Iacocca Says Detroit Is Living in the Past

Lee Iacocca

Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca says the U.S. auto industry has made plenty of mistakes. Matthew Simmons/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

When Lee Iacocca was running Chrysler, he put his "follow-the-market" philosophy behind a product that became the company's cash cow – the minivan. The gas-guzzlers reflected the changing lifestyles of the baby boomers, who traded in their Ford Mustangs for a way to get the kids to soccer practice.

In those days, Iacocca recalls, gas was cheap and Detroit gave little thought to fuel efficiency.

But with Toyota in line to surpass General Motors as the world's biggest car company — and with the price of gas around $3 a gallon — Iacocca tells Steve Inskeep that Detroit has been slow to realize that the market has changed.

The legendary CEO says he's become a big fan of the hybrid cars that Toyota has been marketing for years. Plug-in hybrids are the wave of the next five years, Iacocca predicts.

In order for Detroit automakers to catch up, Iacocca says they must follow his time-tested "follow-the-market" philosophy – and the teachings of environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore.

"It seems to me we need something like the Manhattan Project," Iacocca says. "We need some urgency saying, 'Here's what we should be doing. We've got to get off fossil fuels.'"

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