By the time you read this, time will be up for the Chrysler Corporation. Hard as it seems, there's a possibility as I write this column that the venerable Detroit automaker may be in Chapter 11, with ...
By the time you read this, time will be up for the Chrysler Corporation. Hard as it seems, there’s a possibility as I write this column that the venerable Detroit automaker may be in Chapter 11, with a strong possibility of their disappearance as a mainstream automaker. If that’s the final outcome, I’ll be sad; not just for my fond memories of Chrysler vehicles I’ve owned in the past, but also because it’s so unnecessary.
This isn’t the first time that the Mopar folks have needed a bailout. In the late Seventies, Lee Iaccoca, (the father of the Mustang at Ford) turned the wayward company around with the “K-car” series of small sedans and wagons, but the fundamental problem remained: the North American market could really only support two major players, a problem that became acute as government crash and emissions regulations made new product development lengthy and expensive. As the smallest of the “Big Three” Chrysler did the logical thing: badge engineering. Small cars were brought in from Rootes in Britain (Plymouth Cricket) and Mitsubishi in Japan (Dodge Colt, etc.), but neither could make a significant impact in volume terms. Mitsubishi would have been a logical buyer, but chose to establish its own dealer network and cut the link with Chryco.
Without major overseas engineering assets to draw from, by the Nineties the writing was on the wall. What did they do? The only logical move was to “hit ’em where they ain’t” by exploiting gaps in the market and doing some remarkable innovation in body styles. The Voyager/Caravan minivans were an obvious home run, cementing Chrysler’s reputation in that segment to the point where they build them for Volkswagen. The PT Cruiser was another major hit, establishing the “retro cool” market with a package that’s enjoyed a nine year run without a major restyle. The excellent 300C replaced an underrated 300M and changed the image of big Chryslers from grandpa’s car to the choice ride of rappers across America. The Dodge Ram with the Cummins diesel rejuvenated the weakest light truck line of the Big Three with minimal development cost and created a new cross marketing strategy that enhanced the whole Dodge truck brand. The AMC takeover was widely criticized by many (myself included) as a deal to put two losers together, but the SUV craze was around the corner and Jeep was the gold standard in four-wheel drive brands. So why are they in the doghouse?
Chrysler has needed a strategic partner for years and in their desperation, jumped into bed with an incompatible company called Daimler-Benz. That fiasco is history, but valuable time had been lost. Without a credible entry-level model to compete with Civic or Corolla and nothing at the other end against Cadillac and Lincoln, mistakes like the Pacifica and Aspen are too expensive for a weakened Chrysler. Will Obama’s shotgun marriage between Fiat and Chrysler do the trick? By the time you read this, we’ll know.
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