do subscription. At least make them cheaper and people will come.
There are some issues that need to be addressed, a major one being how you evacuate everyone in case of emergency….not that everyone owning a car helps as we have seen with the past hurricanes, what a mess the exit routes became.

Bob’s your uncle… as in Drunk Uncle from SNL 😉
He does have a point though, the disruption is imminent and it is real. Those than are able and willing to adapt will thrive, those stuck in the status quo (many of us are in various ways) have another thing coming.

“in which he sadly concluded that “we are approaching the end of the automotive era.” He predicts that vehicle autonomy will gradually take over more and more of the driving task, and that “the end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway.””

WHAT?! There’s nothing sad about this. It’ll be a dream come true. No more people killing each-other and themselves with vehicles.

If it ever came to fruition (which I doubt), it would be sad for the millions of enthusiasts out there if car companies stopped producing cars that you can actually drive yourself.

People can find something less ostentatious and dumb to be enthusiastic about.
Steam engine cars aren’t allowed on roads, and people stopped caring about it.

That’s your personal opinion that it’s “dumb”. Fact of the matter is that car enthusiasm (despite the “smartphones over cars” mantra) is thriving even among young people. It’s easy for you to say as someone who doesn’t personally enjoy cars (Which begs the question – why are you on a blog about cars?). But the simple fact of the matter is that millions of people enjoy cars, motor sports, etc. Where there is a demand, there will be a supply. My theory is that in the event that all road-based cars are self driving, and human drivers are banned (which, again, I have my doubts about as is), race tracks, off road parks, etc, will boom in popularity.

I base my opinions on reality.
Millions of people doesn’t make it less stupid. It’s just mindless waste for people who eat up every marketing BS, and are conditioned to buy whatever trendy garbage year after year.

Will autonomous cars replace human drivers, in 25 years or so? Well, I certainly hope so! How much more relaxing and safer it will be when we can just sit back or lie back and relax, instead of having to deal with the hassle of rush hour driving, or trying to see in awful driving conditions, such as driving at night when it’s raining? Now, this thing about personal car ownership coming to an end just because cars will all (or nearly all) be autonomous… I’m not buying it. People aren’t going to give up the convenience of having a personal car available for their own use on a moment’s notice just because human chauffeurs and human taxi drivers are replaced with robots! In fact, I can easily see that some people who now don’t own a car because they can’t drive: the elderly, the disabled, and people who have lost their license to drive because of drunk driving or the like — those people will have an opportunity to own their own car again, when they can have a robot chauffeur drive them around! And if people continue to own their own cars, then we’re not going to see… Read more »

Nope i dont see it. Skynet will active and we will blown to pieces unless we make a deal with it them

It strikes me that the people who predict these things are either past child bearing age or don’t yet have children. Have you ever tried to fly with kids? It’s terrible. Every try visiting a city with kids via public transportation? Arguably this is worse. Ever tried packing your stuff and kids into a minivan and set off for errands or travel? Still a chore, but vastly easier, and often fun. And since it’s you vehicle, you can leave most of the stuff in the van, since again it’s yours, and it stays where you put it instead of driving off to service someone else as soon as you get out. So now take your average mom, who’s got to run errands with the kids today. You think she wants to hail a ride, pack up the car seats, the stroller, the bags, snacks, etc, every time she needs to go out? She either has to pay more to have that “pod” sit at the store and wait for her, or she has to unpack the whole damn thing again, and take all that stuff with her into the store, and repeat the process when she’s ready to leave. Can… Read more »

To a degree, he’s right. However, it’s quite possible that we’ll see platforms with bodies that can be swapped out for individual tastes. I know I’d like an autonomous EV, but I’d also like to be able to drop my favorite Mustang design onto the platform, until I want to switch to another Mustang design, or a 1955 Thunderbird.

I take what he says with a spoonful of salt. Enthusiasts aren’t regular commuters. Regular commuters rarely buy sports cars for their “intended purpose”. Sports cars are created for enthusiasts. Racing video games like Forza, Gran Turismo, and Need for Speed are being bought in large numbers by the younger generation, turning them into enthusiasts. As long as there are car enthusiasts, there will be human drivers. And as long as there is a demand for human driven cars, there will be a supply. It’s hard to make predictions about the future, but he sounds eerily similar to the futurists of 1950s promising that flying cars are “Just a few years off!”, and that “Roads will be a thing of the past!”

He’s been saying basically the same thing for thirty years. Of course thirty years ago people weren’t talking about autonomous vehicles. His point then was that if auto manufacturers couldn’t put their logos on their vehicles all the luxury auto makers would disappear.

This is the same point. Once you move from status symbol to transportation the reason to own a status symbol disappears, leaving you with all steak and no sizzle.

No doubt some traditional ownership patterns will remain, but the money will be in transportation services. Sales to individuals will be niche or work related.

Nobody drives a train, but personal rail cars are still a thing, a luxury item. If you want to drive long distances, or visit national parks, etc., you are going to want a private vehicle. There is a rental RV market, and it has not removed the sales RV market. I’d be ready to believe that automation will take over, in decades, but not that people will give up private ownership. That is a new york/san fransico model that does not fit everyone.

What exactly is not fitting? The car will be at your disposal whenever needed. Isn’t that the same? If you are sentimentally attached to that piece of metal than yes, that’s not the same.

The prospect of me at the wheel at say age 80?…not good at all for society. Looking forward to doing my part to keep the roads safe : ).

There’s something Bob Lutz said that I knew all along. He said, ‘original equipment manufacturers didn’t started building electric cars because they wanted to but because they had to’. Some of them are nice compliance cars, but they are all compliance cars.

I can’t disagree with his macroscopic view. It is the commoditization of autos. However, I wouldn’t say they should all throw in the towel, except for perhaps GM. Look at memory chips – certainly a commodity product, but companies are still making money. It will just be harder to make money.

You can always count on Bob to be provocative.

I hope he’s right and I can’t wait for it. I’ll be the one with a wonderful sports car garaged at a nearby track, and that’s where I’ll do all my driving.

It will happen – a matter of costs. The cost of owning and parking a human controlled car will be so prohibitive through high insurance and charges along with the younger generations lack of willingness to be car enthusiasts will force the hand of the people. With ever increasing traffic issues in cities the only way forward will be to automate it on a massive scale. I’m glad I still live in a generation to self drive, but can see the utter incompetence of fellow human monkeys steadily increasing to point it is not so much fun as it used to be.

old guy with old ideas. The move will be fast and furious, the technology for Autonomous and Electric will be ready by 2021 because will be cheap and safe. after that, it will take 5 to 10 years to move everything to electric, (Bus, Trucks, Cars, Airplanes, Trains.) These companies that don’t make the move will be obsolete.