By on December 28, 2007

imperial-k.JPGChrysler’s near-death experience in 1980 had a salutary effect on the company’s culture. Headcount was slashed by over 50 percent. By necessity, the old ways of doing business were consigned to the crusher. “New Chrysler’s” execs, managers, marketers, designers, engineers, union workers and suppliers all had to work together to find creative ways of doing more with less. With Lee Iaccoca at the helm, it was a seminal moment in Chrysler’s history: an opportunity for the once great American car company to thoroughly reinvent itself. 

Necessity was the mother of all platform sharing. Introduced in ’81, Chrysler’s “K” cars offered seemingly endless variations on the same mechanical theme: Plymouth Reliant, Dodge Aires, 400 and 600; Chrysler LeBaron, Town and Country and Executive; and on and on and on. By the time the K stopped being special, Chrysler had produced nearly 40 variants.

It worked. With lowered overheads, interchangeable parts and Iacocca’s salesmanship, Chrysler was soon back in black. 

After paying back Uncle Sam, Chrysler’s accumulating cash cache began to take its toll, allowing the automaker to slip back into kicking back. Even worse, the money burned a hole in Lido’s pocket. A suicidal spending spree ensued.

98_jeep_cherokee_classic.jpgLike other successful CEOs, Iaccoca coveted a Gulfstream jet. Unfortunately, he liked it so much he bought the company. In an ill-advised aping of GM’s purchase of Hughes and EDS, Chrysler decided to diversify. In 1987, Chrysler bought the floundering American Motors Corporation (AMC). Lido correctly saw AMC’s Jeep brand as the crown jewel. During the ensuing SUV boom, Jeep made Iaccoca into a genius.

The 1990 recession caught Chrysler flat-footed (once again). The company shot its cash wad on acquisitions instead of investing in competitive new cars and building a rainy day fund. Gulfstream was quickly jettisoned. Newly-installed President “Maximum Bob” Lutz refocused the company’s energies on new product development. Lido finally relented to the board’s increasingly adamant urgings to retire.

In the nineties, Chrysler experienced its final manic high. Having slashed the costs of new car development through the use of integrated development teams to 2.8 percent of revenue (GM: eight percent), a slew of new cars spewed forth: the Viper (’92), LH full sized sedans (’93), New Yorker/LHS (’94), compact Neon (’94), Ram pickups (’94), mid size Cirrus/Stratus (’95) and all-new mini-vans (’96).

By 1997, the new product barrage pushed Chrysler’s market share to 23 percent (shockingly close to GM’s current market share). Chrysler was hailed as the model for the American automobile industry's incipient revival.

Affable, mild-mannered Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton saw towering clouds on the horizon. In a 1997 speech, Eaton described a “perfect storm” involving global over-production. Eaton’s cowardly solution: sell Chrysler to Daimler and walk away with nearly $100m in his pocket.

impeccable-neon.jpgIn all likelihood, Eaton knew that Chrysler’s manic success was built on a weak foundation. In [what’s become] classic American style, Chrysler's flood of hastily-spun new products was far from perfect. In an echo of Chrysler’s 1957 fiasco, quality problems were rife. Rubber-band transmissions, blown Neon head gaskets, ever-cheapening interiors and a general prioritization of flash over substance were the all-too prevalent ingredients of the “New, New Chrysler”. The “model for the revitalization of the US car industry” was not a robust formula with which to take on the Asians.

Rather than disappoint investors (and spoil his own stock options) by plowing profits and dividends into improving product quality, Eaton made it someone else's problem. If Daimler had done its homework and checked the corporation’s medical records, they would have known that Chrysler crashes like clockwork every six to ten years. In fact, the acquisition by Daimler only accentuated Chrysler’s all-too-soon next crash, because of the clash of cultures and Eaton’s increasingly disengaged leadership (seller’s remorse?).

chrysler-300.jpgDaimler paid $38b just before the inevitable collapse, and sent Dr. Z to minister to the sickly patient. But the German executive administered the usual prescription of happy pills: slash costs, cheapen the goods and rush out some new product (Chrysler 300). The result was a classic dead cat bounce: a $1.7b dollar profit in 2005, followed by an endless sea of red ink.

The perfect storm that Eaton had tried to detour gathered strength. Instead of addressing Chrysler’s underlying pathology, the shot-gun wedding only exacerbated the disease. In every category, Chrysler was attacked by competitors, and its products were inevitably found wanting. No wonder Daimler practically paid Cerberus to take the ailing automaker off its hands.

