But I have to say I have an emotional soft spot for Chrysler, and want them to make it. That wasn’t always the case.
Back in 1979, when I was a young reporter on the fringes of Chrysler’s first near-death experience, I thought they ought to be allowed to fail. The company had been so poorly mismanaged for so long, and its cars were such clunkers, that I thought it didn’t deserve to survive. I knew something of its history.
Chrysler had a meteoric rise throughout the 1920s, and shot past Ford to become the nation’s number two car maker.
After that, it drifted into decline. I am sitting here looking at a excellent book, “Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation,“ by Wayne State University history professor Charles Hyde. The cover has a photograph of an extremely ugly car, a 1937 Chrysler rolling off the assembly line with a beaming Walter P. Chrysler himself at the wheel, the millionth car Chrysler had built that year. Lined up next to the car are Chrysler’s top executives.
Every one of them is a pasty-faced, fat, unlovely old man in a drab and ill-fitting suit. That’s how Chrysler was seen when I was young. It was a car for the old, the poor, the unstylish and usually undereducated. Chrysler’s luxury car, the New Yorker, was a joke compared to a Cadillac or a Lincoln Continental.
Hundreds of thousands of Chryslers came trundling off the assembly lines at cavernous old factories like Dodge Main in Hamtramck. The company then stacked them up in parking lots till they could pressure dealers into taking them.
That nutty system almost did the company in. But they were saved, not so much by the government loan guarantee, but by Lee Iacocca, who reinvented Chrysler as a manufacturer of minivans, trucks and sport utility vehicles. For my money, two of the sexiest cars on the road today are the Satellite Sebring and the Crossfire.
They also have had a hit with the fun and highly functional PT Cruiser. Exactly ten years ago, this week, however, Chrysler took the fateful step of selling itself to the Germans. Daimler, that is. Though it was billed as a marriage of equals, it was anything but.
Daimler chewed Chrysler up and spat it out two years ago, palmed off to a venture capital firm. Then came last year’s financial hurricane, and the collapse of the car market.
Give Chrysler management credit for this. They went out and found Fiat, and worked hard at putting together this new alliance, to give themselves a chance to survive.
But ... will it work?
Will being a captive of the Italians prove better than being a captive of the Germans? We won’t know for awhile, but we do know that Chrysler has been left for dead before.
And then somehow, it has always sputtered back to life.