Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In 1928 Chrysler founded the De Soto brand at the medium-high end and the Plymouth brand at the low end, and purchased the Dodge Brothers automobile company; all of this was in order to set up a full range of brands similar to that of the General Motors corporation. This process reached its logical conclusion in 1955, when the Imperial was made a brand of its own and Chrysler marketed a GM-like five-brand lineup. Well before then, though, Chrysler Corporation had become noted both for its engineering features and its periodic financial crises.
In the 1930s, the company introduced a radical series of cars called the Airflow models, featuring advanced streamlined bodies which were among the first to be designed according to scientific aerodynamic principles. Chrysler created the industry's first wind tunnel to develop them. Unfortunately, they were not well accepted by the public, and it was the humble Plymouth division, which had not been given an Airflow model, which pulled the firm through the Depression years with its conventional but quite popular bodystyles. It was during this decade that the company created a formal parts division under the Mopar (Motor Parts) brand, with the result that Chrysler products are still often called Mopars.
The Airflows, which have since been called the Edsels of the 30s, had a chilling effect on Chrysler styling and marketing, which remained determinedly unadventurous through the 1940s and into the 1950s, with the single exception of the installation of hidden headlights on the very brief production run of the 1942 De Sotos. Engineering advances continued however, and during this period the firm introduced the first of a long and famous series of Hemi V-8s. In 1955, things brightened somewhat on the styling front with the introduction of the successful Forward Look style, which was refined and redesigned for its second generation in the landmark year of 1957. With these cars, Chrysler seized the industry's design leadership and produced several genuine classics, most notably the 1957 Plymouth Fury and Imperial. However, high demand led to overproduction and quality problems, and soon the company was in financial recovery mode once again. The De Soto brand was axed in 1960 after several years of recession and poor sales that also killed off Packard and Edsel.
As the 1960s opened, the firm made both good and bad moves. Its new compact line, led by the Plymouth Valiant, opened strong and continued to gain market share for well over a decade. However, an ill-advised downsizing of the full-size Dodge and Plymouth lines in 1962 hurt sales and profitability for several years.
In 1966, Chrysler expanded into Europe, by taking over the British Rootes Group, and Simca of France to form Chrysler Europe. The former purchase unfortunately turned out to be a major mistake for the company, inheriting a major industrial relations problem which afflicted the British motor industry at the time, coupled to the archaic factories and outdated product range that Rootes manufactured. Chrysler retired all of the Rootes marques in favor of the Chrysler name. The Simca division was more successful, but in the end the various problems were overwhelming and the firm gained little from these ventures.
More successfully, at this same time the company helped create the muscle car market in the U.S., first by producing a street version of its Hemi racing engine and then by introducing a legendary string of affordable but high-performance vehicles such as the Plymouth Barracuda, Plymouth Road Runner, and Dodge Charger. The racing success of several of these models on the NASCAR circuit burnished the company's reputation for engineering.
The 1970s brought both success and crisis. The aging but stalwart compacts saw a rush of sales as demand for smaller cars crested after the first gas crisis of 1973. However, an expensive investment in an all-new full-size lineup went largely to waste as the new 1974 vehicles appeared almost precisely as gas prices reached a peak and large-car sales collapsed. At mid-decade, the company scored a conspicuous success with its first entry in the personal luxury car market, the Chrysler Cordoba. However, redesigned compacts in 1976 did not repeat the success of the discontinued Valiant/Dodge Dart line, and the company had delayed in producing an entry in the now all-important subcompact market. Problems were mutliplying abroad as well, and Chrysler Europe essentially collapsed in 1977. It was offloaded to Peugeot the following year, ironically just after having helped design the new Plymouth Horizon, on which the increasingly-desperate company was pinning its hopes. Shortly thereafter, Chrysler Australia , which was now producing a rebadged Japanese Mitsubishi Galant, was sold to Mitsubishi Motors. The subcompact Horizon was just beginning to reach the U.S. market when the second gas crisis struck, devastating sales of Chrysler's larger cars and trucks, and the company now had no strong compact line to fall back on.
