I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch, of Chrysler Group LLC, found my article on Chrysler archives interesting. It’s always nice to be read. And I’m sure Rosenbusch agreed with the article when I said “America’s automakers have gone to great lengths and expense to preserve and protect the historical documents which chronicle and define their existence.” I’m also reasonably sure that Mr. Rosenbusch doesn’t dispute the fact of the closing of Chrysler’s engineering library. “One of a series of necessary steps to cut costs,” as he puts it. And I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch saved all of the important documents resulting from that change of fortune. But I stand by my report that people on site experienced a sudden and chaotic end to a resource someone thought was valuable enough to create and fund. That Chrysler has tuned its back on its history.
Posts By: Bob Elton
Archives are the foundation of historical research. Without access to primary material—be it documents, photographs, financial statements, engineering or test reports—historians lack the building blocks necessary to write the chronicles that inform our understanding of the past and illuminate the future. To their credit, America’s automakers have gone to great lengths and expense to preserve and protect the historical documents which chronicle and define their existence. Until recently. As Chrysler and GM plunged into bankruptcy, they turned their back on their own heritage, and destroyed a priceless part of our collective past.
The Big 2.5 are floundering about, looking for new product ideas. And no wonder. Does anyone really think the beleaguered domestic automakers have the time, talent, energy and money to develop a Camcordima beater? A [profitable] B-segment car that can take on the Fit, Yaris or Versa? A luxury car to rival the Germans? As the founder of Federal Express said, the trick in business is not to do something a little better than the other guy. The trick is to do something different. Anybody remember the El Camino?
Enthusiasts don’t tend to wax eloquent about seat tracks. They’re the automotive equivalent of the sliding rails that support file cabinet drawers when you pull them all the way out. A vehicle’s front (and occasionally rear) seats slide forward on them, they slide backwards. Done. No surprise then that seat tracks aren’t mentioned in commercials. They’re never part of a car salesman’s spiel. And there’s no seat track website or blog. Yet seat tracks are a key part of any car, pickup, minivan, SUV or CUV.
The new CEO of the company walked into the boardroom. The mood was grim. Recruited from another company in another industry just a few months previously, he carried bleak news. The automaker had just reported the largest third quarter loss in recent history. Their most profitable products, which had been flying off dealer lots, were dead in the water. Strikes at suppliers had crippled production of the few products that sold well. Market share was evaporating, and operations in Europe were drowning in red ink. Worst of all, recent downgrading of their bonds had hurt the profitability of their all-important finance unit, which had underwritten the car business for years. It was time for some bold moves.
In 1984, an inebriated Henry Ford II met Victor Gauntlet in a London bar. Gauntlett controlled Aston Martin, a venerable British manufacturer of race cars and gentlemen’s sports sedans. Sales were in the tank, and there was no money to develop new models. “For a lousy $15 million, I’d sell the whole thing” Gauntlett said. Ford looked at his drinking buddy, Walter Hayes, and said, “Wouldn’t that shake ‘em up back in Dearborn?” In ’86, Ford bought 75% of Aston’s shares. In ’94, they bought the rest and continued to rehabilitate the ailing English brand. Despite the fact that FoMoCo’s investment has just come right, it’s auction hammer time. So what’s next for Aston?
No question, the Ford Mustang is a galloping success. Both the base and GT models are a runaway success, contributing significant revenue to their corporate parent. And now legendary racer, sports car constructor and chili magnate Carroll Shelby is adding some hot tamales to the feed bag. The Shelby Cobra GT500 goes on sale any second now, saddled with a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 good for 500hp. Although there’s little doubt that Shelby’s performance package will be a well-engineered addition to the core car’s strengths, it’s still a case of too much too late.
All cars should have a V8. For one thing, the modern eight cylinder engine is inherently balanced; it has completely overlapping power impulses. In other words, one cylinder fires before the previous cylinder has finished contributing, creating a much smoother power delivery with fewer impulses. That’s why a V8 can use the same drivetrain components as a much smaller four cylinder engine with half the displacement. There is no need for secondary balance shafts, and no unpleasant vibrations to annoy the passengers and reduce the life of the exhaust system and other accessories. It’s the smoothest engine configuration money can buy.
Noticed any Sprinters lately? Not the kind that burn-up your local running track; the boxy, diesel powered Sprinter vans sold by Dodge and Freightliner. If you’re a typical enthusiast, these vehicles are less likely to appear on your automotive radar than a Toyota Camry. But the Sprinter should have been on Ford’s radar. The commercial vehicle represents a rapidly growing market segment that DaimlerChrysler is busy claiming for itself. That’s a couple of hundred thousand trucks a year, with good margins. Gone.
I’ve seen the car of the future. It's not a diesel. It’s not a hybrid. It doesn’t run on electricity or natural gas or elastometric energy storage units recharged by rodents operating exercise wheels, supervised by domesticated felines. The future is sitting in a corner of your local Ford dealer's showroom gathering dust: a Ford Focus with the optional 2.0 E engine. This little runner is what’s called a PZEV (Practically Zero Emissions Vehicle). That's a cut better than a ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) but not quite as good as a ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle). Ah, but the Focus E is still the best a tree hugger can get.
Once upon a time there was an automobile company that was so big that it looked like it was about to drive all the other car companies out of business. This behemoth made every kind of car, from sports cars to limos, and every kind of truck, from the smallest to the largest. They made almost all of the busses that took people to work, and most of the locomotives that pulled trains across the county. Their diesel engines powered most of the construction equipment, ran the pumps that pulled oil out of the ground and moved ships on the seas. There was only one cloud on the horizon: they were too successful.