On Tuesday, former US auto executive Lee Iacocca died at the age of 94 from Parkinson’s disease. He was an iconic figure in the business world, at separate times running the Ford Motor Company and later the Chrysler Corporation. His autobiography was required reading for men in suits in the 1980s, and he was even mooted for President.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1924, Iacocca was the son of working class immigrants from Italy. He graduated high school during World War II, earned a degree in industrial engineering at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, then found time to study politics and plastics at Princeton before joining Ford as an engineer in 1946. However, he quickly shifted into sales and marketing, where his true skills lay. In 1960, he was promoted to general manager of the Ford Division. By 1970, he was named president of the entire company.
During his time at Ford, Iacocca was instrumental in bringing a number of vehicles to market, including the Mustang. Clever use of the corporate parts bin meant this sporty looking car was actually highly affordable in 1964, costing $2,400 at the time. It was an outrageous sales success, prompting rivals General Motors and Chrysler to create “pony cars” of their own.
Not all of Iacocca’s Fords were so beloved. He was also the driving force behind the Ford Pinto, which attempted to Americanize the idea of the smaller, more efficient cars that Ford Europe built. But the car had a terrible design flaw: a rear-end collision could rupture the fuel tank, resulting in a deadly fire. More than a hundred lawsuits followed, including one that brought to light an infamous internal memo, written in 1973, that conducted a cost-benefit analysis to argue for looser regulation.
Ford fired Iacocca in 1978, whereupon he moved to the top job at Chrysler. The company was struggling and had already begun selling foreign operations in an effort to keep the lights on in the North American market. Here, Iacocca engineered a turnaround. There was the K Car platform, which allowed multiple disparate models across the Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler brands to be built from common parts. The practice was already commonplace in Europe and Japan, and it’s now standard practice in the industry.
If the Mustang is Iacocca’s best-known Ford, the Minivan is probably his best-known Chrysler. Like the Mustang, the Minivan also created its own market segment. But his longer-lasting contribution to Chrysler was almost certainly the purchase of AMC in 1987. This brought Jeep under Chrysler’s corporate umbrella; today Jeep is responsible for much of the corporation’s profit.
Iacocca came out of retirement in 1999 to run EV Global Motors, an electric bicycle company. Reliant on heavy lead-acid batteries, the ebike was heavy and unreliable, and early attempts at switching to lithium-ion batteries led to several garage fires. The company lost $100 million before going out of business in 2004.
You need to login to view and post FB Comments!