By on August 19, 2021

Today is the fourth installment in our Eagle Premier series. Parts I, II, and III brought us through late 1987 when the Premier finally entered production, albeit well behind schedule.

The Renault group’s high profile chairman had been assassinated in fall 1986 by French extremists, and the company’s new chair, Raymond Lévy, was experiencing pressure from all sides.

And the Premier was largely responsible for said pressure, with its lengthy development and expensive new assembly plant in Ontario. AMC on its own lost $91.3 million in 1986, which worsened Renault’s already tenuous financial situation. Lévy’s predecessor had embarked on austerity measures across the Renault portfolio starting in 1985. Factories closed, and many jobs were lost in France while money poured into North America. Lévy continued these initiatives through 1987, and by then the company had stabilized financially to an extent.

However, Renault was still losing money domestically. Across the ocean, AMC was seen as a money pit by Renault executives, and its operations were losing money too. Lévy was not a huge AMC fan like his predecessor, so in considering the financial situation, the unfriendly political climate at home, and the recent assassination, he decided to sell off AMC and North American operations.

Selling AMC seemed the best way forward, as the entire situation was not a great look in France. The action would cut off a big liability to Renault’s finances, please the brass at Renault, and ease tensions with French workers. At the time Renault owned 46.1 percent of AMC’s stock. A handy buyer was found in Chrysler, who already had an agreement with AMC to produce the M-body Diplomat and Fifth Avenue at Kenosha. The existing relationship made negotiations between Chrysler and AMC-Renault easier, and the rumor mill of a Chrysler purchase of AMC had started up in 1985.

The sale agreement was set up on March 9th, 1987. Chrysler agreed to buy Renault’s stake in AMC, plus all other outstanding shares. The deal totaled $1.5 billion ($3.4 billion adj.). Unlike other mergers where lip service is generally paid to “keeping the company whole,” Chrysler was upfront about its reason for the AMC purchase. Lee Iacocca told the LA Times a day after the announcement, “For Chrysler, the attractions are Jeep, the best-known automotive name in the world…” and went on to cite the Brampton Assembly plant, and the AMC dealership network to expand Chrysler’s existing network. Of prime attractiveness to Iacocca was the (ZJ) Grand Cherokee, then well under development at AMC. Shrewd forward thinking there.

The sale didn’t close until the first week of August 1987, when the final piece of the puzzle fell into place: AMC shareholders approved (overwhelmingly) the Chrysler buyout. The fourth-largest US automaker became a subsidiary of Chrysler, and The Big Three remained. As soon as the sale closed, AMC was immediately rebranded as the Jeep-Eagle division. Chrysler separated the valuable Jeep name from a new Eagle brand that would sell a mishmash of products – including the Premier. The AMC brand was just damaged goods.

 

The Eagle decision was a last-minute one. That much was evident in the promotional materials distributed to dealers, which showed the Premier with Renault badges. A poster on the wall says “1988 Premier” but not Eagle. The internet assures no Premiers ever left dealer lots with Renault badges intact, but even the MotorWeek review featured a Renault-badged car.

Hastily cobbled, the Eagle brand launched in 1988 with the Premier as its flagship. But with new parentage came new product ideas (and overlap), and a new focus. More on that next time.

[Image: Chrysler]

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14 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Eagle Premier Story, Part IV...”


  • avatar
    tane94

    Comedian/actor Greg Kinnear became the tv ad spokesman for Eagle once its cars hit the market. Someone in marketing had fun in coming up with the name Eagle Talon for that particular model.

  • avatar
    redapple

    A 4 part story on this?
    Huh?

    Posted 2 hours ago. 1 comment until mine.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Is it me? Fewer stories than ever.
    TTAC going downhill to the crapper?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Mention COVID or Trump or EVs and there are dozens of comments
      Auto only postings often get only minimal comments. Even Murilee’s columns.

      It used to be if I posted an auto related question in a comment, I was assured of getting advice, recommendations or recollections posted in response. Now, primarily crickets.

      • 0 avatar
        cbrworm

        This is the first time I’ve been on this site in probably a year. I left due to all the political drama. I was here every day for years, once politics became the arguing points in the comments of every article, I dropped to once a month or so. Maybe as it swivels away from politics and back to cars, I will spend more time reading the stories here. I assume there are a lot of other readers that were turned off by the politics and arguments between the same people in the comments of nearly every post.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      You get what you pay for. I’m glad to read it, always thought the Premier was interesting for its time and rather nice, and the backstory and final demise of AMC as well as repeated failure of French derived automobiles in the US market is worth learning. Looking forward to (probably final) Episode 5. Nice to read actual automotive pieces for a change.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Why do I feel that, with the latest Chrysler foreign partnership, something similar might, just might be conceived again?

  • avatar
    KOKing

    Somehow, looking back now it looks SO French; as in the dealership throws in a bag of baguettes and a carton of Gauloises. I don’t recall it seeming so back in the day.

    • 0 avatar

      It really does. I think it might’ve done better had they picked the Teague design, as he knew domestic looks well.

      But the appeal of Euro snobbery at the time was intense.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        That reminds me of Stirling. Take one of the best built cars in an Acura Legend and then have a few guys in the Highlands coming off of a three day bender and a Premier League loss make it British and witness the results.

        I posted ages ago that an old neighbor of mine when I was younger in small town Ohio had a Stirling. It had to be flatbed towed the 2 hours to Columbus on a regular basis.

        But the European name meant something before the makers went down market in the quest for sales.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      The Medallion was definitely French, especially the wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      It does not look French, too big for French car and too much vanilla flavor.

  • avatar

    Unlike Taurus it looks dated.

  • avatar
    camjam

    Not to be a spoiler, but the Premier became an important car for Chrysler in ways they did not anticipate immediately. Chrysler bought AMC for Jeep and Brampton, but got much more.

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