Chrysler has had nine major crashes. “Doc” Nardelli is desperately trying to find a pulse, hoping there’s a tenth life left in the once proud company. But it’s looking more and more like he’s got a corpse on his hands. At least it came with a signed organ donor card.

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40 Comments on “Chrysler Suicide Watch 30: The Early Attempts, Pt. 2...”


  • avatar
    paradigm_shift

    Thanks for the series, this is interesting stuff I didn’t know about.

    Chrysler always seemed to me like a redheaded stepchild of the US auto industry. It’s interesting to see there were good times once in a while…

  • avatar
    frontline

    This editorial brought me back to the site after a year absence. My dad was a Plymouth dealer in Baltimore circa 1963-1969. I really enjoyed it.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    the early to mid 90’s were indeed a revival for penta star culminating with the 37 billion dollar sale to the germans. It was all downhill after that as first the germans mismanaged the company and then economics combined with gas prices sank the ship. I also think Hyundai hurt them by making the kind of affordable well built cars they used to, with a great warranty free from deductables.

    i know RF focused on the death of GM first but all signs really point to Chrysler with reduced market share and a long history of crashing.

    Remember they already killed off Plymouth and diluted Jeep. The Dodge name is probably next on the way out the door.

  • avatar
    raz

    I think Chrysler has some cars that have or had a potential to be GREAT.

    Example, Dodge Magnum. This segment is almost completely free of competition. All other wagons are semi-luxury (Volvo) or luxury (bmw).

    Instead of killing that car what they had to do was FIX IT.

    1–Remove the bump on the floor in the back, that will allow 5 people to seat comfortably. Look at Honda Civic, 3 people can seat in the back in that tiny car more comfortably than they would in Magnum.

    2—Try to increase space in the trunk, believe it or not it is very small.

    3—Execute the person who OK’s positioning of speakers in that car. This is one of the most bizarre things I have experienced. The speakers in the back are located right behind the back seat, right next to the ears of a backseat passenger. The problem is this, should music be turned on even slightly the passenger in the back simply cannot hear people in the front because speakers are RIGHT NEXT to his years.

    This may sound silly but how can the company miss that detail. Not only does it stop the communication (wagons are family mobiles, children seat in the back) but the sound is blasted RIGHT into the ears.

    4—Believe me when I say this, but 2006 Honda Civic’s panel looks more luxurious than Magnums, the plastic is horrible in Magnum. Even the color is.

    If these issues will be addressed, which Project D should have addressed the interior issue, all others are simply and possible. This car had a chance to be good in a field that has almost zero competition.

    Same with 300C, improve in a little, drop some weight and that car would be a respectable competitor to Malibu.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    My mom has a 2005 DCX van that has already lost the transmission, AC, and power steering in only 36K miles. The tranny bought it at 25K. I would not trust this vehicle anywhere cellphone service is spotty since you may be sitting for a while.

    They still can’t get the quality thing down it seems. My Mom is so frustrated she is looking at imports for the first time, completely fed up. She always felt good about buying American until she found out the van was made in Canada and it decided to leave her stranded a few times.

    She bought 3 minivans before this one and a Concorde before that and wore all out at 100K or more. A 12 year relationship is over.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Great editorial – both parts.

    I knew of some of Chrysler’s past crashes, but not all of them.

  • avatar
    Terry

    When I started my career in auto diagnosis and repair Studebaker, then Rambler were considered by many in the trade as…”foreign cars”.
    With both those 2 nameplates gone, I suppose Chrysler/Dodge is next to leave.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Eaton’s solution may have been cowardly, but it was correct from an intellectual and financial viewpoint. Leaving the table while you are ahead, and cashing your chips won’t make you look brave, but it won’t make you stupid either.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    Great informational article. So was the last one. The thing about Chrysler (and Ford, too, to a lesser extent) is that they always seemed to do what GM had just done. Beautifully illustrated in your previous editorial (Early Attempts Pt 1) with the story of the misunderstood rumor about the Chevy II and understood to mean the whole line was downsizing. I don’t understand why they (Chrysler OR Ford) would never just develope their own vision, their own way of doing things, based on the customer.

    Oh, sorry, someone just woke me up and reminded me this is corporate America we’re talking about.

