Lee Iacocca celebrates 90 years on October 15. The super celebrated car manager of Italian origins has not spoken in years with Italian medias, but for Carblogger.it, thanks to a mutual friend, he decided to make an exception. Iacocca is a living legend, not only for what the economist Peter Drucker defined once and for all “the industry of industries”. A man with at least two lives: one in Ford and one even more famous when he saved Chrysler from bankruptcy with the help of public money as Sergio Marchionne did in 2009. For those wishing to know more about his long history, here is the link to Wikipedia, good though incomplete.
From his house in Bel Air, Los Angeles (in the picture with his colleague and friend Maurizio Marini), Iacocca answered some questions that Alessandro and I sent him before travelling both to the US for different reasons. On our return to Rome, we found a very appreciated email.
“It costs a lot of money to run a car company, consequently it cost a lot of money to help it in bad times”, says Iacocca when we asked him why would the government save a private car company, as it happened, when he was Chrysler’ s chairman in 1979, for which he received federal loans for $ 1.5 billion and paid back seven years early. Exactly 30 years later, Marchionne did the same thing, being capable of paying back the public’s money in advance.
“I think – adds Iacocca when we remind him about what the Italian manager did – that governments should be very careful when loaning money to any company. It is important guarantees are in place and a plan of action is followed. As everyone knows when I was at Chrysler we paid the money back in record time. Additionally, what many people don’t know the company was saved because, everyone who worked at Chrysler and reaped its benefits when times were high helped to get it back on track! It was a team effort”.
If there is one thing that Iacocca has never failed to have, it is his pride, one of the things that annoyed Henry Ford II quite a lot, which was also the reason for firing him. Car companies in Detroit started well again after the economic crisis, Chrysler, GM and Ford. But how long will it last? “The US Auto industry – adds Iacocca – has its ups and downs and its success depends on not just who is at the helm of the company but the mood of the country and as well as the world economy. Le Big Three seem to change position periodically, at any given time the company on top is the one giving the public what they want. The public is far more fickle these days and don’t have the brand loyalty they once had”.
In short, he seems a bit pessimistic about the bright future of the Big Three. Talking about the product, does Iacocca believe in the electric car? As an example Marchionne doesn’t, because it’ s not profitable right now: “After I retired (1992, ndr) I partnered with GM to build an electric bike and the country wasn’t ready for itat the time. Now all the car companies have built electric cars because the public is ready”. Ok. Meno male. Sergio ascoltalo.
Iacocca not only has the soul of the seller, but also the soul to understand the market. When we ask him about the Asian competitors, if Japan, Korea or China are more frightful to Detroit, he draws out the pride of the US corporation and sends a strong message to all of them, even more to the Volkswagen in trouble with UAW in Tennessee: “I haven’t been involved with the car industry for many years, so my opinions about other markets are based on personal opinion and what I read in the papers. What i do know is when companies aren’t involved with unions, paying a working wage, covering health care and other benefits, they can obviously build cars for a lot less. But does that translate into better vehicles? I think the public will be the judge of that”.