Lee Iacocca, Former Chrysler CEO Who Saved Carmaker From Bankruptcy, Dies At Age 94
Former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca has died at the age of 94 in Bel Air, California.
Two former Chrysler executives who worked with him, Bud Liebler and Bob Lutz, said they were told of Iacocca’s death on Tuesday by a close associate of Iacocca’s family. Liebler was the company’s former spokesman, while Lutz was formerly head of product development.
Iacocca is the son of Italian immigrants, and he made his mark on the global auto industry.
He made big achievements and overcame a huge obstacle. In his 32-year career at Ford, and then Chrysler, he helped launch some of Detroit’s best-selling and most recognizable vehicles. This includes the minivan, the Chrysler K-cars, and the Ford Escort.
In 1979, Chrysler was $5 billion in debt. Banks turned Iacocca down, but he worked with the United Auto Workers union to helped persuade the U.S. government to approve $1.5 billion in loans, which guaranteed to keep the company afloat.
The former CEO made decisions that he admitted were mistakes in TV commercials. Among his toughest decisions included wage concessions from the unions, closing or combining 20 plants, laying off thousands of workers, and even introducing new cars.
“When you’ve been kicked in the head like we have, you learn pretty quick to put first things first, and in the car business, product comes first,” Iacocca said in a 1982 commercial.
The strategy ended up working. The newly released cars at the time, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, were basic forms of transportation but were affordable, fuel efficient, and even had room for six people. They captured 20% of the market for compact cars and in 1983 the company was able to pay back its government loans, with interest, seven years early.
The following year the company introduced the minivan.
Iacocca was not only famous for being the CEO of Chrysler, but he was also known for being a media star. His peak in popularity came in the ’80s, when Chrysler released TV ads featuring him with the catchy tagline: “If you can find a better car, buy it!”
He also wrote two best-selling books: Iacocca: An Autobiography, which was released in 1984 and Talking Straight, released in 1988.
He was so famous, that he was even courted as a potential presidential candidate in the 1980s.
A January 1987 Gallup Poll of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 1988 showed that Iacocca was preferred by 14%, which was only second to Colorado Sen. Gary Hart. Although, the former CEO continually said no to the “draft Iacocca” talk.