DETROIT Richard "Dick" Dauch, the outspoken and hard-charging co-founder and executive chairman of American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings, (AXL.N) whose automotive career spanned about 50 years, died on Friday at age 71.
Auto parts supplier American Axle did not disclose the cause of death. Dauch died at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
"All of us have lost a great friend and leader," the company said in a statement.
He started working at General Motors Co in 1964 and later joined Volkswagen of America, where he became the head of manufacturing. In 1980, he was tapped by famed auto executive Lee Iacocca to overhaul Chrysler's manufacturing operations as the company struggled to survive.
American Axle was founded in 1994 when Dauch led an investor group that bought production assets from GM. He immediately put into place an aggressive growth strategy.
"Dick demanded perfection in everything he did, whether it was his early work on the General Motors plant floor or his time at Chrysler where he rescued the company from the brink of extinction," Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.
Dauch emerged as a controversial figure during American Axle's 2008 labor contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, when 3,650 UAW members at five factories went on strike to protest the low wages offered by Dauch at the bargaining table.
The strike forced GM to at least partly idle about 30 of its North American plants due to parts shortages.
Last year, Dauch stepped down as chief executive of American Axle, handing the top spot to his son, David, but he stayed on as executive chairman. He also published the book "American Drive" last year.
In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club last year, Dauch remarked that the American way of life would be "less robust" for the next generation. He urged the auto industry to reform.
(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Leslie Adler)