Windsor, Ont., needs to honour Lee Iacocca

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Chief Tecumseh and General Isaac Brock, heroes of the War of 1812, stand on guard in Windsor’s Olde Sandwich Towne. 

Hiram Walker is set to be bronzed in a roundabout in the Walkerville neighbourhood, the area of the city in which the whiskey baron built a spirits empire. 

So, I have to assume — perhaps demand — that automotive titan Lee Iacocca will get his just reward somewhere around the Windsor Assembly Plant. 

I can picture it now, a replica of one of my all-time favourite news photos; Iacocca, standing triumphantly in front of one of the first Plymouth Voyagers to roll off the line at Windsor Assembly and behind a lectern adorned with the iconic Pentastar logo. His arms outstretched, like Jesus speaking to his disciples. 

It’s the photo that most accurately depicts Iacocca for what he was to Windsor, to Ontario, to Canada: A saviour. 

For it’s to Iacocca that Windsor still owes a debt of gratitude. It was Iacocca who saw the need for a “garageable van” and pushed his team at Chrysler, from almost day one, to bring the minivan to market. 

While he didn’t initially envision Windsor as the home of production of the transcending vehicle, it was his negotiations with governments across North America that eventually led the automaker to begin production of the Caravan and Voyager in the Rose City. Ottawa, you see, drove a hard bargain and demanded Chrysler build the revolutionary new vehicle in Windsor in exchange for loans that saved the company from bankruptcy. Iacocca agreed, and 35 years later the plant is still churning out the leading seller in a segment the automaker created out of thin air. 

Sure, the automaker closed one of its two remaining Windsor plants back in 2003. And yes, a third shift has come and gone, returned again and is now poised to be cut one more time at the minivan plant by October. 

But even with that loss, about 4,800 people would still be employed, building something Iacocca first dreamed of nearly four decades ago. Windsor Assembly remains the city’s big- gest employer. And its unionized members are some of the most generous, community-minded people in the city, raising money for the United Way and donating toys to Sparky’s Toy Drive every year. 

Sure, the late Sergio Marchionne might have saved the plant with billions of dollars in investment, and the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO will always be Windsor’s favourite automotive son. But Marchionne would have had nothing to save if the original saviour hadn’t brought the minivan to Windsor in the first place. 

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