  • avatar
    danms6

    raz:

    I agree with all of your points on the Magnum and how a little refresh would have gone a long way. Also, the bump on the floor in the back is for the drive shaft which is not in a Civic.

  • avatar

    So a Van made in Canada is inferior to one made in the USA? I think not, whatever the Engineering Dept of a Major 2.8 manufacturer wants they get whether its made elsewhere in North America, its mote point imho.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    The problem with the Magnum is that it is all flash and no function. Really dumb for a wagon, which after all should be the ultimate functional automobile. I love a nicely done wagon, but good riddance to the Magnum. It is what happens when stylists build a wagon that isn’t a wagon.

  • avatar

    I have owned nothing but Chrysler products since 1993, and they’ve been my favorite car company since I was a child. I currently own an ’05 Grand Cherokee and a strippo ’02 Voyager, which has had no major trouble at 85,000 miles.

    Sure, there have been a few lemons in the bunch (if someone wants to sell you anything with a 2.7 V6, run!), but I stuck with them anyway. Most have been excellent in the long run, even my old ’93 Dodge Dynasty, a car much maligned in many circles but was Camry-reliable for me for 200,000 miles. Yeah, I’m loyal to the Mopar blue, but I haven’t been liking a lot of what I’ve been seeing lately, both in the product and in the company itself.

    I recently struck up a relationship with a local Chevy dealer through my work, and I’ve been promised an exceptional deal if I were to buy from them. If things keep going the way they have for Chrysler, I just may take him up on it. Man, if Chrysler loses someone like me, a loyal 15-year customer and a lifetime lover of (most of) their products, they’re toast.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    jdizzle, I almost forgot the 2.7. Oil gallery problems, right? They designed in restricted oil flow(even if you didnt want this “option”)resulting in a 90,000 mile engine life if you were lucky. If you werent maybe 65,000 or so.

  • avatar

    Yeah, something like that. It was an engine that, like the infamous Toyota 3.0, would, with proper maintenance, choke itself with sludge. I found out about this problem shortly after purchasing the car in question, a ’99 Chrysler Concorde (got it used in 2003). Too bad, because it otherwise was one of the greats – nice and roomy, stylish, enough power to not be totally embarrassed, and an honest 30 mpg highway if you took it easy.

    When I learned about the sludge problem, I immediately put it on a strict diet of Mobil 1, but it developed a rod knock at 80,000 miles anyway. A friend who was also my trusted mechanic told me that the synthetic oil was the only reason it was still running, and I should get rid of it ASAP. I nursed it along for a while, and kept my mouth shut when I went to trade it in, still running with 101,000 miles. The dealer opened the hood, noted the powerplant, started it, obviously heard the knock, shut it off, and offered me $1000 trade-in. Ouch. They told me what I already knew – it wasn’t going to be running much longer. So I took the Jeep, which has been solid for 41,000 miles so far. But it’s unbelievable that the company that engineered the slant-6 and 318 could have built a POS like the 2.7.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    Probably Chrysler was seeking alliance with Mercedes, because by the time of this merger chrysler had not created any new platforms, and the ones they had were obsolete. So chrysler was desperate to get a modern rwd. And if you are too primitive to create a platform yourself, merge, and get it for free. The problem was, that cunning german fox didn`t give the latest tech-ware, but imparted Chrysler with previous generation platforms so they could secure a tech-gap. i would really love to buy american cars, american tech etc. But I can`t do it, because either they don`t exist, or are overwhelmingly primitive and low quality, that I have to turn my back. American rwd? american wristwatch? american dvd player? american video camera? american tv set? hi-fi center? wher are they????? Any single goddamned american branded device i open it shouts out` engineered in japan or japan mvt` whether a car hood or timex bezel. Whether a working bench that stamps chrysler hoods or a mechanism that shifts gears on your bike. see i don`t judge i-pods for being assembled in malaysia, i judge them for being engineered by korean Samsung and then sold here in US by pretense of being an american product!

  • avatar
    mel23

    In Jeffrey Liker’s “The Toyota Way” he says Toyota was concerned about Chrysler as a competitor before Daimler took it over and destroyed it.

    “Then, in the 1990’s he (Iacocca) was willing to step back and allow some remarkable leaders like Bob Eaton and Tom Stallkamp and Bob Lutz and Francois Castaing to reshape the company. A major focus was in product development, where vehicle centers (modeled after Honda) were created to realign the old functional organization into a product-driven organization. Engineers responsible for electrical components, body engineering, chassis engineering, and manufacturing engineering were all put together under one general manager, who took a role something like the Toyota chief engineer. These groups had a single focus – produce excellent vehicles that customers want to buy at a low cost so Chrysler could make a profit.

