Robert B. McCurry Jr., a hard-driving auto executive who introduced rebates as a sales incentive, died at his Delaware home last month at age 83 of prostate cancer.

McCurry spent the first 28 years of his automotive career with Chrysler Corp., advancing from an apprentice district sales manager in Wisconsin, to group vice president of automotive sales and marketing.

A year after retiring from Chrysler in 1978, he became general manager of Mid-Atlantic Toyota, a private distributorship in Maryland.

In 1982, he joined Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., as general manger of the Los Angeles sales region. He went on to become Toyota's executive vice president of sales operations and was eventually promoted to the position of vice chairman, retiring in 1993.

McCurry's careers at Chrysler and Toyota spanned five distinct decades.

Those included the tail fin craze of the 1950s, the muscle car era of the 1960s, the gas rationing and government regulations of the 1970s and the globalization of the 1980s and 1990s.

The products he brought to market during that time ranged from the Dodge Charger to Lexus LS 400.

He was regarded as an innovative leader, who understood consumer preferences and built strong personal relationships with dealers.

Dealers remember him as a strong motivator and someone who understood their business from the inside out.

“Bob McCurry was one of the greatest automobile guys who ever lived,” says Ken Meade, chairman of the Mead Group, which owns Lexus and Dodge dealerships in the Detroit area. “He put a lot of guys in the car business and was an expert in getting people to do their best.”

Martin “Hoot” McInerney, who owns a number of Dodge, Toyota, Ford and GM dealerships in Michigan, recalls McCurry's flair for sports marketing.

“He loved golf and did a lot for it when it was not that popular of a sport,” says McInerney. “And he also stepped up to sponsor AFL football before anyone else did because he had the insight to do it.”

McCurry was responsible for launching a wide range of Toyota vehicles, including the Lexus luxury brand in 1989. He focused on developing cars and trucks specifically suited to the American market.

“Bob had the best product sense of anyone I ever knew in the car business,” says Norman “Bucky” Harris, a retired Dodge and Lexus dealer from Fresno, CA.

He also pioneered Toyota's efforts to enter the full-size pickup truck market. Ironically, the first '07 Tundra, Toyota's largest pickup ever, rolled off the assembly line on Nov. 17, the same day as McCurry's funeral.

“This is really McCurry's truck,” Ronnie Colosimo, a Toyota dealer from Oak Lawn, IL., says of the new Tundra.