Lee Iacocca, a legend in the automotive industry, has passed away at 94 in his Bel-Air home in California from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Born Lido Anthony Iacocca on October 15, 1924, the Pennsylvania native graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem in 1945 and then went on to receive a master’s degree in engineering from Princeton University in 1946. Soon after, he was hired by the Ford Motor Company where he quickly proved that he was better suited for sales.
Iacocca gained prominence in Ford when a local campaign he started as assistant sales manager for Philadelphia in 1956 went national. He was then called up to Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters where he quickly moved up the ranks. On November 10, 1960, Iacocca was named vice-president and general manager of the Ford Division; in January 1965, Ford’s vice-president for its car and truck group; in 1967, executive vice-president; and president on December 10, 1970.
It was under Iacocca’s watch that Ford developed and produced some of its most iconic cars to-date, like the Mustang which earned him the nickname ‘Father of the Mustang,’ and the Escort.
A sour point in Iacocca’s tenure with Ford was the creation of the Pinto. Designed to compete against the small, fuel-efficient Japanese cars that were coming into the American market at the onset of the 1970s, the Pinto had a design flaw where its fuel-tank filler would break off and the fuel tank itself to be punctured in a rear-end collision, resulting in injuries and fatalies. In the end, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos and Mercury Bobcats–which were essentially rebadged and upgraded Pintos–in 1978 and faced approximately 117 lawsuits in relation to the model.
Iacocca’s tenure in Ford ended when he was fired on July 13, 1978, by Ford chairman Henry Ford II due to personal conflicts.
Iacocca didn’t stay unemployed for long as he soon joined rival carmaker Chrysler as its chief executive officer. Iacocca joined Chrsyler when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, and it was under his watch that the carmaker was first bailed out by the United States government.
With Iacocca at the helm, Chrysler’s production methods were streamlined by sharing more parts and platforms between products. Iacocca also introduced the concept of minivans to the American automotive industry with the launch of the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan in 1984–an idea that Henry Ford II shot down when Iacocca first broached the idea during his time in Ford.
Under Iacocca’s watch, Chrysler also acquired AMC in 1987, and with it came the popular and profitable Jeep brand.
Iacocca retired as president, CEO, and chairman of Chrysler at the end of 1992 although he, along with celebrities Jason Alexander and Snoop Dogg, served as pitchmen to promote Chrysler’s sales program in 2005.
Iacocca is survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren.
Here’s Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s statement regarding Iaccoca’s passing:
“The Company is saddened by the news of Lee Iacocca’s passing. He 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.
“Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today – one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit. We are committed to ensuring that Chrysler, now FCA, is such a company, an example of commitment and respect, known for excellence as well as for its contribution to society. His legacy is the resiliency and unshakeable faith in the future that live on in the men and women of FCA who strive every day to live up to the high standards he set.”