    Toyota was actually concerned by these developments. Up to that point, no U.S. company had shown signs of getting it right and developing a culture that could compete with Toyota. But Chrysler was beginning to get it right.

    Fortunately for Toyota, Chrysler was bought by Daimler. Chrysler’s renaissance proved to be another flash-in-the-pan threat that would vanish as quickly as it appeared. By 2000, Chrylser was again on the verge of bankruptcy and scrambling to break even. What happened?

    Of course, in any takeover there is a cleansing of the old guard who resist change – so out the door went all of these fine leaders who were starting to truly build something. And out the door went what they were trying to build, until all that mattered was short-term cost cutting to regain profitability. And out the door went the ‘partnership’ with suppliers that Salkamp had carefully built … and the trust … and the sharing of technology that was taking place in developing new vehicles.

    By gutting the leadership of Chrysler, Daimler gutted the culture that Chrysler was proudly building – a culture that made companies like Toyota nervous.”

    There seems to be considerable anger in this text, which I suspect comes from Liker rather than Toyota. But the book as a whole is excessively (IMO) favorable to Toyota, and I believe Liker has become very close to some within Toyota. Thus I think Liker’s claim of Toyota’s concern about Chrysler as a competitor is accurate.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    It is very accurate.

    When Chrysler first released the Neon, Toyota actually went on a very negative public campaign against the vehicle. In fact that entire episode made the front page of automotive news and many other mainstream publications on all three sides of the pond. It was the first time a Japanese company tried to pursue a negative campaign, and it failed miserably.

    Chrysler was either at or near the lead in many of the market segments by 1997. I’ll rattle off a few:

    1) Subcompacts: The Neon remains the only subcompact Detroit made a profit on over the last 20 years. I believe peak production of this model was over 300,000 units and it was still a strong seller in 1997.

    2) Compacts: The cloud sedans (Cirrus, Stratus, Breeze) were beginning to show their age, but were still considered among the best domestics. Performance wise it was better than the Corolla due to the 2.5 V6. But quality wise there was still a gap between them and the Japanese leaders.

    3) Midsized: The LH sedans were still a competitive design in it’s last year… vis-a-vis the Detroit offerings. The next generation models (98 – 04) had drop dead gorgeous styling and very good platforms. Unfortunately the 2.7 would end up torpedoing virtually all the goodwill from the prior generation. A 2004 Intrepid with a 3.5 engine is among the best bangs for the buck you can have today in the used car market due to the markets reaction to the trashy 2.7’s.

    4) Minivans: Nobody was even close. They owned close to half the market and no manufacturer at that time offered a vehicle that could compare to the Chrysler minivans.

    5) 4×4 Jeep’s : The Wrangler was the dominant force. There was small competition with the Tracker/Sidekick and the Isuzu Amigo on the lower end, but not really that much.

    6) Lower End SUV’s : The Cherokee was decent… but dated. The RAV4 was beginning to take away from the younger generation and the lack of updating would really hurt that model’s long-term viability. Meanwhile the midsized SUV’s from Ford were eating the Cherokee’s lunch on the lower end, and the GM SUV’s were doing far better as well. Isuzu probably had the strongest competitor on the import side with the Rodeo.

    7) Higher End SUV’s : At this time the emerging compact and midsized SUV’s were arguably more differentiated on price than size. The Grand Cherokee was in it’s last year of it’s first generation. It represented the most car like SUV of that time and it maintained strong sales. Not nearly as strong as the Explorer, but strong enough to be respectable.

    8) Compact pickups: This was a real interesting case because Chrysler had some very strong foresight here. They recognized the fact that the compacts did not have enough room for many folks, while the full sized seemed excessive to many of the same consumers. Chrysler was going to be putting $850 million into the next generation Dakota’s development instead of it being a backwater of Chrysler’s product line. Unfortunately, after the Daimler takeover, the company was told that the size of the market didn’t justify the expenditure and their funding was reduced to only $250 million.

    If it weren’t for Daimler, the Dakota would have likely been one of Chrysler’s strong sellers.

    9) Full-sized trucks: The Ram was gaining serious ground by 1997. But the new F150 proved to be as superior to the Ram as the Chrysler minivans were to the Windstar. Chrysler offered power and practicality, but it was never a leader here.

