Chrysler’s Search For a New Beginning

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Chrysler is now merging with Fiat of Italy, after serious negotiations with General Motors, which has problems of its own, went nowhere.. They’ve both been clobbered by tight consumer spending, and the trend to small gas sippers. Chrysler sales are down about 25% from over a year ago. The Renault-Nissan alliance was  also interested, proposing a 20% stake in Chrysler, and integration with the Japanese-French partnership. The company is years late joining the hybrid bandwagon, finally offering the Dodge Durango hybrid this year. Still dependent on large gas guzzler SUV’s.

Ten years ago the company sold itself to Daimler Benz, the legendary German auto maker. Together they would create an automotive superpower. It was a bad dream that never happened. Daimler Benz never made the necessary investment in developing new models, and the company is now suffering. Just like in the early seventies, when the company was caught by the OPEC induced gasoline shortage unprepared. Building the gigantic Imperial and New Yorker models, powered by a 440 cubic inch V8 that nobody needed, it nearly sunk the ship back then.

In 1999, the company introduced the PT cruiser, an innovative retro design which was a modest success for a few years. About three years ago the all new Chrysler 300 sedan was introduced. This revival of a late sixties brand was also successful, even used by limousine companies. The old Dodge Charger muscle car brand was also revived. This sports sedan has been bought by some police departments. Both of these were all-new designs.

This year the company took a bold step by reviving the old Dodge Challenger muscle car from the late sixties. The new Challenger is almost identical to the old one, which was not a big seller back then. Sales of it’s bread and butter minivan models, the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country, peaked in 2000, and have been sinking ever since. Four months ago it closed it’s minivan plant near St. Louis. The adjacent pickup truck plant is down to one shift. The Jeep plant in Ohio, and a Delaware SUV plant are also closing. The discontinuing of it’s historic Plymouth brand should have been taken as an omen of things to come. In 2009 the company received millions of dollars in a government auto industry bailout, went into bankruptcy, and was bought by FIAT motors of Italy. The Chrysler dealers were shut down, and Dodge dealers will now sell Chryslers also. It’s too early to judge how all this will affect the future of Chrysler.

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