Call General Motors car czar Bob Lutz skeptical about the likelihood that Robert Nardelli, the Former General Electric and Home Depot executive tapped as Chrysler’s new CEO, can get the carmaker humming again. Nardelli has a mixed track record. He did wonders for two major business units at GE. He also doubled revenue and boosted profits at Home Depot before leaving the company with customer service issues and a stagnant stock price. When asked about Nardelli while showing off the new Chevrolet HHR SS in Detroit yesterday, Lutz said, “The naïve belief on Wall Street that we’re a bunch of dunderheads and if you just get some GE guy to come in with fresh eyes, he will make the tough calls and turn it around … we’ll see.”
Lutz was less skeptical when Ford hired former Boeing Co. executive Alan Mulally as its CEO, but he was hardly effusive. Lutz’s point back then was that it’s tough for any executive, no matter how smart they are, to come from a business-to-business industry like selling jets to airlines and figure out what car buyers want. Nardelli does have experience with consuemrs at Home Depot. But his biggest successes at GE came selling locomotives to railroads and turbine engines to power utilities and other businesses.
Lutz has a point. Few, if any interlopers have parachuted into Detroit from other industries and succeeded. James Nance joined Packard in 1952 from appliance maker Hotpoint Inc. He couldn’t stop the now-dead luxury carmaker’s swoon. In the ‘90s, GM and Ford hired a slew of marketers from elsewhere—the most notorious being former and current Bausch and Lomb executive Ron Zarrella. None of the hires made an impact. Nardelli will definitely make his mark on Chrysler. Cerberus has wisely surrounded him with a slew of Chrysler veterans to give him advice. Like Lutz says, we’ll see if it works.