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. For Walter Percy Chrysler, success didn't come overnight. Walter Chrysler gathered experience working for Buick Motor Company. His success came when Maxwell Motor Company was unable to make profits from its car sales and decided to bring Walter Chrysler on board to help. Maxwell Motor Company was making cars luxury cars with excellent performance, but they 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.
Breakthrough with the Chrysler Six
Walter Chrysler began working on a new car alongside Carl Breer, Owen Skelton, and Fred Zeder – 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 motor was made of aluminium 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, showcasing of the Chrysler Six at the 1924 New York Auto Show was rejected. This did not prevent the Chrysler Six from succeeding in the market, though. Due to its affordability (less than $2,000), it became a hit and brought profits to the company. On June 6, 1925, Walter Chrysler founded the Chrysler Corporation. In the same year, they sold over 135,000 units, resulting in the company taking a significant share of the America automotive market.
Chrysler Buys Out the Dodge Brothers
In 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge Brothers. Dodge was a successful automotive company. 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.
The 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 a 125 horsepower V-8 engine, automatic transmission and more luxurious cabin refinements.
The Great Depression Era for Chrysler
During the 1920s, the automotive industry grew due to the American population's rise in disposable income, making it able for them to spend on luxury items like cars. However, a turnaround came in 1929, when the stock market crashed. It caused many businesses to close, rendering many people unemployed. Americans were unwilling to spend on luxury items. Indeed, these were bleak times for companies like Chrysler.
Chrysler's unique offering in the market that made it afloat during that period was the Plymouth. As demand for Plymouth rose, other car brand sales plummeted. Plymouth's 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 into the Plymouth. All this couldn't match what Chrysler rivals, Chevy and Ford, we're offering.
Manufacturing Plant Expansion during the Depression
During the Great Depression era, due to Chrysler's skyrocketing revenue from Plymouth and other bands under its line, Chrysler built four new assembly plants: the Los Angeles Assembly in California, Evansville Assembly plant in Indiana, Warren Avenue Assembly in Michigan, and Wyoming Avenue Assembly in Detroit.
Introduction of the Chrysler Airflow
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, an aerodynamically-engineered car. However, Chrysler Airflow received criticism from campaigns run by its competitors, like GM, which pointed out that the car was unsafe. Chrysler abandoned the Airflow experiment in 1937. However, Chrysler remained steady during the Great Depression era.
Death of Walter Chrysler
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.
World War II and Chrysler
In 1942, Chrysler exclusively diverted its resources to building military defence vehicles. This started in 1940 when the US government took ownership of the Detroit plant (Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant). During WWII, 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 to 1960 – An Era of Sleek Cars
After WWII, there was a high demand for civilian cars and trucks. Chrysler responded by building eleven more plants. However, during this period, Chrysler's interest was in developing sleek cars that would reflect the jet age. This saw the upcoming of the HEMI engine that took centre stage of the horsepower battle of muscle cars. In 1968 the Plymouth Road Runner was Chrysler's most popular car.
Taken by surprise, Chrysler was badly hit by the 1973 oil crisis. At the time, the company was producing fuel-guzzling cars. The oil embargo placed on the US made oil expensive, and consumers preferred Japanese fuel-efficient cars. Chrysler responded by producing the Cordoba, a small fuel-efficient car. By this time, the company had already experienced huge losses, and its financial books weren't appealing.
Modern Day Chrysler
In 1980, Chrysler received a government hand through a bailout. The bailout came handy since Chrysler began manufacturing economical vehicles. 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 restructure.
In 1998 Daimler-Benz placed a $36 billion bid for a Chrysler takeover. The takeover didn't last 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 the Chrysler group. Even though Chrysler is still struggling to stay afloat, it is still making sales with the Jeep, Dodge, SRT, and others.
The future of Chrysler remains uncertain and how long it stays in the market is unclear. However, its history of making a strong comeback can't be undermined. We are left with is a mixture of hope and doubt. The question is, will Chrysler's engineering ingenuity raise it from its slumber?
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