DETROIT - General Motors Co Vice Chairman Bob Lutz will retire from the automaker effective May 1, people briefed on the plans said on Wednesday.

Lutz, 78, had been serving as a senior adviser to GM Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre after shelving retirement plans to take charge of the automaker's marketing after it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009.

An outspoken executive who both challenged global warming and championed GM's all-electric Volt, Lutz is credited with revitalizing GM's product development efforts after being hired by former GM CEO Rick Wagoner in 2001.

Lutz had also been a senior executive at Chrysler Corp, Ford Motor Co and BMW.

The announcement comes a day after GM shook up its sales and marketing operations in its home market for the third time in five months.

Lutz was charged with overhauling GM's marketing efforts under former CEO Fritz Henderson, but he appeared to have been sidelined by Whitacre, a former AT&T executive brought in by the Obama administration.

In late February, Whitacre named Stephen Girsky, a former investment banker, as special adviser and vice chairman in charge of corporate strategy, a move that raised questions about the tenure and role of Lutz.

A cigar-smoking former fighter pilot and collector of military jets, Lutz had been a backer of high-horsepower performance cars through his career and oversaw the development of the Dodge Viper during his stint at Chrysler.

But at GM his biggest splash was the development of the Volt, a plug-in electric car scheduled to roll out later this year that became a cornerstone of GM's effort to reinvent itself and show it could compete on hybrid technology.

In 2006, Lutz assembled a team of engineers and designers to develop the concept version of the Volt that the automaker showed off at the 2007 Detroit auto show.

The goal, Lutz and others involved in the project have said, was to create an environmentally friendly halo car that would challenge the prestige of the market-leading Prius hybrid from Toyota Motor Corp.

Nicknamed Maximum Bob for his larger-than-life persona in the auto industry, Lutz had raised eyebrows and earned a quiet reprimand from Wagoner when in February 2008 when he dismissed global warming as a total crock of shit.

He later said that his personal views on the issue had no bearing on GM's commitment to build environmentally friendly vehicles.

(Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Steve Orlofsky)