Gerald C. Meyers, CEO who paved the way for SUVs, dies at 94

Gerald C. Meyers, CEO who paved the way for SUVs, dies at 94

Gerald C. Meyers, former chief executive of American Motors Corporation who helped spark the nation’s obsession with sport utility vehicles and oversaw the development of some of the most unique cars of the 1970s, on June 19 in West Bloomfield, Michigan He died at his home. .He was 94 years old.

His death was announced by his daughter, Susan Meyers.

After stints with Ford and Chrysler, Mr. Meyers joined American Motors in 1962, and when AMC struggled to survive in a market dominated by his former employers and General Motors, the so-called Big Three, he moved to ; At the time, they collectively produced nine out of every 10 cars sold in the United States.

In 1970, as a senior manufacturing executive, Mr. Meyers was given the task of evaluating a possible acquisition of Kaiser Jeep. He advised the board of AMC against it in view of the brand’s severe production inefficiencies. But the board went ahead anyway – and put Mr Meyers in charge.

To attract more customers, he upgraded existing Jeeps with better engines, suspension, and interiors, and directed the development of a new wagon, the Jeep Cherokee. Sales soon picked up, stabilizing AMC’s shaky financial position and increasing customer interest in spacious off-road vehicles.

Mr. Meyers was soon promoted to AMC’s top development executive. He pioneered the design of a compact car in which occupants would not feel cramped, an effort that resulted in the Pacer: a short, wide four-passenger car with oddly curved rear windows.

The Pacer’s glass-bubble look has been compared to the flying space cars from the TV cartoon show “The Jetsons”, although Motor Trend magazine called it “15 of the freshest, most creative, most people-oriented autos to be born in America”. ” Said. year.” Other offbeat cars followed, including a car fused with Jeep components to a car body—the AMC Eagle, the first passenger car with all-wheel drive built in the United States.

Mr. Meyers, at age 48, was named chief executive in 1977 when AMC was struggling, controlling only 2 percent of the US market. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, with the stature of a former college football player and the looks of a Hollywood hottie, he had an impressive personality. He was known as an analytical but demanding manager – a stark contrast to his brash, tough-talking rival Lee Iacocca, who was struggling to save Chrysler.

Mr. Meyers told The Detroit Free Press that year, “My way of doing things is different.” “I do not intend to do things the way they used to be. I intend to strike out in other directions and carve out some new ground.”

AMC posted record profits in its second year in office, but when the US economy declined in 1979, banks refused to make new loans to AMC. Mr. Meyers sought a partner and found French automaker Renault, which bought a stake in AMC for $150 million (about $670 million today).

AMC began selling Renault cars, and the two companies began jointly developing a new compact sedan to be called the alliance,

But AMC’s troubles continued. In 1982, Renault installed a new management team, and Mr. Meyers retired at the age of 53. Chrysler acquired AMC in 1987, eliminating most of its operations but retaining the Jeep brand.

Mr. Meyers then began teaching at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. He wrote two books on corporate crisis management, one of which was co-written with his daughter, Susan. From 1991 to 2017, he taught at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

He rested by sailing a catamaran. Susan Meyers said, “If the wind was blowing and he’d get on a rudder, he’d be happy.”

Mr. Meyers’ impact on the industry can still be seen today. Cars with all-wheel drive create a profitable niche for brands like Subaru and Audi. The pacer gained cult fame by appearing as powder-blue ride Mike Myers’ character in the two “Wayne’s World” movies. And Americans’ fondness for vehicles like the Jeep hasn’t diminished. Half of all vehicles sold in the United States today are classified as SUVs.

Gerald Carl Meyers was born on December 5, 1928, in Buffalo. His father, Meyer Smuzek, was an immigrant from Poland who worked in New York City’s garment district before moving to Buffalo, where he changed his last name to Meyers and opened an upmarket tailoring shop. Gerald’s mother, Berenice Meyers – her surname at birth was the same as her married name – was an opera singer.

The young Mr. Meyers skipped two classes of elementary school, graduated from high school at age 15, and worked in a garage parking cars, even though he could not drive. “I beat up some guys,” he laughed in a home video. After a year at Canisius College in Buffalo, he transferred to Carnegie Mellon—then called Carnegie Technical Institute—where he coached the football team. Captained by Susan Meyers said that after graduating in 1950, he was invited to try out for the Baltimore Colts, but decided he would endure enough broken noses and broken bones.

Mr. Meyers got a job at Ford doing management training. But when the Korean War began, he entered the Air Force Officer Training Program and served as a lieutenant in Greenland. After returning home, he earned a master’s degree from Carnegie Tech in 1954, then took a job at Chrysler, where he often wore suits and coats made by his father.

At the age of 26, he wrote down his life goals on a piece of paper. He wanted to get married at 30 and have two children at 33 and a third at 35. He wanted to earn $30,000 (equivalent to about $340,000 today) a year by age 45 and $50,000 by age 55, and he listed all the positions he thought he would need to reach on his way to becoming a corporate executive.

While working at Chrysler, Mr. Meyers asked his roommate if he knew any women he could date. The roommate pulled a folded slip of paper from the trash with the number of Barbara Jacobs, a department store buyer. They married in 1958, had three children, and eventually moved to Bloomfield Township, a wealthy suburb of Detroit.

His wife died in 2009, and his son, Andrew, died in 2019. In addition to his daughter Susan, he is survived by another daughter, Nancy Meyers, and a grandson.

Susan Meyers recalled that her father’s steady demeanor never wavered. When she once crashed a pacer he’d rented for her, he didn’t say anything, she remembered, and about two weeks later a new pacer arrived. “I think he thought destroying the car was his own punishment,” she said.

Ultimately, though, he was somewhat disenchanted with the SUV craze he helped spearhead. In a 2000 column for The New York Times, he lamented the sheer size of the Detroit-produced gas-guzzling SUVs.

He wrote, “I feel like Dr. Frankenstein these days, breathing life into a corpse to confront the horrors of its evolution.” He added, if the industry wasn’t going back to making smaller models, perhaps it would have been better to let Jeep’s corpse rest undisturbed.

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