Bob Brown (left), Great Lakes sales manager, presents a framed Automotive Fleet cover to Lee Iacocca in 1981 around the launch of the K-car platform.
 - File photo

Bob Brown (left), Great Lakes sales manager, presents a framed Automotive Fleet cover to Lee Iacocca in 1981 around the launch of the K-car platform.

File photo

Lee Iacocca, who led Chrysler out of near bankruptcy by introducing the K-car platform, has died. The automotive icon, 94, died of natural causes.

Iacocca, who was born Oct. 15, 1924, worked for Ford Motor Co. (1946 to 1978) where he led development of the Mustang, and Chrysler (1978 to 1992).

While Iacocca had a tumultuous career, he will be remembered by many for the roles he played in the industry.

He was named president of Ford Motor Co. in 1970 and fired in 1978 by Henry Ford Jr. In 1979, he was named CEO of Chrysler. After several years at the automaker and his retirement in 1992, he sued Chrysler in 1995, with the lawsuit settled in 1996.

As Chrysler was struggling financially in the early 1980s, the company was ramping up production of the K car, which ultimately helped Chrysler regain financial stability. "If you can find a better car, buy it," Iacocca said in a blitz of TV commercials in which he starred.

"The period until the K cars achieved full production was precarious," said Mike Antich, Automotive Fleet editor. "What helped Chrysler bridge the gap was a significant fleet sale of Caravan minivans to Xerox. This sales agreement was consummated by Chrysler Fleet Director Hal Barton, who reported to Iacocca, and Ron Pink, who managed the Xerox fleet. As these fleet sales were being fulfilled, it allowed Chrysler the time it needed to start shipping Chrysler K cars in volume to its dealers and fleets."

According to Iacocca's website, he was a first-generation American. His father, Nicola, came from Italy when he was just 12 years old. He grew up in the steel-making belt of Pennsylvania. His father opened a hot dog restaurant, Yocco's. Iacocca went to school in Pennsylvania, obtaining a degree in industrial engineering. He received a fellowship to Princeton and got his first job at Ford as an engineer after graduation. 

"It didn't take long for me to realize that I was better suited to the sales and marketing side of the car business. The bosses agreed and soon I made the move. After leading several successful initiatives, I began to move up the ranks, ultimately finding my true calling in product development. It was also during this period that I married my beautiful wife, Mary, with whom I would have two amazing daughters, Kathryn and Lia. With my family by my side, I continued my ascent within the Ford company," Iacocca noted. 

Iacocca's wife, passed away in 1983 of diabetes. He founded The Iacocca Foundation to support diabetes research. He also authored several books, including his most recent, "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?"

"Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry, and our country," said Bill Ford, executive chairman. "Lee played a central role in the creation of Mustang. On a personal note, I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which lost its leader Sergio Marchionne a year ago, also released a statement.

"Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 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," according to the statement.  "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.

Originally posted on Work Truck Online

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