Product development whiz Bob Lutz, who rose to the No. 2 job at Chrysler and was a shoo-in to replace Lee Iacocca, recalled his rocky relationship with his old boss during a recent interview with Automotive News.
"It was like father and son. We loved each other. He thought I was the world's greatest automotive executive next to him," Lutz said. "I thought he was a superb executive but somewhat past his prime and didn't really get it anymore, was more of a merchandizing guy than a real product guy."
Lutz and Iacocca often clashed in high-level executive meetings, Lutz recalled.
"He had the engineering degree, but he didn't know diddly squat about engines and valvetrains, transmissions and rear axles. He was all about exterior trim -- badging, vinyl roofs, wire wheel covers and so forth," Lutz said.
"I am the marketing guy, but I was the one worrying about engines and if our transmissions have enough speeds. It was really odd to see that role reversal. I just really challenged him too much. And I think I reminded him of the fact that he was going to be replaced someday."
Iacocca stunned the auto industry when, during Chrysler's early 1990s resurgence, he tapped Bob Eaton, a General Motors executive, to be Chrysler's next chairman -- instead of Lutz.
Today, Lutz says he realizes those clashes cost him the top job at Chrysler and that's the one episode in his career he wishes he could do over.
"I would probably be more careful in the way I dealt with Lee Iacocca. I would not alienate him and piss him off and take him on in meetings. Sometimes I diminished him in the eyes of his support staff, which was a childish and immature thing to do. And it cost me the No. 1 job at Chrysler."
But Lutz said he made peace with his old boss years ago. When Lutz visited Iacocca around 2012, he noticed his old boss was very frail.
"He was very feeble. He moved with great difficulty," Lutz recalled. And Iacocca, Lutz said, had given up his trademark cigars.