Lee Iacocca, titan of the Detroit auto industry, dies at 94

Lee Iacocca
Lee Iacocca speaking on Ellis Island in 1990. | Ron Cogswell, Flickr

Lee Iacocca, the legendary Ford executive credited with launching the Mustang and saving Chrysler in the 1980s, died Tuesday. He was 94.

The news of Iacocca’s death in Los Angeles was first reported by the Washington Post. The cause of death was complications related to Parkinson’s disease according to the Post, which spoke with Iacocca’s daughter. 

Iacocca remains the only person to have led two out of the Big Three automakers. During his time leading Ford in the 1960s and 1970s, he helped launch cars like the sporty Mustang and the iconic-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Pinto before his 1978 firing by Henry Ford II, the grandson of the company’s founder.

He then led Chrysler during the tumultuous 1980s, securing a federal loan to keep the company afloat and eventually launching a new batch of hit vehicles including minivans like the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. His popularity grew to the point where it was widely rumored in the late 1980s that he was considering a run for president, although it never materialized.

Chrysler — now known as Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) — is currently in the process of a $4.5 billion expansion around metro Detroit. 

“Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today — one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit,” the company said in a statement. “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 unshakable 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.”

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Likewise, Iacocca was eulogized by top executives at Ford, where he built some of the most iconic cars in American history.

“Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country,” Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, said in a statement on Tuesday night. “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.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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