Robert B. McCurry, the inventor of cash rebates, spent more than 40 years as an auto executive for Chrysler and Toyota, bringing cars ranging from the Dodge Charger to the Lexus LS 400 to the market. He turned down a career as a professional football player to pursue a career in the automotive industry. McCurry’s career spanned four decades as a senior executive with both domestic and international car companies.
Born in 1923, McCurry grew up in Lewistown, PA. He served in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War and enrolled at Michigan State University, where he was captain of the football team for three years. McCurry was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1948 National Football League (NFL) draft, but turned down the opportunity. He graduated with honors and was hired by the Chrysler Corporation in 1950. He advanced from an apprentice district sales manager to vice president of automotive sales and marketing, and he later served as general sales manager of the Dodge Division, where he oversaw the introduction of the Dodge Charger in 1966.
McCurry played a key role in organizing Chrysler’s 1970 sales and distribution agreement with Mitsubishi Motors. Mitsubishi did not have a dealer network in the U.S. at the time, and the agreement gave Dodge dealers the rights to sell Mitsubishi products in the U.S. It was the first such sales agreement in the U.S. between an American and Japanese auto company.
McCurry was a huge proponent of professional sports and was among the first automotive executives to invest heavily in professional football and golf as a marketing tool to sell products on television.
Early in the 1975 model year, Chrysler dealerships were struggling to keep their sales in line with manufacturing, and a growing stockpile of unsold cars incentivized his team to find a solution. They developed the rebate incentive, giving customers cash back on their purchases. A successful ad campaign launched during the 1975 Super Bowl featuring sportscaster Joe Garagiola.
In 1978, McCurry retired from Chrysler. His retirement turned out to be short-lived as he took a position with Toyota’s mid-Atlantic division shortly after. He was attracted to Toyota’s “Just-In-Time” production system (TPS) and encouraged them to move towards the American style of mass-marketing vehicles. In 1982, he joined Toyota’s American sales branch and announced that he wanted to sell 1 million vehicles per year in the U.S. In 1990, Toyota achieved McCurry’s goal, and finished second in U.S. sales to General Motors.
In 1992, McCurry retired as vice chairman of Toyota Motor Sales. He was active in supporting various sports associations like Athletic League Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Ladies Professional Golf Association. He was married to his wife Jane for 61 years, with two daughters, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He passed away at the age of 83.