GM's Lutz Says Task Force Should Be Permanent; Expresses Doubt About Fiat-Opel Deal.

GM’s vice chairman Bob Lutz said Thursday that he hopes that the White House auto industry task force becomes a permanent entity in some form. “It’s the first time in a long time that the industry has had the ear of the administration.”

Lutz noted that China has an auto industry ministry and that Europeean countries, Korea and Japan have industrial ministries with auto industry sections. The vice chairman, who is retiring this year, said “it’s not as if we can go to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admninistration) or EPA with issues and problems…those are regulatory agencies.”

“That has left the industry to go from pillar to post trying to get Congresspeople and Senators who have auto plants in their states to listen to us. Lawmakers who do not have auto industry assets in their states are not much interested in the issues of the auto industry.”

Lutz also said he would not assume that Italian automaker Fiat is the odds on favorite to strike an alliance with GM on its European Opel division. Though Fiat has been talking to the German government and GM about conditions for Fiat’s investment in GM, many analysts have wondered how such a deal would work because Fiat will be running Chrysler, and GM and Chrysler remain rivals.

Lutz said that a deal for Opel would not be a sale no matter what, but rather a deeply integrated product development alliance with a partner holding equity in Opel. “That would be very complicated to do with Fiat,” said Lutz.