Paul Sancya / Associated Press
Bill Vlasic / The Detroit News
LIVONIA -- Lee Iacocca thinks there's a lot of life left in Chrysler Corp., the company he once saved from bankruptcy.
In a rare public appearance Monday in Metro Detroit, the former Chrysler chairman said that Cerberus Capital Management cut a sweet deal to acquire the No. 3 U.S. automaker for $7.4 billion.
"I think they got a hell of a bargain," Iacocca told The Detroit News before his appearance. "But now they're going to have to run it well."
The 82-year-old Iacocca was in town to promote his latest book, "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" at a luncheon sponsored by the Metro-Detroit Book & Author Society in Livonia.
He retired from Chrysler almost 15 years ago after a storied career that included negotiating a government loan guarantee that kept Chrysler afloat in the early 1980s.
Iacocca has never hid his hard feelings about Daimler-Benz AG's acquisition of Chrysler in 1998. And he's just as upset about the German automaker's decision to dump Chrysler this year.
"There's one thing everyone agrees on: Daimler screwed Chrysler royally," Iacocca wrote in an opinion piece published in the most recent issue of BusinessWeek magazine.
He declined Monday to elaborate on Daimler's decision, but expressed his trademark optimism that Chrysler will rebound under the ownership of the private-equity firm Cerberus.
"Chrysler can come back," Iacocca told the News. "You know, I worry more about Ford making it than Chrysler or GM."
In his Business Week piece, Iacocca said that Chrysler's management team led by CEO Tom LaSorda has the capability to turn the struggling automaker around.
"In the end, it will all come down to leadership," he wrote. "This is the first time in history that a company outside the auto industry will own a major automaker. But in my opinion, the best leadership is still on the inside at Chrysler."
His new book -- a The New York Times best seller -- focuses on the need for strong leadership in the political arena and the business world, with a particularly harsh assessment of President George W. Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq.
"My goal is to light a fire," Iacocca told the 1,200 people in attendance at the luncheon. "I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America."