    10) Convertibles: The Sebring convertible was very strong circa 1997. The coupe was nothing special but the Sebring convertible was virtually in a class by itself at this point. Not that it was a great car. It just didn’t have much competition.

    11) Niche products: The Viper and Prowler offered a nice halo effect to the product line. The Viper accentuated Chrysler’s sportier pretensions vis-a-vis the competition. The Prowler was… ummm… let’s skip that one. I will say the exterior design was well done.

    Overall, Chrysler could have become a true competitor in today’s marketplace if they had avoided a ‘merger of equals’. These days I can’t think of one car, other than the Wrangler, that Chrysler can legitimately say is a market leader.

  • avatar
    windswords

    jurisb,
    Chrysler had plenty of platforms of it’s own at the time of the merger. As a matter of fact they were the low cost leader in developing a platform from scratch in the entire industry and that included the Asian makers. Just check the Harbor report if you don’t believe me. As for RWD, the architecture had already been in development at the time of the merger thanks to Tom Gale. The insistence by Daimler that old gen E class components be used in hte new car DELAYED the program by 1.5 – 2 years. See the interview with Tom Gale in Motor Trend. Imagine if the 300 had come out in 2003 instead of 2005…

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Thanks for the excellent comments. I agree that the Neon most of all was a potential threat. It could have been the American Corolla/Civic, if Chrysler had stuck with it more aggressively and consistently.

  • avatar
    windswords

    jdizzle,

    Someone here will correct me if I’m wrong but I think the 2.7 as installed in the LH cars (like your Concorde) was in a ‘north/south’ arrangement instead of the traditional ‘east/west’. In other the words the motor was not in ‘sideways’ like a typical FWD car. The LH’s were designed with option of going rear wheel or AWD if the market was there for it. Since a V6 is essentially a cube, packaging is not a problem. The oil sludge problems with this engine is over welmingly with LH cars. The smaller JA cars (Stratus, Cirrus, Sebring vert) have not had the same volume of problems. In the these cars the engines are installed in the traditional ‘east/west’ arrangement. I found a website from a repair shop in Colorado I believe, that explained that something about the engines was different in the ‘north/south’ application and that made them more prone to sludge problems. I wish I had the link ’cause this guy had pics and info, but I haven’t been able to find the site again.

    When I was thinking of replacing my aging convertible I went to an internet discussion forum on the JA ‘cloud cars’. They had a special section on engines and many threads about the 2.7 sludge issues. The consensus of the owners there seem to support what the other website said. These owners were routinely getting 200,000 miles out of there 2.7’s by keeping to a strict OCI of 3 to 7k miles and using synthetic only. They also advised changing the timing belt at the recommended interval (interference engine I believe).

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A small correction. The 2.7 wasn’t ever available with the JA series. The optional V6 at that time was the 2.5L which was made by Mitsubishi.

    They did introduce the 2.7 in the next generation of the Stratus and Sebring. It’s my understanding that Chrysler’s oil sludge issues with these engines have been across all model lines. I would say that a Sebring or base Intrepid with this engine may represent the fastest depreciating North American vehicle of the decade.

  • avatar
    IKnewTheBride

    The best K-car commercial ever:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgoWeNeItzY
    Happy New Year fellas.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Your right Steven, the first gen JA had the Mitsu powerplant. The second gen including the Sebring convertible I was thinking of getting had the 2.7 V6.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    Windswords-`in works` and `real` applicable`platform is a bit different. If I believed anything that was in works, U.S. Army would be flying Comanches( and not buying Eurocopters) and Venture Star would carry astronauts to lower orbit like some yellow Crown victoria cab.I don`t doubt the potential of inventive mind of Chrysler. I doubt their consistency in pursuing and executing quality and precision mechanics. No one could push chrysler to use mercedes parts unless they proved to be worthy. You might be right, but let it leave as a chance unused. The examples, like testing new Camaro( opel based)( outsourced) in Australia prove the opposite and soon you will leave guys like Jim Dunne jobless. common, looking at an 90k viper interior can you swear to the Bible that you have a trust in a company that made it????????? I ain`t Clarkson from Top Gear who declared that `the only good invention that came from United States was the turn right on red signal` , but I ain`t a believer ,neither. Fool me once,………………( no politics here!!!!)

  • avatar
    bluecon

    The old Euro inferiority complex rears its’ ugly head.

