who created the iconic Ford Mustang and later in his career rescued Chrysler from bankruptcy, has died, his foundations and Ford Motor Company confirmed Tuesday. He was 94.
Iacocca's daughter told The Washington Post the cause of death was complications from Parkinson's disease.
"Lee Iacocca was really bigger than life, and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the automotive industry and our country," said Ford Executive Cariman Bill Ford. "Lee played a central role in the creation of the Mustang. On a personal note, I always appreciate how encouraging I am at the beginning of my career. He was outstanding and will be missed."
In his 32-year career at Ford and then Chrysler, Iacocca helped launch some of Detroit's best-selling and most significant cars, including the minivan, Chrysler K cars and Ford Escort. He also spoke against what he believed unfair trading practices of Japanese automakers.
Iacocca was one of the first well-known CEOs and even fled for president in the late 1980s before ever being a businessman president – until House Speaker Tip O & # 39;
"And I said," Tip, what do you think I'm running for president? "" Iacocca recalled "Sunday morning" in 2007. "And he said," Of what? "Typically Irish, you know, he laughed. He said," Are you crazy, you have to be nuts. You are a businessman . You don't have the temperament for it. "
Iacocca, who later fought for former President Bush in 2000 and then John Kerry in 2004, said that weekend, he returned the campaign money he had raised.
"I knew my strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn't" I've been a good president. "He said.
The son of Italian immigrants, Iacocca reached a celebrity level that was matched by few automatic opportunities. On top of his popularity in the 80s, he was known for his TV ads and catchy tagline: "If you find a better car, buy it!" He wrote two best-selling books and was claimed as a potential presidential candidate.
But he will be best remembered as the blunt-talking, cigar-chomping Chrysler boss who helped engineer with a great corporate turnaround.
Bud Liebler, who worked for Iacocca for a decade at Chrylser, said he had a greater than life presence that ordered attention. "He sucked the air out of the room when he walked into it," Liebler said. He always had something to say. He was the leader.
In recent years, Iacocca has been fighting against Parkinson's disease, but Liebler was not sure what caused his death.
He remembers that Iacocca could condemn employees if they did something he didn't like, but a few minutes later it would be as if nothing had happened.
"He used to beat me up, sometimes in public," remembered Liebler. When people asked how he could handle it, Liebler would answer, "He's coming over it."
Liebler said that Iacocca is the last of an era of brash, charismatic leaders who could produce results. "Lee made money. He went to Washington and made all those crazy promises so he delivered them," Liebler said.
In 1979, Chrysler flew into $ 5 billion of debt. It had an inflated production system that appeared to gas guzzlers that the audience would not have.
When banks knocked him down, Iacocca and United Auto Workers helped the Union persuade the government to approve $ 1.5 billion in loan guarantees that kept the number 3 domestic automaker floating.
Iacocca distorted wage concessions from the union, closed or consolidated 20 plants, laid by thousands of workers and introduced new cars. In television commercials, he admitted Chrysler's mistake, but insisted that the company had changed.
"When you've been kicked in the head as we have, you learn quite quickly to put first things first, and in the automotive industry, the product comes first," Iacocca said as he walked through an auto plant in a 1982 advertisement.
The strategy worked. The Boxy K cars – Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant – were boring, easy transport. But they were affordable, fuel efficient and had room for six. In 1981, they captured 20% of the market for compact cars. In 1983, Chrysler paid back its public loans, with interest, seven years early.
The following year, Iacocca introduced the minivan and created a new market that helped the company reach new heights of profitability.
Turnaround and Iacocca's bravado made him a media star. His "Iacocca: An Autobiography", published in 1984, and his "Talking Straight", published in 1988, were best sellers. He even came to "Miami Vice."
A January 1987 Gallup Poll of Potential Democratic Presidential Candidates for 1988 showed that Iacocca was preferred by 14%, others only for Colorado Sen. Gary Hart. He continually said no to the "draft of the Iacocca" speech.
Also during that time, he led the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation which presided over the renovation of the statue, completed in 1986, and the reopening of nearby Ellis Island as an immigration museum in 1990.