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Iacocca: Government Is 'on You Day and Night'

In a rare interview, former Chrysler celebrity chief executive Lee Iacocca urged his former company to pay back the government loans as quickly as possible because, "they're on you day and night."

Iacocca, 84, ran Chrysler from 1978 to his retirement. Facing bankruptcy, Iacocca asked the federal government in 1979 to guarantee $1 billion in loans needed to turn around the company. The money helped Chrysler produce the K-car and more importantly the game-changing minivan, cementing Iacocca's legacy as a first-team all-time chief executive. Before Chrysler, Iacocca was a longtime Ford executive and is the father of the Mustang.

So it's worth hearing what he has to say about Chrysler's current status, having just emerged from bankruptcy and still on the hook for $15.2 billion in government loans and aid.

"Their oversight is just too extreme," Iacocca said of the federal government during the Associated Press interview. "That's why our 10-year loan, we paid it back in three years. We couldn't stand the government. The bureaucracy kills you."

Iacocca is bullish on Chrysler and Ford but is more skeptical of General Motors, which entered bankruptcy last month.

"GM's got more serious problems," he said. "They're just big. They're huge. They've got many more problems than Chrysler has with just sheer size."

A feisty Iacocca said he wouldn't change anything about the way he ran Chrysler and the company's competition with the first big wave of fuel-sipping Japanese imports.

"I can't answer you and say there's one thing that could have made our problem easier," he said. "[Japanese automakers] build small cars with fuel efficiency. We were building big cars without fuel efficiency. We were never ready for more than $1 or $2 gas. And we sure as hell weren't ready for a 40 percent drop in car and truck sales, all in one shot."

Iacocca also defended his SUVs and Jeeps.

"The people wanted them," Iacocca said. "They felt strong in them. They felt like they were driving a tank. They felt safe. You try to follow the market."

-- Frank Ahrens
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By Frank Ahrens  |  June 22, 2009; 11:02 AM ET
Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Chrysler, Ford, GM, Lee Iacocca  
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