Lee Iacocca didn’t design the K-car, but that’s OK; he didn’t design the Mustang either. He merely willed them both into existence, forced the appropriate decisions on executive teams with Michigan myopia and a profound disinterest in anything going on beyond their country clubs and wood-paneled executive suites. You’ll read a lot about the man today, both here and elsewhere, but what I want to emphasize for just a moment is the singularity, and the excellence, of Iacocca’s vision.
He was a “product guy,” like Bob Lutz and many others, but unlike many of those fellows he internalized the product desires of working fathers as easily as he understood what Frank Sinatra might want in an Imperial coupe. No other automotive executive can claim to have created two major segments of the American market; Lido did it with the Mustang and he did it again with the minivan. He also understood the importance of execution; from the very beginning, the K-car had higher quality than any of its Chrysler predecessors or, in the opinion of this writer at least, the FWD competition from General Motors and Ford.
The General’s X-cars — Chevy Citation and its kin — were pretty terrible, and it didn’t take all that long for the public to find out. At the time, I thought it might have been a hex: what were they thinking, borrowing the “Citation” nameplate from the top-of-the-line 1958 Edsel?
He had complete command of his relationships with both government and labor. He got the best terms possible for his bailout, then he turned around and worked with the UAW to keep the lights on. Then he paid the money back and kept his promises to the union. Look at today’s automotive CEOs. They kowtow to a coterie of international investors and slash American jobs like so much winter chaff even as they spend billions on creating suicide factories for poverty-wage, powerless minions in unregulated hellholes around the globe — all the while awarding themselves Floyd Mayweather-levels of deferred compensation, stock options, and seats on complementary boards. Mary Barra is earning $22 million a year to oversee GM’s slow slide into irrelevance; Lee Iacocca took a dollar’s worth of compensation to save the jobs of his countrymen and put Chrysler on a path to glory that would, unfortunately, end when it was all but given away to the Germans by his feckless and ignorant successors.
And the successors to those successors are busy killing off American-made cars, because the take is better on the trucks. (Ford and GM dumped their minivans long ago; only Chrysler bothers with the segment it invented.) Short-term thinking at its worst.