Robert Lutz continues his war on plastic cladding by stripping the Chevrolet Avalanche of its protective coating.
The cladding-swathed sport utility vehicle has done well for General Motors Corp., with 15,003 units sold in the first two months of this year. But it will be the poster child for Lutz's dual crusades against costly standard equipment and what he sees as ugly design.
GM's vice chairman told stock market analysts last week that GM will save money by dropping the cladding as standard equipment in the 2003 model year. It will remain available as an option.
The move is part of Lutz's broad effort to cut standard features that do little to attract buyers. Analysts said Lutz also mentioned making anti-lock brakes optional on some models on which they now are standard.
But Lutz is giving special attention to cladding. At the Chicago auto show, Pontiac - long GM's most conspicuous user of cladding - showed several de-clad cars.
The Grand Prix G-Force was touted as the forerunner of a redesigned, unclad Grand Prix due in 2004. And Lutz effused over the cladding-free Bonneville GX/P, a special edition that will be sold in 2003. GM said it will drop cladding on all 2004 Bonnevilles, as well as the 2004 Grand Am SE.
Scott Merlis, managing director of Dredner Kleinwort Wasserstein in New York, said savings on the Avalanche alone will be significant: ``That's a lot of money for cladding. When you add it up, it's a nice new increment.''
Lutz voiced his intent to cut standard equipment early in his job. In his ``strongly held beliefs'' memo that trickled to the public last fall, Lutz argued that costly features should be made standard only if many consumers order them as options.
Many items on the standard-equipment list don't pass that test, Lutz wrote: ``Much of today's content is useless in terms of triggering purchase decisions.''