Chrysler Through the Years
March 13, 2009
Chrysler Corporation had its beginnings in the Maxwell Motor Company. Maxwell had brought Walter Chrysler, the founder of Chrysler Corporation, on board in the early 1920’s to assist in turning around the Maxwell’s ailing bottom line. Walter Chrysler had previously been successful in reviving another car company that had found itself in similar straits. Maxwell Motor company was effectively reorganized and then reborn as the Chrysler Corporation.
The new company earned a reputation for innovative engineering and Chrysler Corporation was became a power to be reckoned with. So much so, that in 1928 Chrysler was able to purchase Dodge and with this created the DeSoto and Plymouth divisions.
Although no company escaped the devastating effects of the depression era, Chrysler was able to hang on by producing entry level Dodge and Plymouth vehicles that harkened back to earlier styles and then to sell these vehicles at much lower prices. This strategy proved so successful Chrysler continued to see strong sales in these lines throughout the lean years of early 1930’s. Chrysler was so successful with its newest engineering designs that by 1936 it captured second place in sales in the United States and would not relinquish this position until 1949.
The 1950’s would see Chrysler’s greatest engineering feat to date with the introduction of the revolutionary “Hemi” in 1951. With 185 romping, stomping horses, the hemi buried its predecessor the 135hp V8 and accomplished exactly what is was meant to, complete domination of the market, at least for a time. The introduction of the powerful Hemi by Chrysler ushered in Detroit’s horse power race that existed throughout the ‘50’s and 60’s.
By 1961, Chrysler was leading the pack in innovative engineering. Chrysler was the first to redesign a cars charging system by replacing generators with alternators. Chrysler also made the decision to drop the DeSoto line at this time. In the latter half of the 1960’s Chrysler also became closely involved with NASCAR. Chrysler’s involvement with NASCAR was instrumental in creating its legendary string of the world’s first reasonably priced high performance vehicles. With the experience derived from NASCAR and the addition of a street version of its Hemi racing engine the now famous Plymouth GTX, Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Charger were born. These cars were so successful on the NASCAR circuit, that demand for the street versions quickly exceeded the number being produced. Dealerships all over the country had waiting lists full of people looking to buy the famous cars.
For all the forward thinking Chrysler had done early it in its beginnings, it was the exact opposite that was very nearly the downfall for all the Big Three Car makers. The U.S. government had been planning new EPA emissions for some time and the implementation of these stricter laws coupled with the oil crisis of 1973 left Chrysler scrambling to play catch up. The popular muscle cars that had sold so well had not been developed with much regard for the economy of emissions but now all automobile manufacturers had to develop smaller, lighter engines that ran cleaner by still produced enough power to move large cars. The Japanese had kept up with the coming changes to the emissions standards and were light years ahead of Chrysler. It did not help that the Japanese cars were already much lighter than their American counter parts to begin with. Chrysler was very much aware of this fact and in 1971 decided to join forces in part and bought a 15% stake of Mitsubishi Motors. This proved a disastrous move for Chrysler and by the late 1970’s, it was forced to borrow $1.5 billion from the government just to avoid bankruptcy.
Several good things happened for Chrysler in early ‘80’s including the acquisition of AMC (which brought with it the popular Jeep brand), the creation of the minivan and some impressive campaigning by Chairman Lee Iacocca. Sales improved dramatically and Chrysler was able to pay off its loan 7 years early.
Success continued through the 1990’s and in 1998 Daimler merged with Chrysler to form Daimler Chrysler. This was never a stable venture and Chryslers’ reliance on high-powered gas guzzling cars caught Daimler complete by surprise. The company’s financial situation never stabilized and Daimler sold Chrysler for a loss in 2007.
By December 2008, things had continued to spiral downward and Chrysler announced that the company might not survive past 2009. On December 19, President George W. Bush announced a bailout for American automakers including Chrysler. At this time, it is unclear whether this will be enough to pull Chrysler back from the brink.
Ronnie Tanner is a contributing writer at SWEngines. He writes about used Chrysler engines and choosing this as an alternative to costly car purchases.
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