Robert Lutz: All Charged Up

When he was president of Chrysler, Robert Lutz often made sparks fly. He helped pull the company back from the edge of bankruptcy in the early '90s. Now, as CEO of battery maker Exide, he's embroiled in a nasty dispute with rival Johnson Controls Inc. JCI sued Exide in late June, claiming Exide's previous top executives, including the former CEO, used bribery to win a 1994 contract to supply Sears DieHard batteries. Lutz is outraged. He believes that JCI, the U.S. market leader, is trying to sabotage Exide's pending takeover of another battery maker because Exide's market share would then rival JCI's. But what really has Lutz charged up is his contention that JCI offered to drop the suit if Exide would sell its profitable auto battery business in Europe, where JCI does little business. That's attempted extortion, fumes Lutz, who is threatening to countersue shortly. A JCI spokesman says his company tried to negotiate a fair settlement, but that Exide left it no choice but to file the bribery suit.

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