Gerald C. Myers, the CEO who paved the way for the SUV, has died at the age of 94

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

His death was announced by his daughter, Susan Myers.

Mr. Myers joined American Motors in 1962, after stints with Ford and Chrysler, and rose through the ranks as AMC struggled to survive in a market dominated by its former employers and General Motors, the so-called Big Three. At that time, they collectively produced nine out of every 10 cars sold in the United States.

In 1970, as a senior manufacturing executive, Mr. Myers was given the task of evaluating a potential acquisition of Kaiser Jeep. AMC’s board of directors has advised against it, citing serious production deficiencies for the brand. But the council went on anyway – and put Mr. Myers in charge.

To attract more consumers, he upgraded existing Jeeps with better engines, suspensions and interiors, and directed the development of a new wagon, the Jeep Cherokee. Sales quickly soared, stabilizing AMC’s volatile finances and driving consumer interest in wide-body off-road vehicles.

Mr. Myers was soon promoted to AMC’s top development executive. He led the design of a compact car that didn’t leave passengers feeling cramped, an effort that led to the creation of the Pacer: a short, wide four-passenger car with oddly curved rear windows.

The Pacer’s glass bubble appearance has drawn joking comparisons to the flying space cars of the animated TV show “The Jetsons,” though Motor Trend magazine called it “the newest, most innovative, people-oriented car to have been born in the United States in 15 years.” years.” Other oddities followed, including one that married Jeep components with a bodywork—the AMC Eagle, the first American-made four-wheel-drive passenger car.

Mr. Myers, 48, was named CEO in 1977, when AMC was struggling to control just 2 percent of the US market. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, with the build of the former college football player he was and the looks of a Hollywood leading man, he cut an imposing figure. He was known as an analytical but demanding manager – in contrast to his aggressive, aggressive rival Lee Iacocca, who was desperate to save Chrysler.

“My way of doing things is different,” Mr. Myers told the Detroit Free Press that year. “I do not intend to do things the way they were done before. I intend to move forward in other directions and break new ground.”

AMC posted record profits in his second year at the helm of the company, but when the US economy slumped in 1979, banks refused to give AMC new loans. Mr. Myers sought out and found one in French carmaker Renault, which bought a stake in AMC for $150 million (about $670 million today).

AMC began selling Renault cars, and the two companies jointly began developing a new compact sedan, dubbing it alliance.

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

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

Relax by boating. “If there was a breeze, and he went up into one hull, he was happy,” said Susan Myers.

Mr. Myers’ influence on the industry can still be seen to this day. Four-wheel drive vehicles are a profitable niche for brands like Subaru and Audi. The Pacer has achieved cult fame, having appeared Blue powder ride As Mike Myers in Wayne’s World. And Americans’ fondness for jeep-like cars has not diminished. Today half of the cars sold in the United States are classified as SUVs

Gerald Karl Myers was born on December 5, 1928 in Buffalo. His father, Meyer Smozyk, was an immigrant from Poland who worked in the New York City garment district before moving to Buffalo, where he changed his last name to Myers and opened a haute couture shop. Gerald’s mother, Berenice Myers—her surname at birth was the same as her married name—was an opera singer.

Mr. Myers skipped two grades in elementary school, graduated from high school at 15, and talked his way into a garage parking job even though he didn’t know how to drive. “I messed up a few,” he laughed in the home video. After a year at Canisius College in Buffalo, he transferred to Carnegie Mellon University—then called Carnegie Technical Institute—where he captained the football team. Susan Myers said that after he graduated in 1950, he was invited to try out for the Baltimore Colts, but decided he had a broken nose and bone.

Mr. Myers got a management training job at Ford. But when the Korean War began, he entered the Air Force’s officer training program and served as a lieutenant in Greenland. After returning home, he earned his master’s degree from Carnegie University of Technology in 1954, then found a job at Chrysler, where he often wore suits and coats made by his father.

At 26, he wrote his life goals on a piece of paper. He wanted to be married by 30 and have two children by 33 and a third by 35. He wanted to make $30,000 a year by age 45 (equivalent to $340,000 today) and $50,000 by 55, and he listed all the jobs he thought he had. He will need access on his way to becoming a corporate officer.

While working at Chrysler, Mr. Myers asked his roommate if he knew any women he could date. The roommate pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from the trash bearing the number of Barbara Jacob, a department store buyer. They married in 1958, had three children and eventually moved to Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb of Detroit.

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

Susan Myers recalled that her father’s steadfast style did not seem to waver. When a Pacer he rented for her crashed once, he said nothing, she recalls, and a new Pacer arrived about two weeks later. “I think he thought collecting the car was a punishment for him,” she said.

In the end, though, he was somewhat annoyed by the SUV craze he helped get him moving. In a column he wrote for The New York Times in 2000, he lamented the sheer volume of gas-guzzling SUVs that Detroit was then producing.

He wrote, “I feel like Dr. Frankenstein these days, having injected life into a corpse only to face the horror of its evolution.” If the industry wasn’t going to go back to making smaller models, he added, “it might have been better to let Jeep’s body rest undisturbed.”