Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mopar in Decline

About a year or so ago, Greg and I were talking cars as we sometimes do. "What do you think will happen to Chrysler?", he asked. Chrysler was just divorced from its often rocky marriage with Daimler-Benz taking on the amalgam of DaimlerChrysler. A host of once new and exciting models were getting long in the tooth. The 300 was getting the reputation of a ghetto cruiser, the PT Cruiser was little changed in 9 model years and no longer unique. Big Hemi engines, lauded by the auto press, were finding resistance as gas prices soared and recession began to creep in. Minivans were passé. Few could afford a big engined Viper. The truck line faced increased and formidable competition. "I think it will die", was my sad but realistic answer.

Chrysler had been down this path many times. In its entire history, the company seemed to bounce from high to low as if it were the epitome of bi-polar syndrome. The 1930s saw it battle the depression and stumble with the advanced but unsuccessful Airflow which stifled its creativity for two decades. The 1950s saw it hang on until fresh styling blew the cobs away in 1957, only to crash and burn over poor quality and a shifting market.

The 60's were golden years, but the 70's saw an almost fatal crash again as it was to late to react to shifting demand for small cars. Lee Iacocca became a legend and household name. The minivan saved its ass for a decade. The 90s saw Chrysler hang on, but as usual new designs hung around too long and soon became stale. The "Cab Forward" designs got as old as quickly as the fins of the 50's. The once # 3 best selling marque in the nation, Plymouth was laid to rest, victim of a fractured market. A new century boost with the marriage to Daimler brought the powerful 300, new minivans, the Viper and new Charger. But as the economy tanked, so did their sales.

Now, in 2009, we may have to imagine an automobile world with out the great and venerable name of Chrysler. The government is keeping it afloat with loans, but a proposed venture with Fiat looks worse than the Daimler one according to some analysts. If it confounded Daimler, how then can Fiat do it? Patience is running out. If the Fiat alliance/takeover fails, then it is bankruptcy and liquidation.

My family was long a Chrysler one. My dad would not be seen in anything less. I learned to drive in one, my first new car was a Chrysler and I have owned several of them. I can't afford a new car, but I am not even sure I would buy one today. If money was no object, I'd buy a new Lincoln MKS.

Chrysler has been through a lot, hung on and even prospered. We can only hope, but I for one hope the name hangs on for a long time. I would love to own a new one again.

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