    The LH engine layout is actually a carryover from the Renault designed cars that Chrysler inherited from AMC/Renault. The Bramalea plant where the 300’s, Charger, etc. are built was originally built by AMC/Renault with the emphasis on Renault.

    The vehicle that really put Chrysler back on its’ feet in the 80’s was the Minivan which went into production in fall ’83.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Jurisb, The LX wasn’t a program that could be canceled do to cost overruns like the the army Commanche program or the navy AX attack aircraft. And there wasn’t a suitable replacement from another manufacturer at the time. The platform (LX – large car) was going RWD and it was going to be produced. When I said – “being developed” I meant “for production”. Would it have been as good as the current LX with some Mercedes parts? We’ll never know. But Chrysler did not have a choice – they were ordered to take those parts by Daimler (which charged them plenty for it) and then they had to re-engineer them to fit in the already being developed (as in – it’s going into production – so you don’t misunderstand me) LX. That’s why you can’t unbolt parts from a prev gen E Class and current LX and swap them (except for the steering column and misc parts). If they had left it alone the LX would have come out sometime in 03 and instead of talking about the LY coming out in 09 or 10 we could be talking about it now – as in it’s already being sold to customers.

  • avatar

    Actually, windswords, the 2.7 has timing chains rather than belts. You would think that’d be a superior design, but I’ve seen a few pics of 2.7 timing chains that simply fell apart. And yes, the engine in the LH’s was installed north/south, and it’s an interference design. I haven’t noticed any complaints about the 2.7 in the LX’s, which is obviously a north/south layout, but I would hope that they’ve taken care of the problem by now.

    It’s really too bad, because it was a great little engine on paper (OK, on CAD – the 2.7 was the first “paperless” engine; i.e. totally designed with computers), and when it ran well in my Concorde, it was everything I could ask for – 200 hp, unbelievable passing acceleration (30-50 and 50-70), and excellent fuel economy. The car could cruise comfortably at 90 all day long, and handled very well for its size. Unfortunately, the damned thing was a ticking time bomb. I just happened to make mine last a bit longer than most.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    jdizzle, you’re absolutely right. As a road performer the 2.7 is an excellent engine and it’s been very well tuned for American styled driving.

    For the life of me, I could never understand why that generation never sold that well vis-a-vis the competition. It was pretty comparable to the Accord early on and far more rewarding to drive than the Camry. In my mind the design was far more fluid than anything else in the $20k to $25k range. Other than the door panels being a bit cheap, I couldn’t really see where it didn’t rank up. That is until you take that damned 2.7 (and the almost equally damnable 3.2) into account.

    Chrysler’s chance of a comeback in it’s current form is pretty close to zero. It struck out with the minivan and mid-sized sedan, and Chrysler really doesn’t have anything in the pipeline that remotely resembles the ‘last hope’ that the LH sedans represented.

    Daimler completely destroyed this company. It’s really a shame.

  • avatar
    86er

    Steven Lang:

    8) Compact pickups: This was a real interesting case because Chrysler had some very strong foresight here. They recognized the fact that the compacts did not have enough room for many folks, while the full sized seemed excessive to many of the same consumers. Chrysler was going to be putting $850 million into the next generation Dakota’s development instead of it being a backwater of Chrysler’s product line. Unfortunately, after the Daimler takeover, the company was told that the size of the market didn’t justify the expenditure and their funding was reduced to only $250 million.

    If it weren’t for Daimler, the Dakota would have likely been one of Chrysler’s strong sellers.

    9) Full-sized trucks: The Ram was gaining serious ground by 1997. But the new F150 proved to be as superior to the Ram as the Chrysler minivans were to the Windstar. Chrysler offered power and practicality, but it was never a leader here.

    It’s amazing what a little innovation will do to an industry. Now nearly every manufacturer builds mid-size instead of compact trucks, and everyone has followed the styling language that the Ram introduced in 1994. In 1994 Ford and GM sold handsome but boxy designs with nary a trace of any cab-forward design.

    While the look of most trucks today makes me pine for some of these understated designs, I don’t want to overemphasize the current truck styling language as some original iteration; the ’56 F100 was a radical departure, not to mention the Dodge Sweptsides of the late 1950s.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    The best K-car commercial ever:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgoWeNeItzY
    Happy New Year fellas.

