Detroit Free Press reporter Levin (Irreconcilable Differences: Ross Perot vs. General Motors, 1989) pursues Chrysler and its former boss, fearsome Lee Iacocca. Some of the story is familiar. Iacocca, fired by Henry Ford II in 1978 for unseemly presumption, took his combative attitude to Chrysler. When Americans bought Japanese cars simply because they were better, he complained bitterly about US trade policy and, in tones many found to smack of racism, castigated the Japanese. Meanwhile, we discover, Chrysler invested in Japan and sold engines and cars from Mitsubishi as its own. True, Iacocca had steered Chrysler from the brink of bankruptcy (though not without the aid of Uncle Sam). But honking his own klaxon, Iacocca's style at Chrysler was at least as autocratic, in a manner of speaking, as that of his old nemesis, Ford, and he almost drove Chrysler to the brink again. Live by the Ford way, die by the Ford way seemed to be the case at Chrysler until 1992, when the board forcibly retired the feisty old King Lear of Auto Land. (Still driven, Iacocca, as front man for Kirk Kerkorian, now challenges his old firm in an audacious, albeit apparently ill-fated, $20.5 billion bid to buy the business.) Levin provides solid background. His story encompasses the whole industry, from Motown to Nagoya, with emphasis on Chrysler and its pugnacious former CEO in particular. He expertly describes the businessmen and the sales guys, the bean counters and the car guys who run the quintessential American industry. And though he doesn't quite kayo the most famous car guy, he lays into Iacocca with a will. ``That was Lee,'' he concludes, ``self-centered, greedy, quick to blame others, and blind to his own faults. And when you crossed him, look out.'' A cogent exposition that provides an understanding of who and what propels the monster auto industry through its exhilarating booms and dolorous slumps.
Read full book review >