DETROIT -- Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne is “the next generation of Lee Iacocca,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said after visiting all three Detroit automakers yesterday and today.
“I think what I saw at Chrysler is what people felt when Iacocca was there,” LaHood said after a speech to the Detroit Economic Club. “It's a new level of energy and enthusiasm because there's new leadership of people that know what they're doing, of people that have been successful in the automobile manufacturing business.”
LaHood visited Chrysler, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. and told his audience that “Detroit is back.”
He said he had a 40-minute meeting with Marchionne yesterday. The Chrysler CEO got his job in June when Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy as a new company controlled by Italian automaker Fiat S.p.A.
Marchionne, who is also CEO of Fiat, represents “the next generation of leaders for the American automobile industry,” LaHood said.
Marchionne radiated excitement, LaHood said. “But before I even got to him, I sensed it in every employee that I met. And it wasn't phony.”
Iacocca, one of Marchionne's predecessors as CEO, led the automaker for 13 years, retiring in 1992. During his tenure, Chrysler avoided a 1980s bankruptcy through federal loan guarantees that Chrysler repaid early. Iacocca became famous nationwide for the "If you can find a better car, buy it" advertising pitch he made in Chrysler ads.
During his four-month tenure at Chrysler, Marchionne has overhauled Chrysler's management, and has 25 top executives reporting directly to him. He has appointed CEOs over each of Chrysler's four brands -- Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and, new last week, Ram.
LaHood said he visited Chrysler Group's design studio, saw the excitement at Ford surrounding the revival of the Ford Taurus and drove the Chevrolet Volt.
Luca Ciferri and Bradford Wernle contributed to this report