    My Uncle had the exact same car for years. POS doesn’t even come close to describing it. I did some emergency bodywork on it after a deer collision and it was like working on a Revel model.

    The headliner was so tattered we tore it out. It used to fall in your face while driving.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Engineers responsible for electrical components, body engineering, chassis engineering, and manufacturing engineering were all put together under one general manager, who took a role something like the Toyota chief engineer.

    Excuse me if this sounds stupid or naive, but isn’t this standard practice in automoblie engineering? I’m an engineer in the field of drinking water, and I still have a friend from college who is a mechanical engineer with a large consulting firm. In any project involving a large engineering firm, there is always a project engineer (title may vary from company to company) who is the main point of contact and directs other staff engineers who do the actual design work. I can’t imagine a different set up. You have one person dealing with the contractors, clients, and suppliers as well as approving the overall design and insuring that the project is completed on schedule. Seems like a standard management structure. How does it work in American car companies?

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    While the look of most trucks today makes me pine for some of these understated designs, I don’t want to overemphasize the current truck styling language as some original iteration; the ‘56 F100 was a radical departure, not to mention the Dodge Sweptsides of the late 1950s.

    I believe the Dodge Sweptside was their answer to the Chevy Cameo truck. Another example of how Chrysler followed Chevy. A more radical departure than the Cameo or Sweptside pickups was Chevy’s Fleetside pickup design, which was more than some body panels added to a stepside pickup. A Fleetside’s bed was truly larger with the rear wheel wells inside rather than outside the bed of the truck. With the introduction of the Fleetside in 1958, Chevy also made significant changes to the entire sheet metal of their pickups (front end and cab in general in addition to the Fleetside bed offering).

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Thanks for the no-doubt accurate expose of Chrysler’s (and the other Two’s) faux pas. If Toyonda had built a buncha crap cars like the Mopar 2.7L V6s, they would have bent over backwards to recapture the hearts and minds of those customers. Think I’m kidding? Toyota had a voluntary ball-joint recall for some Tacoma pickups, mine included. Even though the parts on my truck were within specs, they rebuilt the front end anyway, at no cost to me. On a 3 year old truck with over 50K miles. Or Honda, on my 2000 Acura TL. They replaced the transaxle at 98K miles, again, at no charge. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Japanese at least know the importance of staying in the customers’ good graces.

  • avatar
    ttilley

    I’m curious about the Neon as a “potential threat”…to anyone. Holy Cow!, I’ve never driven an worse (rental) vehicle (on multiple occasions even…each experience as bad as the previous). Rattled like crazy, got roughly half what the EPA claimed was possible on the highway (I got 18 MPG on the highway, on my own Subie I pretty much get the 30 MPG claimed highway mileage), and basically made me avoid any rental company specializing in Chrysler/Dodge until the Neon had it’s overdue encounter with the great scrap pile in the sky.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The 1st gen Neon had the most power, the most room, and was quite possibly the most fun to drive ‘cheap’ subcompact of the mid-1990’s. I wouldn’t place it as a high quality vehicle by any stretch. But it really offered the entry level new car buyers a very strong value proposition… which is why it sold like hotcakes.

    Virtually everything else could offer a longer shelf life at that time (especially in terms of the engines). But the Neon was really one of the few cheap cars at that time that was fun in it’s basic form.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The Neon may have been fun in its basic form (and I liked the coupe from a styling standpoint), but in terms of build quality and reliability…well, suddenly, it was 1957.

    I knew several people who bought a first-generation Neon, and all of them swore off Chrysler products after just a few years of ownership.

    Ford may not have made any money off of the Escort, but in the 1990s that car was head and shoulders above any Neon, and probably the best all-around domestic small car. Ford at least had the good sense to use Mazda components as the basis for the second-generation version of that car.

    As for the “cloud cars” and the first-generation LH cars – they had top-notch looks and drove well, but also started falling apart long before the competition did. As with the Neon, it was 1957 all over again.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Your dead on about the Escort. I consider it to be the best used car value of that era. Sold a LOT of them over the years, and in fact I sold a 96 wagon with a 5-speed for $1650. It ran like a top, very good build quality. , and got 40+ mpg on the highway.

    I have philosophical issues with financing. But if I did, mid to late 1990’s Escorts would be near the top of the list.

  • avatar

    The Detroit Free Press has announced the start of planned layoffs of Union workers in both the USA and in Canada at Brampton Ontario for Chrysler workers.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    Neon. The car of my nightmares.

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