Bob McCurry

Bob McCurry died on November 14. He was 83, and worked for Chrysler for 28 years before joining Toyota. He was credited with inventing cash-back rebates (to push the 1975 Valiant), taking Toyota to one million annual American sales, and getting the Toyota Tundra approved and Americanized. While he headed American sales for Toyota, the company introduced the Lexus brand and expanded dramatically due to high levels of Americanization - including a just-for-America version of the Camry.

Bob McCurry

Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

He was tough, gruff, direct - but fair.  I got along well with him. My favorite Bob McCurry story happened when Bob was promoted from Dodge General Sales Manger to be head of the Chrysler Marine Division. We called it the “boat division.” It was failing so Lynn Townsend (President) sent Bob in to rescue it.

At one of the first Dodge staff meetings after Bob left on his new assignment, Joe Knauss who was Dodge's Business Management Manager compained to Byron Nichols (Dodge VP and General Manager) that McCurry was signing up Dodge dealers as Chrysler boat dealers. Byron's answer was that Lynn Townsend had given Bob a tough assignment and he wasn't going to get in Bob's way - so he was not going to complain about boats being sold out of Dodge showrooms. 

Two to three years later Bob returned to the Dodge Division succeeding Byron Nichols as VP and General Manger. At Bob's first staff meeting he told Joe Knauss (still there in the same job) to “get the blankety-blank boats out of the car showrooms!”

I was at both of these meetings.

Automotive News wrote a thorough bio of Bob McCurry. After leaving military service, he went to Michigan State University, and was voted captain of the football team for each of the three seasons he played; after getting an M.B.A. in 1950, and turned down an offer from the Detroit Lions to work as an apprentice district sales manager. McCurry rose to be the general manager of Dodge in a short ten years, was named corporate vice president of automotive sales and marketing in 1974, and retired to Toyota in 1978, leaving just before Lee Iaccoca took charge.

At Dodge, he pushed the development of the Dodge Charger Daytona (pictured above), which was the first NASCAR car to go faster than 200 mph. Over five hundred were made, and 29 speed records were set; though the Daytona itself didn’t sell well, Dodge was able to raise its intermediate share from 6% to 25%.

The first rebate in the auto industry was McCurry’s idea, offering $200 cash to people who bought a new Dodge Dart or Plymouth Duster - which had been selling very well in 1974, but was slowing down in 1975 as the rumored Volare and Aspen came closer. Though $200 might not sound like much now, it was similar in adjusted dollars to a $1,500 rebate, and was unheard of in the auto trade.

At the dealer level, McCurry eliminated underperforming dealers and pushed aggressive promotions and advertising, punishing (through allocation or embarassment) underperformers. Automotive News quoted his credo as “Keep things simple. Be direct. Don't quit. Trample the other guy before he tramples you.”

At Toyota, Bob McCurry insisted that Toyota build a true full-sized pickup for the United States, finally succeeding in getting a Tundra that can compete in towing and horsepower against the best of the American full-sized pickups. McCurry also insisted that Toyota Americanize its lineup when selling them here; he is credited with spurring a redesign of the 1992 Camry before it went on sale (in 1989) to make it more acceptable to Americans, and Toyota ended up selling one version in the US and another elsewhere. The Camry outsold the Taurus (even including Ford's massive captive fleet sales) and took the best-selling American car title, which it retains. Lexus remains the nation’s best selling luxury brand.


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