Sunroof mogul Heinz Prechter, a German immigrant who became a fixture in the American automobile industry, died early Friday, July 6, in an apparent suicide at his Detroit-area home.
The 59-year-old chairman of ASC Inc., the Southgate, Mich., specialty vehicle design, engineering and manufacturing company, had been suffering from depression, according to a statement released by a business associate, David Treadwell.
It was an incongruous end for the self-made automotive millionaire and national political force, whose life story was an upbeat tale of how to succeed at almost anything.
Prechter once shrugged off his success as simply the result of 'drive,' adding: 'Anyone could do this.'
In 1963, at the age of 21, Prechter drove a cab to help pay his way to America. A year later, with $764 in savings, he started his American Sunroof Company in a two-car garage in California.
By the end of 2000, Prechter's holdings included ASC, with global sales of $525 million and 2,200 employees; the publicly traded exterior-trim producer, ASCET; a chain of newspapers; a real estate development company; a family owned philanthropic organization, the World Heritage Foundation; and a Texas cattle ranch.
Prechter was a fund-raiser in and out of the auto industry, helping to restore the Automotive Hall of Fame and fund Detroit's school for vehicle designers, the Center for Creative Studies.
He was a key fund-raiser for the Republican Party.
Speaking publicly in Michigan last fall, then-candidate George W. Bush thanked Prechter for helping to raise $1.6 million for the Bush campaign. 'His is a great American story,' Bush told the audience, 'the story of an entrepreneur.' Prechter was an even closer associate of the first President George Bush.
In addition to its design, engineering and sunroof work, ASC supplies convertible systems to the Toyota Solara, Mitsubishi Eclipse, General Motors' Camaro and Firebird, and the BMW Z3.
ASC has a leading role in the development of the Chevrolet SSR truck, which will be introduced as a 2003 model and built in Lansing, Mich.
In 1997, Prechter turned his daily business operations over to Treadwell, CEO of Prechter Holdings, the corporate parent of ASC. 'I need to change,' Prechter told Automotive News. 'I want to bring my schedule down to normal working hours.'
Prechter remained active in Michigan politics and highly visible at auto industry functions. Late last year, Prechter dismissed speculation that Bush might name him ambassador to Germany, saying he preferred to remain close to local politics.