Cigar-chewing, straight-talking former chairman of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca, who became an icon in the 1980s died at his home in California, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. He was 94 years old.
Iacocca was credited with saving Chrysler in the late 1970s and early 1980s by first securing concessions from the United Auto Workers to guarantee loans through the federal government, and then by stringing together a series of hits for Chrysler that included the K-Car and the first minivans. In 1987, Iacocca led Chrysler's efforts to buy Jeep from American Motors Corp. for $1.5 billion. In 2017, Wall Street analysts valued Jeep at roughly $32 billion.
Among auto industry execs, Iacocca's straightforward demeanor and commercial appearances helped him stand out among his contemporaries.
Iacocca was perhaps most remembered for his phrase: "If you can find a better car, buy it!" and bestselling books that included "Talking Straight," which discussed American ingenuity at a time when many feared economic takeover from Japan. Iacocca's long-time No. 2 at Chrysler, Bob Lutz, rose to fame for his similar straightforward style but the two famously split due to their rocky relationship. Lutz told Automotive News that the two had reconciled in later years.
"(Iacocca) played a historic role in steering Chrysler through crisis and making it a true competitive force. He was one of the great leaders of our company and the auto industry as a whole. He also played a profound and tireless role on the national stage as a business statesman and philanthropist," Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said in a statement. "Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today—one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit."
Even before his tenure at the top of Chrysler, Iacocca was a star at Ford. In 1960 at 36, he was vice president and general manager for Ford and convinced other executives to push ahead with the Mustang in 1964 as an affordable coupe that would appeal to the hearts—and wallets—of America. In 1970, he was named president of Ford and led the company until 1978, when he was fired by Henry Ford II. Chrysler plucked Iacocca, where he stayed until 1992.
Iacocca made several appearances in advertisements after he retired from Chrysler, and criticized the automaker's merger with Daimler and its 2009 bailout during the global financial crisis in later years.