Automobile industry icon Lee Iacocca, one of America’s highest-profile business executives and credited with saving Chrysler from near-bankruptcy in the 1980s, has died. He was 94.
He was helpful in the creation of the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler minivan.
Iacocca’s youngest daughter confirmed he passed away of natural causes on Tuesday. He survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren. Born Lido Anthony Iacocca in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on October 15, 1924, to Italian immigrant parents, he would go on to lead two major American car companies.
Iacocca started working at Ford Motor Company in 1946 and was a major figure in the development of the Ford Mustang — the first vehicle of its kind. He was named the president of Ford in 1970 but was dismissed by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978.
“I started my life as the son of immigrants, and I worked my way up to the presidency of the Ford Motor Company,” Iacocca wrote in his 1984 autobiography. “When I finally got there, I was on top of the world. But then fate spoke to me: ‘Wait. We’re not finished with you. Now you’re going to find out what it feels like to get kicked off Mt. Everest!'”
He was then appointed by Chrysler Corp. in 1978 and became the company’s CEO in 1979. He is credited with saving the firm from bankruptcy.
Iacocca urged Congress to allow the Treasury Department to guarantee $1.5 billion in bank loans for Chrysler. Chrysler needed the bailout to survive back to back returns in the early 1980s. Chrysler paid the loans early. Treasury made money on the stock it got as part of bailout packages.
With the help of more fuel-efficient and competitive products such as the so-called K-cars — which added the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant — Chrysler became strong and successful again.
Iacocca led Chrysler during a period in which Asian and European imports first started to take an important share of the US automakers’ portion of the American car business.