The history of Chrysler depicts an image of a hardworking, passionate founder who had an interest in revolutionizing the automotive sector in the early 1900s. Walter Percy Chrysler, success didn’t come overnight, Walter Chrysler had gathered adequate experience working for Buick Motor Company. His success was brought to the light when Maxwell Motor Company was unable to make profits from its car sales and decided to bring Walter Chrysler on board to salvage the situation. Maxwell Motor Company by then was making cars luxury cars that had good performance but were unable to make decent revenue since by then most car companies were selling their cars between $500 – $1000 and Maxwell Motor Company was selling their 30 touring at $1500. The low sales saw Walter Chrysler brought on board to give the company a turnaround.
Walter Chrysler began working on a new car alongside Carl Breer, Owen Skelton, and Fred Zeder who were experienced engineers who used to work for Studebaker. The result was a vehicle dubbed Chrysler Six which had a six-cylinder engine and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The engine was made if aluminum pistons and interchangeable bearings. The powerful engine could power the Chrysler Six to a speed of 70 miles in an hour. Despite the innovation and the breakthrough that Walter and his team had achieved, Chrysler Six was denied to be showcased at the 1924 New York Auto Show. However, the car was affordable(less than $2,000) and brought profit to the company. On 6 June 1925 Walter Chrysler founded the Chrysler Corporation, the same year they sold over 135,000 units making the company take a significant share of the America automotive market.
In 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge Brothers. Dodge was an automotive company that was successful by then and by Chrysler buying it, it mounted more pressure and building competition for brands like Cadillac and Lincoln Nameplate owned by General Motors and Ford respectively. Its expansion continued and they introduced brands like DeSoto and Plymouth. To respond to the competition that was coming from its rivals who were producing luxury vehicles, Chrysler introduced Imperial Eight, a car that had 125 horsepower V-8 engine, automatic transmission and more luxurious cabin refinements.
The Great Depression Era, was Chrysler Sucked In?
During the 1920s, the automotive industry was growing rampantly. This was backed by the American population rise in disposable income making them able to spend on luxury items like cars. However, a turnaround came in 1929, when the stock market crashed. This made many businesses close rendering many people unemployed. Americans were unwilling to spend on luxury items and this was a test to companies like Chrysler and other automotive companies.
Chrysler unique offering in the market that made it afloat during that period was the Plymouth. It was its cash cow. As Plymouth demand rose, other car brands experienced sales plummeted. Plymouth value offering was irresistible; it had an all-steel body with slight wood elements, four-wheel hydraulic brakes,
and six-cylinder engines. In 1931, ‘Floating Power’ a patented engine technology was incorporated in Plymouth. All this couldn’t match what Chrysler rivals such as Chevy and Ford were offering.
During the great depression era, Chrysler skyrocketing revenue from Plymouth and other bands under its line, it built four new assembly plants. These were; the Los Angeles Assembly in California, Evansville Assembly plant in Indiana, Warren Avenue Assembly in Michigan, and Wyoming Avenue Assembly in Detroit.
In 1934, Chrysler made another significant milestone in the automotive industry. Inspired by the aircraft designs at the time, Chrysler came up with Chrysler Airflow a car that engineered to be aerodynamic. However, Chrysler Airflow received criticism from campaigns run its competitors like GM which pointed that the car was unsafe. Chrysler abandoned the Airflow experiment in 1937. However, all these period during the great depression its sales remained steady.
Walter Chrysler retired from his company in 1935, though he continued to serve as the board chairman. On August 19, 1940, at the age of 65, Walter Percy Chrysler died of a stroke. Despite the demise of the company’s founder, Chrysler remained a going concern.
The World War II Period
In 1942, Chrysler’s resources were exclusively diverted to building of military defense vehicles. This started in 1940 when the US government took ownership of the Detroit plant (Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant). During the WWII period, the DATP produced 18,000 tanks that were used during the war. Apart from the tanks, Chrysler supplied; over 50,000 dodge trucks, aircraft engines, and trailer mounted guns.
1950 -1960 – An Era of Sleek Cars
After the WWII, there was a high demand for civilian cars and trucks. Chrysler responded by building eleven more plants. However, during this period Chrysler interest was in developing sleek cars that would reflect the jet age. This saw the upcoming of the HEMI engine that took center stage of the horsepower battle of muscle cars. 1968 Plymouth Road Runner was Chrysler adorable car at that time.
Taken by a surprise, Chrysler was hit by the 1973 oil crisis. This came at a time the company was producing fuel guzzler cars. The oil embargo placed on the US made oil expensive and consumers preferred Japan fuel-efficient cars. This caused Chrysler’s sales to soar, and Chrysler responded by producing Cordoba, a small fuel-efficient car. By this time the company had experienced huge loss and its financial books weren’t appealing.
The Modern Day Chrysler
In 1980, Chrysler received a government hand through a bailout. The bailout cam handy since Chrysler began manufacturing economical vehicles. The sales rose and in 1983, Chrysler began to produce minivans and K-cars. The minivans and K-cars brought massive profit to the company and Chrysler was able to pay its loans. In 1987 it acquired American Motors, a poor decision that led to a financial crisis and forced the company to undertake a restructuring. In 1998 Daimler-Benz placed a $36 billion bid for Chrysler takeover. The takeover didn’t last for long and Daimler-Benz sought a buyer in 2007. Chrysler is currently owned by Fiat, a company that has an ownership of 58.5% of Chrysler group. Even though Chrysler is still struggling to stay afloat, it is still making sales of its brands; Jeep, Dodge, SRT, and others.
The future of Chrysler as at the moment remains uncertain and how long it stays in the market is unclear. However, its history of making a strong comeback can’t be undermined. As at now, all we are left with is a mixture of hope and doubt. The question is, will Chrysler’s engineering ingenuity will raise it from its slumber?