Donald Petersen, CEO who turned around Ford, dies at 97

Petersen touring a Philco-Ford of Canada plant in Toronto, Canada, in 1981. — Photo via Bloomberg

DETROIT: Donald Petersen, the Ford Motor Co. chief executive officer who helped pull the automaker out of a financial crisis in the 1980s with the introduction of the Taurus sedan, the best-selling car in America for four years, has died.

He was 97.

Petersen died of natural causes April 24 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, according to his niece Laura Peterson.

Only the second Ford CEO who wasn’t a Ford himself, Petersen ushered in a period of prosperity while leading the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker from 1985 to 1990.

During his tenure, Ford posted record profits after overhauling its lineup with more fuel-efficient offerings such as the Taurus.

But his legacy was complicated by friction with the Ford family.

The Taurus represented Ford’s most successful response to an onslaught of competition from Japanese automakers when it debuted in 1985.

Its aerodynamic look, which some called "jelly-bean styling,” sprang from Petersen challenging designers to come up with a car they’d be proud to have in their driveways.

That is "a standard to which we still hold ourselves,” Ford said in a statement, adding that Petersen "insisted on teamwork and excellence in the name of customers and guided Ford through a period of revitalisation and intense competition in the global auto industry.”

"More than anything, he would want to be remembered by the impact he had on how people work together, while focusing on quality and the customer with the driver’s car,” Laura Peterson, his niece and a former Boeing executive, told Bloomberg News a few years ago.

"Taurus is such a symbol of all those things.”
Autos Ford