Lexus and the Corvette might not be here if not for this man.
There are certain mainstays on the market that we've come to take for granted, even at their lofty positions. Like Lexus, for example, or the Chevrolet Corvette. But neither might be here today if it weren't for Jim Perkins, a veteran automotive executive who left this world late last week.
The Texan executive started his career at Chevrolet working at a parts warehouse in Dallas in 1960 when he was 25 with a dream of one day running his own dealership. But as Automotive News relates, a string of promotions saw Perkins rise up through the ranks until he was running the entire brand.
After a series of senior sales positions at Chevy and Buick, Perkins was tapped by Toyota in '84. As group vice president, he spearheaded the launch of the Lexus brand in 1989 – sandwiched between the arrival of Honda's Acura brand and Nissan's Infiniti – with the first-generation ES and LS sedans. But he couldn't stay away for long from the automaker that he loved since he was a child.
Shortly after Lexus hit the US market, Perkins left the Lexus operation he started to return as general manager of Chevrolet (the top job at the brand), and set about saving the Corvette.
With sales flagging, GM's senior ranks were prepared to ax the 'Vette, but Perkins diverted marketing money to develop the fifth-gen C5, and the all-American sports car has remained an ever-present icon ever since. Along the way, he oversaw victory in Indy and NASCAR, and turned Chevy's truck division into a veritable powerhouse. He left GM in '96 to run the Hendrick Automotive Group – America's largest dealership chain at the time. But after decades in the industry, he passed away on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the age of 83, leaving a legacy that won't soon be forgotten.