In desperation, the Chrysler Corporation on September 7, 1979 petitioned the United States government for $1 billion dollars in loan guarantees to avoid bankruptcy. At the same time, Lee Iacocca, a former Ford executive, was brought in to take the position of CEO, and proved a capable public spokesman for the firm. A somewhat reluctant Congress authorized the guarantees, prodded by Chrysler workers and dealers in every congressional district who feared the loss of their livelihoods. With such help and a few innovative cars (such as the K-car platform), especially the invention of the minivan concept, a market where Chrysler brands are still important, Chrysler avoided bankruptcy and slowly fought its way back up. By the early 1980s, the loans were being repaid at a brisk pace and new models based on the K-car platform were selling well. A joint venture with Mitsubishi called Diamond Star Motors strengthened the company's hand in the small-car market. The acquisition of AMC by Chrysler in 1987, mostly for its Jeep brand, bolstered the firm further, although Chrysler was still the weakest of the Big Three American auto makers.
In the early 1990s, Chrysler made its first tentative steps back into Europe, setting up car production in Austria, and beginning right-hand drive manufacture of certain Jeep models in a 1993 return to the UK market. The continuing popularity of Jeep, bold new models for the domestic market such as the Dodge Ram pickup, Dodge Viper sports car, and Plymouth Prowler hot rod, and new "cab forward" front-drive sedans put the company in a strong position as the decade waned.
Chrysler merged in 1998 with Daimler-Benz to form DaimlerChrysler AG. This was initially touted as a merger of equals but within a couple of years the truth had been leaked; it was effectively a buyout of Chrysler by Daimler-Benz, with the latter very much the dominant partner. As if on cue, the company went into another of its financial tailspins soon after the merger, greatly depressing the stock price of the merged firm and causing serious alarm at headquarters in Germany, which sent new CEO Jurgen Schremp to take charge. The Plymouth brand was phased out in 2001 and plans for cost-cutting by sharing of platforms and components began. The strongly Mercedes-influenced Chrysler Crossfire was one of the first results of this program. A return to rear wheel drive was announced, and in 2004 a redesigned Chrysler 300 using this technology and a new Hemi V-8 appeared and gave early indications of being a solid hit. Financial performance began to improve somewhat, but the long-standing partnership with Mitsubishi appeared to be unraveling as Daimler-Chrysler declared its intent to divest its stake in that firm.
On April 7, 2005 a conclusion was announced by U.S. District Judge Joseph Farnan Jr. presiding over a bench trial in Wilmington, Del. between Kirk Kerkorian and DaimlerChrysler AG regarding allegations that Jurgen Shrempp of Daimler Benz AG prior to the 1998 merger lied and manipulated the Security Exchange Commision and Chrysler Corporation's shareholders (largest of which was Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation) by touting the 1998 merger as a merger of equals and not an outright aquisition. The Judge was found to be in favor of DaimlerChrysler's position by rejecting Kerkorian's case. However another case (based on the same merit) was settled in 2003 for $300 million to other shareholders. The Kerkorian case called for many more causes of action that undoubtably needed to be carefully dealt with and took over one year to decide on.
The design shown at the top of the page is an adaptation of the original winged logo which Chrysler used at its inception in 1927. It began to be revived in the late 1990s and was adopted exclusively after the Daimler merger.
In 1963, the company had switched over to a star design which became known as the Pentastar and was extensively used on dealer signage, advertisements, and promotional brochures. It was reportedly designed to symbolize the five divisions of the corporation at the time, Plymouth, Dodge, De Soto, Chrysler, and Imperial, although the De Soto line had been discontinued by the time it was introduced.
The Pentastar appeared consistently but inconspicuously on the lower right fender of all Chrysler products, including foreign brands, until the early 1980s. At that point it was adapted to appear in such forms as trunk emblems and hood ornaments, replacing other designs that had been used by Plymouth and Dodge and had in some cases identfied individual models, such as the Chrysler New Yorker. Currently the only remaining traces of this motif are a large, star-shaped window at Daimler-Chrysler's American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Pentastar Aviation, a former Daimler-Chrysler subsidiary which reverted to its original name after being purchased, ironically, by a member of the Ford family. It is also likely that many dealerships still have signage and other traces still visually apparent to the pentastar. Today, glass on Chrysler Group cars and trucks as well as other small trim bits still have the Pentastar on them, however, its days appear to be numbered.
- Official Chrysler Group Homepage
- Official DaimlerChrysler Homepage
- Chrysler Airflow article
- Allpar.com ~ The web's best Mopar enthusiast site, devoted to all Chrysler products new and old
- An account of Chrysler's adventures in the European market
- Site for Simca/Chrysler France products
- Design gallery page at Chrysler.com
- Birth of the Pentastar
- End of the Pentastar
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